Mixed Message

The coronavirus pandemic has forced individuals, families, schools, businesses and churches to shift gears. We all have made adjustments to do our best to make it through these challenging days.

There are organizations that have been clear in regard to their response.

Some businesses have stated they will not enforce masks mandates, social distancing and other Covid-related restrictions. They have found a market with those who are comfortable with that policy. Those who are not on board with their response can take their business elsewhere.

Some organizations have been clear in stating strictly enforced guidelines. They have found a market with those comfortable with that approach. Those who disagree can take their business elsewhere.

What I find challenging are the businesses and churches who say they are taking a certain course of action, but fail to demonstrate it in practice.

For example, I visited a restaurant that had a “masks required, no exceptions” sign posted on the front door. When I walked in to pick up my order, 3 out of 4 employees were not wearing masks. So, what was the point of the sign?

Each week, I see churches posting pictures and videos of their staff and volunteers standing side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, indoors, unmasked…even though they say they are doing everything they can to keep their congregation and community safe. That’s hard to believe when you don’t do the simple things to keep your staff and volunteers safe. It’s hard to believe that you are doing all you can to keep others safe when you fail to lead by example. The inconsistency in messaging is not only lazy, it’s dangerous. If you’re not going to lead by example (especially when posting on the internet), stop saying you’re taking every precaution and start doing the “name it, claim it, faith over fear” approach.

I would prefer businesses and churches be upfront and honest, rather than offer confusing, mixed messages. I have more respect for those being clear and upfront about not following the guidelines than I do for those sending mixed messages. At least I know where they stand. There’s no room for confusion.

Integrity matters. It’s like the old saying, “if you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.”

So, here’s my pro-tip that no one asked for: churches who are only offering online worship or are limiting numbers and requiring social distancing and masks…stop posting pictures and videos of your staff members huddled together unmasked. Lead by example.

My Will or God’s Will

Yesterday, I had a somewhat cheeky post on Facebook regarding the establishment of authority. Here’s what I posted:

Unpopular opinion: Christians only like Romans 13:1 when their preferred candidate “wins”. “Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God.” (Romans 13:1, CEB)

Those who know me best understand that this really was a dig at some of the erratic and desperate posts and pleas revolving around the most recent election.

Far too many Christians are quick to denounce God’s role in establishing authority when their preferred candidate does not win. Many of us will only claim “God’s will” when it conveniently aligns with “my will”.

I think back to how hateful and nasty many of the comments were surrounding President Bush’s election. They were shameful and disgusting. Some progressive Christians went so far as to call this man, who attended a Methodist church, quotes Scripture, publicly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, the “anti-Christ.”

I think back to the hateful and downright nasty rhetoric that surrounded President Obama’s election. It was shameful and disgusting. Some conservative evangelical Christians went so far to call this man, who attended church, quoted Scripture, sang “Amazing Grace”, and publicly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, the “anti-Christ”.

I think back to how hateful and nasty many of the comments were surrounding President Trump’s election. They too were shameful and disgusting. Some progressive Christians went so far to call this man, who attends church for photo ops, misquotes Scripture, calls people childish names, publicly proclaims that he does not need to seek forgiveness, the “anti-Christ”.

I think of how hateful and nasty many of the comments have been surrounding President-Elect Biden’s election. They have been shameful and disgusting. Some Christians have gone so far to call this man, who regularly attends mass, quotes Scripture, and calls for unity, the “anti-Christ”.

I’m guessing you can see that Christians have a tendency to only believe God appoints leaders when they happen to align with our preferred political agenda.

If I’m a Republican and a Republican is elected, well, that’s God’s doing. If I’m a Republican and a Democrat is elected, well, God must be weeping.

If I’m a Democrat and a Democrat is elected, well, God has intervened! If I’m a Democrat and a Republican is elected, well, God must have forsaken us.

For some reason, we seem to only claim God’s favor and interaction when it is conveniently aligned with our preferences.

And, because I am totally immature…whenever I hear the word “authority”, I think about Eric Cartman…

Love One Another…

“To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely – to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.” ― Cornel West

“Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings also created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners.” ― Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It

As we rapidly approach election day, I find myself worn out by all of the vitriol and rhetoric that further divides an already divided population.

Last night, after making the mistake of watching the news, I found myself spending time in prayer. From time to time, I write down my prayers. Last night was one of those times.

“God, forgive us, for we are so easily tempted to place our hope and trust in the kingdoms of this world. Help us to remember as your followers that we are neither Republican nor Democrat, we are Christians. Our hope is not in a political leader. Our hope is not in a political party. Our hope is not in a political platform. Our hope is not in the Supreme Court. Our hope is in You and You alone. Help us to remember that You call us to be one as you are one. Help us to remember that unity is not about voting, it’s about love. Help us to remember that our allegiance is to You. Where there is evil, let Your light and love overwhelm and defeat it. Where there is disunity, disruption and injustice, bring Your peace, justice, mercy and love. Help us to remember, love, serve and care for the hurting and broken, the least and the lost, the overlooked, the outcast, the marginalized, those living on the fringes…may the experience and know your love. Help us to recognize the role we play in creating and sustaining division in our world. Help us to recognize that there are times when our political allegiances damage our witness. Help us to see that diversity, in all manners, can actually be wonderful, beautiful and powerful. As we head to the polls, as the results of the election are shared, let love be our guide. In our interactions with those whom we agree and especially with those whom we disagree, let love be our guide. While we may not vote the same, let us “love alike”. Help us to love one another. God, heal our land. God, save us from ourselves. Amen.”

“Disagreement itself is not the problem, passionate disagreement is not the problem, rather the inability to put aside disagreement in nonessentials for the sake of Christian unity is the problem.”
― Charles E. Gutenson, Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide

“Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.”
― Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals

“The kingdom of God is neither blue nor red, tea nor coffee! The church must stand in prophetic tension with Constantinian political systems and never underwrite or accommodate itself to a partisan political world order, including American democracy.”
― Mike Slaughter, Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide

“Some folks may be really bummed to find that “God bless America” does not appear in the Bible. So often we do things that make sense to us and ask God to bless our actions and come alongside our plans, rather than looking at the things God promises to bless and acting alongside of them. For we know that God’s blessing will inevitably follow if we are with the poor, the merciful, the hungry, the persecuted, the peacemakers. But sometimes we’d rather have a God who conforms to our logic than conform our logic to the God whose wisdom is a stumbling block to the world of smart bombs and military intelligence.”
― Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals

“We have been seduced by sound bites. It is difficult to imagine how we are going to have an intelligent conversation around complex theopolitical issues as long as the average news consumer in America is willing to be sound-bite driven. We face a sorry state of affairs in our culture when few people seem willing to take the time for nuanced discussion on the complicated challenges we face. Politicians of all parties have been willing to foster this sound-bite mentality because it has worked for them. Most Americans work hard and are faced with too little time and too many distractions to study the issues well enough to make an informed judgment on them. As long as news consumers are willing to be manipulated by sound bites and are unwilling to commit the time to understand the complexities, we will continue to see artificial and simplistic distinctions drive too much of our conversation, resulting in divisions and disagreements that rarely get at the substantive issues.”
― Charles E. Gutenson, Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide

Thankful for the Day and My New Friend “Tran”

I have started a new routine of taking a morning stroll after consuming an appropriate amount of coffee. While these walks are definitely beneficial for my physical health, they are essential to my spiritual and emotional wellbeing. The mornings are generally quite and I’m able to spend some time centering myself before entering “work mode”.

On this morning’s walk, the moon was still brightly lighting the western sky. It was truly a thing of beauty. As I made my way towards a slightly wooded trail, I noticed how I could see the reflection of the sunrise on Parkview Regional as the moon hovered over. I snapped a picture that fails to capture the wonder and awe of the moment.

As I continued to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, I spent some time in prayer for those at Parkview. The hospital is a place of healing, hope and restoration. And yet, at the same time, it is a place where people encounter pain, trauma and grief. In this place, some will celebrate the joy of new life or the victory of restored health, while others will grieve the loss of a loved one.

While walking towards and around PRMC, Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” (courtesy of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein) provided the soundtrack. Talk about beauty! One of my favorite moments in all of musical history comes at about the 20:04 mark. I get goosebumps every single time I hear this…

As I began to head home, the sun rising in the eastern sky began to paint a new picture of awe-filled beauty. Again, even with the advancements of iPhone cameras, one simply cannot adequately capture the moment.

As I continued walking, Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love provided the soundtrack. Bill is one of my favorite songwriters. I found myself singing out loud to “Farther Up the Road”. I especially love the second verse and chorus:

Now some will steal your garden
Some will sow their weeds
Yeah, some will rob you good and blind
Just to see you bleed
Honey, cover me with roses
This sack of bones and skin
Come and breathe upon this spirit
‘Fore winter settles in

Checking out of this cheap motel
With the wind all in our souls
God shows His face farther up the road

As wonderful as all of that happens to be, my absolute favorite part of my morning walk was running into my “neighbor”. Every morning, at about the same time and location, I pass an older gentleman who I refer to as “Tran” (fans of “New Girl” will understand).

Every morning, “Tran” smiles while pointing at me with one hand while giving me a thumbs up with the other. If “Tran” had a soundtrack, I believe it would feature Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” played on repeat. I mean, every time I encounter “Tran” those familiar lyrics come to mind…

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy

I believe “Tran’s” daily message to me is, “Slow down and take it all in.”

This morning, I passed “Tran” and then found myself walking behind him. All of a sudden, “Tran” just came to a full stop. I found myself thinking, “What is he doing? ”

Then, out of nowhere, 5 deer ran no more than 4 feet in front of “Tran”. In response, “Tran” started waving at the deer and loudly laughing. After they passed, he turned to face me, smiled, pointing at me with one hand and giving me a thumbs up with the other. He turned back around, continued laughing, started walking and gave me a wave as he made his way down the path towards his home.

Hopefully we can all take some time each day to slow down and appreciate the beauty that is all around us. I honestly think it’s the only way we can survive this mixed up, crazy world!

Flowers in the Weeds

The fear-based, hate-filled rhetoric that is currently flooding our airwaves and newsfeeds is mind-boggling. Regardless of which side of the political coin you examine, they both utilize methods that tap into the worst of us. Fear, hatred, manipulation and creating a sense of chaotic mistrust seem to rule the day.

Worse than that, much of the fear-based, hate-filled rhetoric is being championed by many within the Christian community. Again, regardless of which side of the political coin you examine.

I struggle to come to terms with that…a faith based on the two great commandments of loving God and loving neighbor has too easily embraced a platform motivated by fear, hatred and the pursuit of power.

To be honest, in response, I find myself struggling to come to terms with my own anger, hatred and rage. I have to shut down the airwaves and newsfeeds because I begin to boil over. Those who know me best can see my “fire eyes” and recognize that whatever comes next will not be helpful or loving.

There are faithful Christians on each side of the political spectrum. However, each side accuses the other of compromising their faith in order to support their candidate. And, let’s be honest, it’s true. Those supporting either political party have to make some concessions in order to sleep at night. Don’t even get me started on how troubling it is that there are only two political parties that have the platform.

I encourage followers of Jesus to read the Sermon on the Mount and spend some time in prayer before heading to the polls or filling in their mail-in ballot. After that, if you can reconcile voting for your preferred candidate, go for it. If not, remember it’s okay to not vote for either candidate. You can still cast your votes for local and state candidates. But, if at the end of the day you find yourself saying, “Well, it’s the lesser of two evils”, think about what that means. The “lesser of two evils” is still evil.

So, in order to remain in a relatively healthy mental and spiritual state, I have to shut it down. That often means going for walks and listening to skateboarding podcasts!

On this mornings walk, I made my way through an overgrown, weed-filled trail near our neighborhood. The sun was beginning to peak through the clouds. And, I found myself taking in the beauty of my surroundings. Even within the weeds, there are flowers and signs of beauty.

I was reminded of the old Five Iron Frenzy song, “Dandelions”. The lyrics remind us that God sees flowers in the weeds.

Lord search my heart
Create in me something clean
Dandelions…You see flowers in these weeds

It seems like our world is being overcome by “weeds”. I wonder what it would be like if we began to see flowers instead of weeds? I wonder what would happen if we began to turn off the angry, fear-filled, hateful noise and focused on the signs of beauty and hope that surround us? I wonder what would happen if we began to choose love over hatred, anger or fear?