In Order to (Re)Form a More Perfect Union

I don’t know about you, but my heart can’t take much more. It’s battered and bruised… And bracing for worse.

It feels like 2020 could be the year of our undoing.

Collectively, we were already reeling from the deadly destruction/ ecomomic devastation/overwhelming despair of COVID…

104,000 dead.

Millions unemployed.

Suicide attempts.

Overdoses.

Isolation.

Burnout.

And then came three consecutive stories of black Americans killed… for no apparent reason.

Amaud Arbery… out for a run.

Breonna Taylor… in her own home.

George Floyd… pinned to the street, gasping for air.

Three human beings created in God’s image… beautiful and beloved, all.

I haven’t seen the video of George Floyd’s last minutes. I cannot bring myself to watch it. (Because just reading about it nearly gutted me.)

A Gospel-sharing, bridge-building, neighbor-loving “gentle giant,” George Floyd took his last breath on earth Monday. Now he’s safely home in heaven with Jesus… and his mama.

But his death begs the question:

How are we still here? In America? In 2020?!

Stuck in this cesspool of racism, injustice and needless violence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. The flood of emotions is coming fast and furious. I’m grappling/praying/hurting/ fuming/crying/pleading/grieving. Deeply. Sometimes all in the space of five minutes.  But the deepest, darkest valley I keep finding myself in is… fear.

I’m afraid for the people I love whose skin just happens to be darker than mine.

Afraid they will encounter the wrong person at the wrong time… and wind up injured.

Or jailed.

Or dead.

And that’s why I can’t just sign a petition or post a meme and move on. I know I need to ask God’s Spirit to search me and uproot my own prejudices and pre-judgments. I need to confess my own predisposition to dismiss or devalue some of my neighbors. I need to pray against my tendency toward complacency-by-comfortableness.

I need to listen more, learn more, do more. Where I can, when I can, however I can. Because…

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

A couple days ago, I re-read Reverend King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to some of his fellow clergymen. His words are haunting:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

He goes on to write:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Oh LORD, help me be bold for you. Because…

Equity and justice are the foundation of your throne. ~ Psalm 89:14 (NET)

Help me be brave for my neighbor. Because…

No life is more “valuable” than another. (No life is more “disposable” either.) Our immeasurable worth is God-given and intrinsic (because we were made in His brilliant, beautiful image.)

Help me live and love like Jesus.

Genuinely.

Generously.

Help me do the right thing. Even when it makes me – or someone else – uncomfortable.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

~ Isaiah 58:1-8, The Message

Let’s be justice-seekers and bridge-builders and hope-givers. Right where we are. However we can. 

Let’s be humble repenters… and revolutionaries for love. Lavish, lifesaving love.

Right in our own little corner of the world.

Maybe that won’t be the catalyst for sweeping change… but it will make a difference.

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

The man laughed and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said …

“I made a difference to that one.”

2020 could be the year of our re-making.

Let’s get started.

Wendy

P.S. Condemning oppression and police brutality doesn’t make me anti-law enforcement. I am praying fervently for our police officers, firefighters and National Guard tonight too. Calling for an end to violent, destructive rioting doesn’t mean I don’t support the protestors or understand (that I don’t understand) their outrage and grief. I’m praying for peace… and change. Join me?

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