Christians & COVID: Politicizing, Theorizing (& Apologizing)

The only maladies more contagious than COVID right now are the rapidly-mutating accusations and politically-charged conspiracy theories surrounding it.

Wow.

And yikes.

I haven’t heard them all yet… but I’ve heard a smattering. And a whole lot of them are coming from Christians. (Disclaimer: I realize that some people who’d identify themselves as such don’t know a whole lot about what Jesus said, did or taught.)

Frankly, I just don’t get it.

Because what does polarizing/politicizing/promoting conspiracy theories – in a pandemic (or ever) – actually accomplish? Especially in regards to what Christ told us to do?

Jesus made it pretty clear that we’ve got two essential tasks before us:

Love God with everything we’ve got.

And love people. Strangers, friends and foes alike.

^ I’m not exactly sure how speculating and insinuating and implicating fit into that.

If we really want people to be drawn to Jesus (and all His goodness/grace/mercy), then we – the people who follow Him – ought to (at least try to) be good and gracious and merciful ourselves. If Christians aren’t the kind of people others are drawn to, then it would seem we’re not doing our job. (Love draws people in and makes them feel heard… seen… safe… special. Not scolded/slandered/dismissed/detested.)

News flash: We’re supposed to point people to Jesus by looking – and living – like He did.

There’s a surprising number of people who know something’s broken/wrong/ missing/stuck in their lives. And they’re just waiting for someone to introduce them to the One who can fix/forgive/fill/free them.

I’ve said this before (probably during the last election cycle) but I think it bears repeating:

My dear brothers and sisters, if we want to win some, we need to be…

Winsome.

Based on what I see on social media lately, I’d say we’re falling embarrassingly short.

I’ve seen some pretty insensitive/offensive/capricious remarks in response to people with differing views on COVID and the issues surrounding it. That over-the-top defensiveness smacks of pride… or paranoia. And it hurts my heart.

And really, what good does it do? The odds of convincing someone with an opposing view – on a platform like Twitter or Facebook – are next to nil.

Maybe these folks can’t find anything better to do.

Or maybe (after two months in lockdown) they’re starting to lose it.

(Coronanervousbreakdown?)

Ranting and raving rarely convince anyone of anything… except that the person doing it is out in left field (or right, as the case may be.) Explain how being argumentative – or spittin’ mad – is going to invite others to love and follow Jesus?

Can we all just take a deep breath… and a step back… and remind ourselves:

The enemy is… the enemy.

Not people created in God’s image and loved like crazy by Him. (Regardless of political perspective, party affiliation, personal preferences or past mistakes.)

We Christians need to pull it together (and pull together). We need to ask the Holy Spirit to empty us of ourselves and fill us full of His love. We need to listen and pray, give and forgive, serve and bless.

when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Peace… not pot-stirring.

Patience… not pushback.

Kindness… not contempt.

Gentleness… not hostility.

Self-control… not volatility.

A friend of mine recently shared this quote from Oswald Chambers, and it struck a chord:

The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, nobler men and women; or they are making us more captious and fault-finding, more insistent upon our own way. The things that happen either make us fiends, or they make us saints; it depends entirely upon the relationship we are in to God. If we say — “Thy will be done,” we get the consolation of John 17, the consolation of knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom. When we understand what God is after we will not get mean and cynical. Jesus has prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself as He was one with the Father. Some of us are far off it, and yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him, because Jesus has prayed that we may be. 

The response to this pandemic has elicited all kinds of politically-charged accusations and public shaming. I’m not denying there’s lots of lousy reporting, misinformation and not-so-hidden agendas – money and power come to mind – in both political parties and every media outlet around. But why this startling impulse (of some individuals) to push conspiracy theories and wild speculation and gloom-and-doom prognostication? 

None of it is helping. It’s not healing a single sick patient or helping a weary front-line worker or feeding a hungry family or lifting anyone out of despair.

So let me be the first to apologize.

To our doctors and nurses and pharmacists and first-responders.

To our grocery store workers and truck drivers and delivery people.

To our researchers and scientists and statisticians.

To my neighbors, friends and fellow citizens whose newsfeed looks uglier by the day.

And to those who have lost loved ones… or their livelihood.

I’m sorry.

Please don’t reject Jesus because of those who claim to follow Him including…

Yours Truly,

Wendy

P.S. I know I’ll probably get some grief for this post… and that’s okay. I may hear some explanations/generalizations/justifications like: “I want the truth! I’m just trying to educate people! Jesus spoke truth!”

Yes He did. (He IS truth.) But when Jesus spoke truth, it was thoroughly wrapped in humility and grace. He wasn’t presumptuous or pushy. Ever.

In fact, the only times He got really riled?

He was calling out…

Religious hypocrites.

*******

Father, forgive us.

 

Through the Valley

By now, everyone’s heard the news.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven others (including another father and daughter… and mother) were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

In slow motion, our disbelief surrendered to shock and horror. The news was confirmed; we felt sick… stricken… distraught. Kobe’s teammates, broadcasters, coaches, friends – most visibly shaken – described the tragedy as devastating and senseless.

And Monday was no less sobering:

Holocaust Remembrance Day.

(We cannot… must not… ever… forget what happens when hatred and fear join forces.)

Whether we realize it or not, every hour we live and breathe on this spinning blue ball…

…We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

It’s true that our days are numbered. And we are all walking – one step, one heartbeat, one breath at a time – toward our end.

But we don’t have to walk alone.

At funerals, we hear this reminder from a Davidic Psalm:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 

(Psalm 23, ESV)

What about you? When your time is up, what then? Where will you dwell?

We’re born. We live (80 years maybe… or 41… or 13). We die.

Then what?

Death happens. It’s inevitable. But we don’t really think about it much, do we? Until somebody dies. Especially when somebody dies tragically or too soon.

Then we wonder.

Maybe you imagine you’ll reemerge from your cocoon (coffin) and morph into a monarch butterfly or water moccasin… or Wakandan princess. (Sounds plausible… or not.)

Perhaps you have this vague idea death is just a deep sleep. Like Princess Aurora… without the wake-up kiss.

Really? I mean, a good night’s sleep is lovely and all, but sleepy/semiconscious/coffin-napping forever and ever?

***yawn***

(If that’s the case, we’ve got no shot at staying woke after all, do we?)

Or maybe you think death is just like the last page in our storybooks.

The end.

That’s it. A last breath… a flat line… eternal nothingness.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say… I disagree. (Stay with me here – on this limb – for just a couple hundred words. Please.)

I think you and I were made for forever.

I think Kobe and Gigi and the other passengers and pilot of that helicopter were made for forever.

I think everyone, everywhere, is made for forever.

Why? Because God is great. And He loves us more than we can begin to imagine. Because He created us and cares for us and carries us.

Because He carried a cross for us… so that one day He can carry us home.

To heaven.

(Yes… forever.)

Don’t believe me? Here’s Kobe’s take… from an interview in 2006, three years after he was accused and charged with sexual assault. (The felony charges were dropped and a civil case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.) In his own words:

S.A. Smith/ESPN: What did you learn from that whole experience, just having to go through what you went through?

Kobe: God is great.

Smith: Is it that simple?

Kobe: God is great. Doesn’t get any simpler than that, bro.

Smith: Did you know that – I mean, everybody knows that – but the way you know it now… did you know it before that incident* took place?

Kobe: You can know it all you want but until you have to pick up that cross that you can’t carry… and He picks it up for you and carries you and that cross… then you know.

Kobe knew. (And now he really knows.)

Do you?

Regardless of what litters your past, you’re never beyond the reach of God’s love and mercy. Jesus’ blood will cover every sin in your story and every skeleton in your closet (and mine too). If you want forgiveness/freedom/forever home in heaven, all you have to do is ask.

LORD, have mercy… be my Shepherd… restore my soul… guide me along the right paths for your name’s sake.

It’s that simple.

And this profound:

If you ask, surely His goodness and love shall follow you all the days of your life (however many or few)… and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Pretty sure you’ll meet Kobe there too.)

Isn’t God great?

Wendy

P.S. You can watch the clip from Kobe’s 2006 interview with Stephen A. Smith here.

* There’s no denying Kobe was an incredible inspiration to countless athletes and fans… but he wasn’t perfect. His past wasn’t (always) pretty. The aforementioned “incident” caused untold damage to Kobe’s reputation and his marriage. Kobe couldn’t fix it. In his words, he “couldn’t carry that cross.” Some say it’s disrespectful to point out the sins of the deceased. Sacrilegious even. And maybe it is. But religion isn’t the point here. Relationship is. A relationship between a sinner and a Savior. A father and the Son. A really good basketball player… and a really great God.

The Intersection of Politics & Religion

The way I see it, there’s a four-way stop at the intersection of politics and religion.

In order to move forward, everybody in every lane needs to come to a full and complete stop, look both left and right (double-check those blind spots) and proceed with caution…

Otherwise there’s bound to be a horrific crash.

(With casualties.)

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying the two shouldn’t intersect. I’m simply saying we should be cautious. I cherish the far-reaching rights our democracy has afforded us, including freedom of speech. We are a country of ideals and ideas. (And yes, a handful of idiots too. < Let’s just try to ignore them.) You have the freedom to believe what you like and speak your mind about it, anytime, anywhere. And so do I. And that’s a good thing.

But we need to be careful or we’re going to lose the graces of mutual respect and collective strength in all of our clamoring to be heard and heeded.

Once upon a time, common courtesy was…

Common.

*sigh*

In the heartbreaking aftermath of 9/11, we witnessed something truly extraordinary. The profound comfort and consolation our country found in this one (big) little gift:

Togetherness.

(Remember that?)

Somehow that solace succumbed to an outbreak of sputtering, spewing, ranting and reviling in the public square. Cable news became a round-the-clock purveyor of angry rhetoric, relentless accusations, and irresponsible/inflammatory/biased/bombastic reporting. And the emergence of social media provided a platform for all sorts of strife.

It’s an alarming cultural shift…

And it’s effectively eroding the “United” in our States.

There’s a rising tide of “us” versus “them,” rather than “we the people.” And it’s threatening to flood/drown/destroy America the beautiful… from sea to shining sea.

I know there are some folks that share my faith who struggle to accept those who have rejected it. (And as much as I’d love for everyone I know to experience the amazing grace and peace I’ve found in Jesus, I willingly acknowledge that each one gets to decide for themselves who He is and what they believe.) Many of those same folks can’t fathom how other people who do share their faith can disagree with their positions and politics. Christians on both sides of the political spectrum seem stunned that their brothers and sisters could possibly oppose what they perceive is the “right” way to think and vote.

And that’s when they/we/I tend to get reckless, run a red… and T-bone a big blue Buick.  Underneath all the wreckage, there’s a mangled mass of pride, prejudice and judgment.

Not saying our deeply-held convictions shouldn’t influence our political views. Not at all. I’m simply saying we shouldn’t be trying to manipulate our theology – or worse yet, scripture – to “fit” our political views. (Though some try mightily, manipulating God is not an option… Thankfully, He cannot and will not be crammed or contorted into a manmade container.)

Abraham Lincoln said this during the Civil War, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

And I daresay the only way to know what and where God’s side is… is to walk with Him.

Pray. Soak up His word. Follow His example. (If we really want to know WWJD, we can read His authorized biography in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.)

In order to align with God’s cause, we’ve got to abide by His Book. We have to search it, study it, ponder it, pray it and (here’s the hard part) live it. The whole of it… not just the “sliver” we select to serve our purpose, promote our cause, advance our agenda.

There’s a notable difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus. One is subject to the whims of mere mortals. The other isn’t.

“Will Christians turn once again toward an approach that imposes its will on the rest of society? By doing so we would betray our founder, who resisted a temptation to authority over “all the kingdoms of the world,” and who died a martyr at the hands of a powerful state. In the words of Miroslav Volf, “Imposition stands starkly at odds with the basic character of the Christian faith, which is at its heart about self-giving—God’s self-giving and human self-giving—and not about self-imposing.” ~ Philip Yancey, Christians and Politics: Uneasy Partners

I think there’s some pretty clear directives in scripture about who’s supposed to do what around here. And I think some people (myself included, more often than I care to admit) think it’s their responsibility to do God’s job. But the older I get, the more I understand that I can’t possibly. (I don’t have enough foresight, strength or smarts. And besides that, I’m sorely lacking in mercy and patience.)

So I’ve decided to let God be Judge…

Jesus be Savior…

His Spirit be the One who corrects and re-directs.

(None of the above is in my job description.)

My mission is simply this:

Love God.

Love people.

(All of them.)

Whether we agree or not.

In middle age, I’m finally learning something I wish I’d learned a long time ago:

How to lovingly disagree.

Loving well doesn’t mean never getting angry. Jesus did… particularly in the face of hypocrisy, injustice and greed. At one point, He got so furious He flipped over tables in the temple and drove out hucksters trying to turn a profit in the name of religion. (Hmm. A handful of media-mogul/mega-church preachers might want to keep this in mind.)

Absolutely, there’s a time to fight for what you believe in.

But I’m convinced that some people want to fight about everything. They don’t choose their battles; they invite – or incite – conflict. (Not sure why. Attention-getting? Anger problem? Power grab?) They’re habitual pot-stirrers/troublemakers/flame-throwers… and that’s not doing anybody (including them) any good.

But here’s the beautiful thing. We don’t have to take the bait.

We can simply ignore the insults/irritation/idiocy and just keep swimming…

Surfing…

Scrolling.

And if we choose to engage in meaningful, constructive conversation – and why bother with anything else? – we need to…

Listen.

Really listen.

And learn the fine art of loving disagreement.

Or we’re going to do ourselves in.

If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. ~ Jesus 

Listen, we don’t have to agree to stick together. We don’t have to share political views to care about one another. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye on every issue to stay united. We don’t even have to like each other… to be respectful and kind.

May we pledge ourselves to remaining…

Indivisible.

May we celebrate both our diversity and our unity.

To those with whom I vehemently disagree, I just want to say this (loud and clear):

I’m happy to be stuck with you!

Wendy

P.S. “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” ~ St. Augustine