A note about the border…

Stephen Colbert makes such a beautiful and convicting point in this clip. How unfortunate that a late-night talk show host is acting as our voice of conscience here, but here you have it…

I am not an expert of, well, anything. I am a simple small town girl, a citizen of the US who is appalled by the things that are happening in my name at our southern border.

I say that to say this is not a treatise on the merits of our immigration policy, or policies surrounding those who flee to our borders seeking asylum. To argue from that vantage point would be foolish on my part. I know enough about the process to know that those who present themselves at our border seeking political asylum have not in the past been immediately processed as criminals and separated from their children. This has not been our practice under any other administration. Characterizing asylum seekers as “criminals” is wrong. To assume that every person who approaches our border asking for help is a criminal is atrocious. Separating children – including nursing infants! – from their parents is barbarous and cruel to an extreme.

And common sense would tell you that a person seeking to illegally cross our border would not present themselves to any authority, but would find another means of entry, away from the watchful eyes of the government. Targeting this population, which is made up of mainly women and children, is just inhumane. I cannot countenance any other argument.

And most assuredly cannot countenance the use of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13 to justify this action. I nearly came out of my skin when I listened to these words spilling out of AG Sessions’ mouth yesterday. A cherry-picked verse that did not account for the circumstances into which Paul was writing or the context of that verse to the rest of the chapter. It was not lost on me that this same passage was used to justify slavery not so long ago in this country, a fact that directly affects me and mine as a Black woman. To say I was triggered wouldn’t explain the half of it. But my trigger was not pulled exclusively or even primarily because of my ethnicity.

My allegiance to Christ and His Gospel bears down on me with even greater force than my ethnicity ever will. It is NOT biblically justifiable to destroy families to uphold a broken, flawed, and deeply discriminatory immigration policy. I am not even talking about the fact that all of these men, women, and children being detained at our border are Spanish-speaking and Hispanic. Let’s lay aside the race card here and speak strictly on the grounds of common humanity. The fact that, as a Christian, I believe that the Word teaches that we are all created in His image, after His likeness, to reflect His glory. There is no distinction.

Romans 13 calls for us to submit to governing authorities and do what is right. The people seeking asylum are following the rules our government set forth long ago; they are not breaking the law. As such, this argument is meaningless to what is now happening. The administration has capriciously decided not to honor the rules and laws our government have set forth for those seeking to come here for protection. There is no law governing what our government is doing.

But aside from these things, Paul is speaking to Christians living under a very different form of government than we have here in America. And he is speaking to Christians and how they ought to respond to these authorities. His point was not to give justification to Rome for their persecution of Christians and their authoritarian empire; his point was to teach Christians how to live in this setting. Just prior to this chapter, Paul goes into great detail in Chapter 12 about how we ought to live in light of our faith and in view of the great mercy and grace showered upon us by our Lord. Chapter 13 is a continuation of this discussion. Ultimately, we can submit to this authority regardless of what is done to us because it is the Lord’s to avenge, not ours. The Lord’s justice is ultimate good and ultimately just.

But destroying families and traumatizing children to make a point is not a Christian response, and it is an atrocity to use the Bible to justify it.

And lest you think this is a blind screed against the Trump administration, the Obama administration was dinged for a similar practice in 2015 and was ordered to stop (see here for details). The only difference was that they did not separate mothers and children. But their actions were determined illegal then, and these should be even more so for the sheer inhumanity of this added trauma.

That’s all I have to say…for now.

Rabbit trails and winding paths…

I think this post should just be called “Random Stream of Consciousness”. All the thoughts flowing through my mind today spilled into my journal. I thought I’d share a sampling, just to give you some insight into the person behind the blog.

When I was in seminary, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I loved it; it helped me flesh out all the ideas and concepts I was learning prior to committing them to paper for a grade. My first “digital journal” if you will. Blogging then was much different than blogging now, but I still feel the need to wade into the blogosphere waters. It seems that in my pursuit of seeking understanding, I have lost my way as I try to get myself out of this theological sludge that presently surrounds me. I am tired of living for other people, but I feel trapped in this pattern. What do I do?

This is what I do: I begin to redefine what it means to follow Jesus, incorporating what I have learned, and letting go of things I cling to that I know are not correct. And it is time to own my faith, for better or worse, instead of looking to everyone else in the theological universe to tell me what to believe. The balance is delicate because I am not advocating closing myself off from all voices of influence and wisdom. What I am saying is that those voices of wisdom can come from different corners of the Christian world, and I need not be so dogmatic about it all.

Example from my political life: Although I tend to lean left, I am not a hardcore liberal. In terms of public policy and the definition of government protection of its citizens, I am what would be considered liberal. Protection in this view would be more than just military might, but also programs that provide safety nets for the least and most vulnerable. I find it ironic that organizations that scream the loudest that we need to reclaim our “Christian heritage”, poo-poo such liberal ideas – ideas that Jesus Himself spoke about when talking about separating the sheep and the goats. But, I digress…

Where I depart from liberal ideas are the social issues of marriage and family. In those areas, I am a conservative. I have tried to twist the Bible into a pretzel to justify SSA and marriage and I just can’t. I also cannot countenance the myriad justifications for abortion. None of them hold water for me.

However…I am not a social crusader for either of these issues. What I mean is, I cannot jump on the conservative bandwagon of trying to legislate homosexuality or abortion away. Quite frankly, I don’t think it can be done. More importantly, I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He commissioned us to go and make disciples. To the contrary, I believe that this combative stance that is constantly railing about what we’re against undermines our true purpose as followers of Jesus, which is to show Christ’s love as He draws people to Himself. This is not a capitulation to the world’s ideas and ideals; it is a bit a realism that laws can only go so far. I am fully convinced that our mission as believers will necessarily clash with the society in which we live. We seek the welfare of that land; but for me, the cause of winning people to Jesus overrides the need for a society that matches my own moral code and is actually a deeper and more fruitful way of seeking its welfare. We simply cannot legislate belief.

And so, to those on the left, I do not go far enough in my liberalism. But to those on the right, I go too far. But for me, my desire is to love people and share God’s truth with them. I don’t need a law to do that, and to some degree, I believe that laws will actually hinder that process, especially when the people behind such laws are fellow believers. Love them into the Kingdom; let God do the hard work of changing them. We can’t do that, and no law ever will.

I digress again…

I use this as an illustration of the grey areas that bridge the distance between black and white answers on so many issues. In theory, things can be clean and neat; but life is not theory, and things are never so clean. Decisions have unintended consequences; lives and hearts and minds and feelings make life messy. Beyond the pages of a blog or a book, or beyond the steps of a platform or a chamber of Congress, life bears out the marks of those consequences, intended or not, in stark relief. We can never know all the consequences of a given decision or action; but we must own them all the same, regardless of intention.

The consequence of my own decisions is the big ball of confusion that is my inner life at the moment. I’ve chased the rabbit trails through winding paths, tossing to and fro with every wind of doctrine, seeking solace in this truth or that system. I want all the answers; I want the systematic categories to perfectly fit together.  If there is a sermon outline, I’m the one who must have all the blanks filled in or I have a breakdown. Doesn’t quite matter as much that I actually understood what was said. How completely backward, right?

I live in my head much of the time. I love figuring things out and systematizing ideas and beliefs. I want to be consistent from one issue to another. I don’t like loose ends and unanswered questions. But faith does not always satisfy the desire for certainty. By its very nature, it cannot – faith is not needed if you know all the things. Never mind the fact that I am a finite created being that can’t possibly know all the things. Minor detail.

Perhaps this current path to wholeness requires that I give up my quest for certainty in all things, answers to all questions. Perhaps this path to wholeness is acceptance of mystery, unanswered question, and paradoxical truth. I find myself in utter dependence on God when I understand the least; I cry out to Him when the questions are the most pressing. I reach and stretch and hope and pray and desire when He is hidden in mysteries.

Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a way of being, a way of living, a way of being present in this world. Something I can’t quite grasp apart from living it out with brothers and sisters, no matter how many systematic theology books I digest or Bible translations I read.

This turns everything on its head for me, for my current categories do not fit the direction I’m going…

To be so bold…

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10 NIV)

I’ve read this verse many times. But during this last read through of the letter to the Galatians, this verse popped off the page of my Bible and smacked me across the face. I had to stop for a moment and think through what Paul was talking about, what he would be talking about, and why, seemingly out of the blue, this one verse seemed to be grabbing a hold of me with no plans to let go any time soon.

Just prior to this verse, Paul is discussing the reason for his writing to the Galatians, namely the fact that the church in Galatia was being influenced by a group called the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentile believers had to obey the Law and become circumcised in order to be truly saved. In other words, they had to become “Jews” before they could become fully Christian. Paul called this “another Gospel” and strongly rejected this teaching (“let them be accursed” – that is about as strong as rejection as you can get!).

After making this declaration he writes the words I quoted above. I can imagine that speaking against this group of teachers and bringing curses on them was not going to win Paul any popularity points. But his devotion was to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not to the teachings of man. He was called to be faithful to God, not to the Judaizers, or even the Galatians for that matter. His single-minded focus on that one thing caused him to be bold in his assertion that this teaching and any other that goes against what Paul and the other apostles had taught from the beginning be soundly rejected.

Oh, how I long to be so bold.

True confession: I’m not always so bold.

Many times, I waver, hem and haw, or just plain keep my mouth shut out of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of being rejected. Not by God, but by man. By people. It seems that so many times I am good at dishing out the opinions and commentary, but I don’t really want to take it. I like being right too much to be told I’m not, even if it’s true. How prideful and short-sighted.

Much of the time I wonder if there is something wrong with me. That I am somehow not smart enough, not spiritual enough, or I don’t believe strongly enough. But the questions, all those pesky questions, never go away.

I want to know all the things. And by all the things, I mean ALL the things. But there is no possible way for me to know ALL the things. In order for that to be the case, I’d have to be God. But wait a minute – isn’t that what Satan wanted? Isn’t that what got him thrown down to earth? Isn’t that the line he used to tempt Eve – you will be “like God”, knowing ALL the things (my translation)? How did that work out for us? Not so well. Knowing all the things is not what it’s cracked up to be – and we don’t even know it all! But what we do know is enough to get us into a mess of trouble.

Everyone believes that their set of particulars are THE way to know all the things. Well, maybe not all of them, but all the things we can know. It’s amazing to me how many people I read are so fully convinced they are correct and others are wrong – where does one find such confidence? Half the time I am flailing in the water, crying out for Jesus to help me.

But I don’t want to be seen as uninformed, even though information comes at me far faster than I can ever hope to process it. I don’t want to seem flaky, even though half the time that’s exactly what I am. I want to continue on with the illusion that I can know all the things, even though deep down I know for certain I cannot. So, I sit silently in fear. Fear of what others will think of me, as if they are thinking of me in the first place (that pride thing again…I can’t get away from that pesky pest!).

I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know this much:

I am saved only by God’s grace shown through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am not saved to simply sit in a safe little church house and receive my blessings.

My salvation redefines my identity.

My redefined identity changes my priorities.

There is no conflict between speaking of right belief and right practice. It is possible – and in my view important – to talk about both at the same time.

I can’t reconcile believing in Christ and not caring for and about the disenfranchised and oppressed. And by caring for and about, I mean doing something as the body of Christ to alleviate the suffering.

God is bigger and grander than our systematic formulations of Him. We should never stop seeking understanding, but we should also not depend solely on our intellect to acquire knowledge and understanding of God.

Emotional and intellectual faith can and should coexist – in the same person.

Ultimately, my primary desire should be to please God. If I am still trying to please people, I cannot be a servant of God…

Oh Father, help me to be so bold.

Default position…

Initially, this was going to be a series of tweets. But once I started writing, I could not stop…

I am not an SBC member. But I am a Christian woman who has encountered unwanted advances from a “pastor”. Thankfully, I was not assaulted, but it could have easily happened. The thought of bringing the incident to the attention of the deacon board of the church was so incredibly frightening to me that I refused. Instead, I and my father confronted him privately. But although he confessed privately to us that what he did was wrong, he would never acknowledge it before his congregation. So, I left. He remained, and continued on with his behavior, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences. When I learned this, I felt guilty. What would have happened had I come forward?

The same thing that is happening to all of the women coming forward today. I would have been shamed. I would have branded the whore, the seducer, the liar. I would not have been believed. And the wounding that had already occurred by his initial action would have been compounded by the character assassination I would have endured. In the end, sadly, the outcome for him would have likely been the same: he would have remained and continued down the same path that led to his downfall.

It saddens me that I can predict this with such certainty. But I know how it works. And it is wrong.

We are taught that to be good, Christian women we must submit to our male authorities. We are further taught that men are given the charge to shepherd and lead. But what happens when a man does not shepherd and lead well? What happens when a man uses his leadership role to abuse and exploit? Is there any safe space for a woman to testify to abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect and lead? Are we honoring the image of God in either the man or the woman when we shove such sins under the rug, instantly assume the woman is lying, or traumatize women into silence?

And if this is the culture we inhabit – one in which a woman who does come forward is further dehumanized and debased by those whose purpose is to protect the reputation of the man and the fragile hierarchy of the institution – why are we then surprised that women choose to stay silent? If the outcome can be predicted with such brutal precision, self-preservation will cause someone to shy away from exposing herself to further abuse.

If the first instinct when I woman comes forward is to demand to know why she waited so long, or question if she is “sure” she was assaulted, or to simply call her a liar, why would a woman ever come forward? Would you? Why must we “wait for the facts” before judging the man (even if all the facts are laid bare before us in stark relief), but instantly judge the woman coming forward and brand her suspect?

Would you come forward in such an environment?

There so many qualifiers I could place on what I am seeking to convey here; so many “What about”, or “What if” scenarios that can be put forward. No one would say such cases are easy, or that wisdom and discernment are needed to separate truth from fiction. But if the default position is always to suspect the woman and protect the man, then there is a problem with how we are doing things.

My heart is sick about what I am witnessing in the SBC. Even though I am not SBC, my solidarity with believers transcends denominational boundaries. This is a wound on the body of Christ. It is a self-inflicted wound. And it hurts all of us.

We are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to be pointing people to Christ. But we are acting just like the world.

Shame on us.

Random thoughts on “Thoughts and Prayers”…

Another tragedy is unfolding in a high school in America, this time in Santa Fe, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on an art class. At least 8 people are dead and 6 wounded, including the Resource Officer on duty at the time.

I just watched an interview with a student who was in the building at the time of the shooting. The reporter asked her if there was any point during the ordeal where she questioned whether it was really happening; she emphatically shook her head “no”. He asked, “Why not”. Her response cut my heart to pieces: “It’s happening everywhere. I always knew it would eventually happen here.”

Asking our government officials to pass laws that help curb the number and power of guns on the street is not the same thing as advocating for a complete reversal of the Second Amendment. This is a false flag, a distraction from having a truly honest, gut-checking conversation about guns in our country. I personally wouldn’t own a gun, but I would not tell my neighbor he or she cannot. But there are things that we can do to help stem this tide that land in between a free-for-all and an all-out ban. This is a false choice and should be rejected for the nonsense that it is.

Lamenting the violence that is occurring on a regular basis in our school and communities is not the same thing as believing that it is completely on the government to fix everything and parents and teachers and fellow neighbors have no role to play. Again – false flag. What’s up with the zero-sum game we’re playing here? Why does it have to be either/or of two extreme choices? Where did the wisdom of the middle road go? Can’t this be a “both/and” situation where the law and the people come together and form a collective solution?

To add to this: advocating for stricter laws, even something as limited as universal background checks do not make you a Pollyanna that thinks laws will stop all gun violence. Laws against theft and murder don’t stop all crimes – so we should dispense with these laws as well?

Thoughts and prayers…thoughts and prayers. Yes, I think; and I most definitely pray. But John stated in his first epistle the following:  “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer[i] in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him?” (1 John 3:17). And James reminds us: Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. (James 2:18b). Neither author is advocating for works-righteousness; they are affirming what Jesus speaks about when He refers to the “least of these”.

I am a private citizen with little real political power. I speak my mind; I vote; I write my elected officials; I try to love the children in my sphere as best I can. I do what is within my limitations and abilities to do. And yes, I pray. I pray all the time. I ask God to move. But we are required to do something too. We are required to MOVE too, not just think and pray. Constantly listening to men and women who are in positions where they could make a difference simply say they are “thinking and praying” when each new tragedy happens is frustrating. Eventually, those words are meaningless. And then they get the point of inciting anger and rage in people who just don’t get what all the thinking is praying is about if it is not about helping your fellow citizens find a solution to a very real problem.

You may not agree with me; that’s fine. But why do our children bear the brunt of this insanity? Why does it seem that we care more about our guns than our children?

I don’t understand. I just don’t. Lord, have mercy on us, I pray.

More later; until then, grace and peace…

A leg to stand on…

So. It’s my week for clichés apparently. My apologies if you have a strong gag reflex. But it seems to fit in this case. Sort of…

As I mentioned yesterday, I want to share the “Non-Negotiables” that I have been referring to over the past week or so. These are my foundational beliefs upon which all others must stand. If I am considering an argument or position, it gets put through this filter. This, of course, is a simplified version of each of these positions, and there is nuance that I do not get into here. But for my own internal processing, the statements outlined below represent the general direction of my thought process as I move through this process. This is the “leg” upon which I stand so to speak. Corny, I know. But it works for me.

Introduction
I find myself at a major turning point. There are many important issues that I need to think through and consider. Race, gender, politics. Many people can walk through life and not think or worry about these things. But, try as I might, I am not wired that way. These things are important to me, and I believe that is how God wired me.

My challenge has been that I’ve not taken care to maintain my foundational beliefs. This has caused me to drift, waffle, and otherwise fold in many areas. If I am to carefully and consistently assess all the voices and consider all the positions, I need to clarify my foundations.

That is what this document is for.

What this document is not: This is not the exhaustive final word on everything I believe. These are foundational beliefs that help me navigate through all the peripheral issues that pop up in my purview. These are my non-negotiables. Once the non-negotiables are established, I can work through the peripherals with better clarity and peace. If I’m standing on a firm foundation, the unanswered questions are easier to bare and easier to work through.

There would be some that would disagree with my non-negotiables, either wanting to add to them or subtract from them. I’ve tried to be as basic as possible, using the traditional categories of systematic theology as my guide. This is the important part: a subject being listed in the “peripheral” category does not in any way imply that it is not an important element of consistently walking out my faith. What it does mean is that it is not necessary for me to believe a certain thing about that issue in order to be reconciled to God. In other words, it’s not a salvation issue. What I believe about God, about myself and about Jesus are salvation issues. What I believe about race is not necessarily a salvation issue; however, my new position as a child of God should inform and change my understanding of race and see racial history and racism in different ways.

Oh, so complicated. Which is why the foundation is needed.

So, without further adieu, let’s get started…

Definition of terms
I alluded to them in the Introduction, but I just want to state clearly at the outset what I mean by the two main categories I will be working with here.

Non-negotiables, or NNs, are those beliefs that form my core convictions, my worldview if you will. These are things that I will go to mat for, the hills upon which I’m willing to die.

Peripherals, or PLs, are the “non-essential” beliefs that are informed by the NN’s but are not core to my worldview. In other words, if I discover information that is strongly persuasive, I am open to changing my mind on these things. I am willing to be proven wrong in these areas, as long as it is done graciously and respectfully. Likewise, if I find that my “side” is determined to be the most persuasive I wish to be gracious and respectful in return. Other items that fall into this category are things that I don’t feel I have enough information about to make a full determination. I have a feeling that as I go through this process, I will find that this list is the longest.

The Non-Negotiables (NNs)

This list is not going to be super lengthy. Which is exactly as it should be.

The Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God. It is truthful in all that it teaches. All that is fleshed out beyond this point is based on this Word. The bible has both divine and human origin. God used human authors to write the Scripture. The doctrine of Inspiration explains how the human authors wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

God is the Creator, the Source of life, and the Sustainer of life. He has always existed, is perfectly holy and just, and all-powerful. He exists outside of space and time; He omnipresent and omnipotent. He is all-wise.

God is one essence that exists in Three Persons. This is called the mystery of the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons that eternally exist in one essence we refer to as the Godhead.

Jesus is God incarnate, the Second Person of the Godhead. He is both fully God and fully Man. He was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on the cross. He rose again and was ascended to heaven. Through his death, burial, resurrection we have been made whole and have been reconciled to God. He is the Messiah, the one the OT foreshadowed. All of God’s promises find their answer of “Yes” in Him.

The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead and is fully God along with the Father and the Son. Christ dwells in believers through the Holy Spirit. He quickens our hearts to understand and believe the message of salvation. He convicts us of sin as we work out our salvation (see Sanctification). He illumines our hearts and enables us to understand the Scriptures.

Humanity was created in the image of God as male and female. This is a matter of creation and biology. We were created to fellowship and commune with our Creator. God commanded us to exercise dominion and care for His creation on His behalf.

Sin and death entered the world because of the disobedience of the man and the woman to a direct command from God to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent (Satan), enticed the woman to eat of the fruit, and she then gave some to her husband and he ate also. For their disobedience, God banished them from the Garden, and death has reigned since that time.

Salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be reconciled with God. Salvation comes through grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We add nothing to our salvation; we can only receive it from the hand of God. even the faith that is the instrument through which we believe comes from God.

Sanctification is the process through which we become more like Jesus. This is a lifelong process that will not be complete until we meet Jesus face to face.

Jesus is coming back to consummate His Kingdom. All believers will be with Him in the new heavens and new earth forever.

The church is the household of God, all believers past, present, and future. We are united through the blood of Christ into one new body that consists of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The sacraments of the church are The Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

The Great Commission is the task of all believers to share the Gospel with all those they encounter, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching the Truth.

So, there you have it. These are my NNs. I’ll leave it here for now. Until later, grace and peace…

Don’t block your blessings…

That’s one of those clichés that I’ve heard more times than I care to think about. It is usually meant as a form of encouragement: Don’t resist or seek to avoid those things that may seem unpleasant or unwanted. A hidden blessing may lurk underneath.

Cue the eye roll…

But there seriously is some truth to that statement. At times, our blessings come to us in the most unexpected ways and from the most unexpected places. On the flip side, what we think are blessings can often turn out to be anything but.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am currently journeying through a process to decide what I think about this whole biblical womanhood thing. I’m thinking about this as a single, childless 40-something Christian woman who wants to faithfully live out my days for the glory of my Lord and Creator. During this process, I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to determine who I should and shouldn’t listen to, what voices I should embrace, and which ones I should shut out. And to a certain degree, that is a good thing. Some folks just don’t know what they are talking about, bless their hearts. Or they are so far afield they are dangerous.

But even in seeking to understand those who may not have it right or with whom I do not agree, I can still have a charitable heart and listen, even if I don’t agree. My foundational beliefs are there – my God is there. Ultimately, He is what grounds me, keeps me steady, helps me discern truth. In fact, it is in those conversations or interactions with teaching that I don’t agree with or understand that my own beliefs and convictions are refined and sometimes redefined. I have to be open to the fact that I am wrong sometimes.

So, as I embark on this new adventure, I’m not going to block any of those blessings! I am ready to be challenged, to grow, to move. I have a starting point – my non-negotiables (which I will share tomorrow). And I have my foundation in Christ. He steadies me and tethers me to Himself. I can depend on Him.

More later; until then, grace and peace…