What am I trying to win?

Today I read the following on Beth Moore’s Facebook page:

bmoore-quote

This hit me for a number of reasons:

I am a news junkie, probably because my first career choice was to be a journalist. And…because I’m nosy. Mostly because I’m nosy; but perhaps that’s why I wanted to be a journalist, so I could get paid to be nosy!

Anyway, I still have that natural impulse, and pay close attention to news media. It is also my natural impulse to share what I’m learning, not just because I am a journalist at heart, but because I am also a teacher at heart. The process of learning is not fully realized for me until I’m able to share what I’ve learned with others. When these two impulses are married with the speed of social media, I find myself inserting my foot in mouth, or “oversharing”, which is my term for sharing the information with my unsolicited opinion blended into the mix. It’s easy to do, and hard to control when you are tweeting or sharing at the speed of light. I find this especially hard to maintain and control on Twitter.

I have moments when I do realize what I’m doing and scale back – and then some new outrage occurs and I’m back to my old habits. “Old habits die hard” is a cliché because it is so annoyingly true!

So these are my current thoughts about this:

I can’t say I will never post another political post again. That is a set-up for failure for sure. But I do want to heed Beth’s warning here and consider the speed and volume of my posts. And by volume I mean, the outrage meter, if you will. There are some pretty yucky things going on right now, but the level of drama and the sheer volume of cyber-ink that is spilled over some of this stuff is a distraction from what’s truly important. If we are outraged by everything, is there a point at which nothing is truly outrageous anymore? Would that make it difficult to spot the real stuff, the truly outrageous stuff that is worthy of our attention and action, if we’re occupied with the busy work of the trivial?

It’s time to scale it all back, slow down and actually take something in long enough to fully understand it so I can discern what the real stuff is…

And, church, the real stuff is that we love our neighbor regardless of what the government does. We look to the government to do the things we ought to be doing. We apply worldly philosophies to the task of caring for the poor and least of these. We take on the identity of our political preferences over against the identity of Christ; and then we baptize our views in Christian language to make them sound “Christian”.

This is not an exclusively liberal or conservative tendency; both side are equally guilty of doing it. Please hear me: I don’t want to get all self-righteous here, because I have no room to be so. I am talking to myself just as much as anyone. I am part of the problem! I value my comfort more than the life and well-being of others who may need my help. From a distance, it is easy to dehumanize the other, to blame the other for their lot in life, without truly knowing how or why they got there. And even if they are to blame for their circumstance, mercy will see them not as a lost cause, but a grand possibility.

Mercy is what has kept me; mercy is why I am still here. Mercy is the reason any of us have what we have. And mercy, by its very definition is something that is not deserved. I am called to be merciful, even as my Heavenly Father is merciful…how am I doing in this area? I shudder to think of the answer to that question…

But I’m digressing again…I always digress…ugh! Back to what I was saying…

Scaling back for me is taking a break. Taking a sabbatical of sorts from all this news media chaos that happens on social media. I do not wish to “win the internet”. I want to follow Christ. Period. How I best do that will not be discovered in my FB or Twitter newsfeeds, but in the Word of God. And my ability to act in a Christlike way will not be determined by how fast I can post something, or how well I can articulate my opinion that no one really asked for. It will happen slowly, quietly, as I meditate on God’s Word and seek to obey it in every area of my life.

To be quite frank with you, I am just worn out at this point. It’s only been a month people – we have three years and 11 months more to go! I can only speak for myself, but I think now is a good time for me to be slow to speak and quick to listen. So, this will be my last post about politics, at least for a while. I need to get back to the source of our wholeness, namely Jesus Christ. I must reorient my heart, my life, and my focus on Him. All the other stuff will be clearer when I do that…

More later…grace and peace…

Silence is golden…and sometimes necessary

So, after that long, drawn out diatribe about politics, I have gone silent again. It’s a necessity right now.

This past Sunday, we started a new sermon series called “Words”. To say that it was convicting is an understatement. The opening statement was “Your talk is never cheap; your words have weight”. Well, OUCH! And then there was this zinger:

Speaking redemptively is all about choosing wise words. And that means not merely choosing what to say but what not to say. Sometimes it’s better knowing when NOT to talk than knowing what to say.

Ugh…

So this is where my thoughts are right now. There is a time to speak. And then there is a time to be silent. And I also believe that the medium matters based on the message you’re attempting to send. Not every medium fits every message. There is a genuine struggle that goes on when I stare down a story on WaPo or WSJ and try to decide whether it is wise to share or to keep to myself. I search my motives to see if they are “pure” in the sense of seeking to shed light or simply seeking to create heat (read: drama). Many times the shedding of light has the unintended consequence of creating the heat – but is that reason enough not to share it? I think an argument could be made either way, but how much is too much, and when is it not enough? The area is grey, nebulous, and slightly unnerving.

The beauty and tragedy of social media is that it provides up to the minute information on important things happening in the world. A natural disaster hits, or a horrible event occurs and you are immediately connected to the scene. If you have loved ones there, they have a way to tell you they are safe. All fabulous things, and wonderful blessings. But the immediacy of this information also is fraught with pitfalls and snares, most importantly that information is sometimes not properly analyzed to determine its truthfulness. It takes mere seconds for something crazy false to spread like wildfire; but often, the correction is either never distributed or ignored because we’re on to the next thing.

So what do you do, especially when you’re a news junkie (confession is good for the soul)?

Slow. Down.

Oh yeah – and be quiet…

I’m talking to myself right now. I am quick to hit the “Share” or “Retweet” button after reading something that is utterly appalling to me (I’ve been utterly appalled a lot lately) without thinking through the consequences of posting, or even the accuracy of what I’ve read. I try to keep my sources within a strict window of established news organizations with varying political leanings. But everyone has a bias, and we all lean toward that which validates our own view of things. I lament that we cannot hear the other side without immediately going into all-out war mode at the slightest whiff of disagreement.

So, here I sit…wading through story after story that upsets, concerns, or enrages me. I see injustice swirling all around. I want to stand on a mountaintop and shout. But what should fill the words that are coming out of my mouth (or in my case, my keyboard clicks). Total silence is not the answer, I know. But wise silence is sometimes warranted. Only in that silence can I weigh my words carefully to be more sure that what I’m writing or saying is truthful, and how, when and where I say it is honoring to God and respectful to those created in His image.

More later…grace and peace…

 

Trigger Alert: Political Post Straight Ahead!

Hopefully, this will not be your average political post, however. I am working on a theory, and need to flesh it out. I could be wrong, but I won’t be able to figure that out until see it written down. If I am wrong, I welcome feedback and discussion. Deep breath…here goes…

I am an American, and as such, I have a certain idea of what political engagement should be. I have a specific understanding of government, a democratic republic, and my role in it and relationship to it. I don’t know anything outside of this paradigm. I live in a country where dissent is allowed, and we vote for our government representatives. I also live in a country that has as part of its national character a civil religion that borrows heavily on a “Judeo-Christian” ethic and therefore liberally applies biblical language and imagery to our public and political life. The American way of life is highly individualistic, focused on rights and freedoms, and champions the lone ranger who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes something out of next to nothing.

How much of that is really “Christian” though? That’s a post for another day, but I post that question to make this statement: America is not the Kingdom of God. And government can only go so far. No matter the structure, political philosophy or economic policy, every form of government is flawed. There are elements that are good, and elements that are sinful, because government is made up of a bunch of sinful people. It seems reasonable to me that if an institution or system is set up by people who are all sinners (a biblical doctrine, no?), then there will be things about that system that are sinful. Again, another topic for another day. My bottom line is this: Certain things are simply not biblical or Christian, no matter how many Christian words your sprinkle on them. And even in our most eloquent speeches advocating unwavering national pride, throwing God in the mix doesn’t make it Christian.

But, I digress, as usual…back to the point of this post.

Full disclosure: I am a left-leaning Christian. Not that anyone who reads my Facebook page or Twitter feed would be surprised by that statement. There are a few (extremely important) issues where I do not fall in line with the left side of politics; but for the most part, I would say I lean left. I own this preference, and will not necessarily apologize for it. What I will apologize for is that I at times ignore that I do look at things through this lens and therefore do not account for that particular bias when considering political commentary or news. If this past weekend has taught me anything, it is that I need to sit back and reassess how I’m seeing things.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a particular political preference. What I do think is wrong, and what I’ve seen in myself personally this last week is the fact that I allow my political preference to inform my reading of the Word versus the other way around.  There are elements on the left and the right that are God-honoring and very biblical. But there are elements on both sides that are diametrically opposed to Scripture. Naked Capitalism has winners and losers; it’s the nature of the beast. But applauding capitalism while ignoring the very real suffering of its losers and blaming them for their losses is not biblical. Treating men and women with equal dignity and respect in the home and workplace is a biblical concept. But redefining life in order to justify our desire to do as we please with our bodies is not. As you can see, I live on both sides of a very contentious fence. But things are not so black and white, and the lines we have drawn in the sand are proving to be more arbitrary by the day.

I point this out to suggest that perhaps we are focusing on the wrong thing, or better said, depending on the wrong thing to effect change in our culture and world. No matter what issue we’re debating or what side we are defending, all policy has unintended consequences. We are not omniscient. We cannot see all sides of everything. Fixing one problem can create a dozen new ones we never saw coming. When that happens, who is there to pick up the pieces and help those who have been hurt? Should that not be the church?

This is where I’m going: How would things look if we owned our political biases and allowed others to own theirs without automatically dismissing them as sub-Christian because they disagree with us? Or spent more time comparing our particular stances with Scripture and allowing Scripture to correct them instead of going to Scripture to proof-text the validity of our positions? Or stopped stereotyping each other and allowed facts to drive our discussion, even if they don’t support our position? This would require that we be willing to see the flaws in our positions and accept that the other side might have something valid to say. This would require that we hold our position loosely enough that we are willing to be wrong and change our minds. It would require more listening as opposed to speaking. It would require humility, some discomfort, and the potential loss of reputation and/or influence in the world.

But wouldn’t it be worth it?

We could then focus on being a prophetic voice instead of a political mouthpiece. We could a refuge that would help clean up the mess those unintended consequences of policy decisions will create. But most importantly, it would shift our focus as the church back to what we ought to be focusing on. Caring for the least of these, for the poor and afflicted. Caring for the orphaned and widowed. For the stranger. That is not a left or right position: it is a biblical position. It is uncomfortable and would require sacrifice. But I ask again: wouldn’t it be worth it?

I realize that opens up another can of worms. How best do we help the least of these? But that is a discussion worth having and should be had in the church. We have the resources within ourselves to do these things. We don’t need the government to do them. We need each other.

Again, this is a work in progress. I haven’t thought out all the implications, and as you can see, I haven’t yet dug deeply into scriptural content yet either. All or some of this is subject to change. I just know there is a better way than what we are seeing and have been seeing for a long time.

So this is part one of a multi-part series that will go on for who knows how long. I will take breaks from this topic because it is so thick that sometimes I have to come up for air. But since I don’t think this problem is going to get better any time soon, it’s not something I can ignore.

More later…grace and peace…

Please see me…

This is my food for thought for today. I’m trying to find the right words to say here, so bear with me…

I have been reading posts on my personal Facebook page from dear friends who wish that all this heavy talk would cease. The negativity is too much. And on one level, I agree wholeheartedly. There are moments when I, too, meet critical mass and have to step away and be silent. Or I post an impassioned treatise about why I will no longer post thus and so…only to post thus and so three days later!

I get it. We want to see pictures of cute babies and funny videos of puppies and kittens doing silly things. I love to share my photos of sunsets, or friends laughing and sharing memories. These things hold deep meaning. But they are not the sum total of life. Of my life.

I lament – loudly – for the state of this country, and more specifically, the state of the American church. The things I post are on my mind, in my heart, coursing through my veins. I cannot help speaking on them because they are part of who I am. Today’s post is about racial reconciliation in the church. It’s not fluffy, warm or fuzzy. But it is a part of my thoughts, my heart, my life. I do not have the luxury of turning it off or tuning it out. I can’t walk away from it; it is my experience in this country, and has been since the day I was born. I can no more “get over it” than I can stop being Black.

To see me is to see that I am a Black woman. I am not ashamed of that. I do not need to apologize for it. This is how God fashioned me. This is who He made me to be. He is not calling me to erase my ethnic heritage. He is calling me to live it out in a way that honors and brings glory to Him. The wholeness that I speak of on this page, the “shalom” that we want in our lives, can only come through openly engaging and fighting those things that work against that peace, and to reconsider our identities here on earth in light of our true identity in Christ.

If the first impulse is to suggest that I blind myself to ethnic reality or to the real concerns that live in my heart, I implore you in love to reconsider. To do so would be to forget myself. To not engage in the real problems that live in the American Church is not something I can do. This is the life I live, the only one I can share. Its good, its bad, its ugly.

And so, with that, I ask that you read and consider what this brother in Christ is sharing in this post. Some of it may be uncomfortable; but none of it is written – or shared – with malice.

The Lonely Path of Reconciliation for Minorities

Grace and peace…

To March or not to March?

This lightstock.comSaturday, women all across America will be marching in response to our recent election of Donald J. Trump as president. He will be inaugurated this Friday, two short days away, and I have to admit I’m not all that excited about it. As Inaugurations go, I’ve never been one to get super excited anyway. It was pretty phenomenal to see President Obama sworn in, not because I am a die-hard Obama enthusiast, but because I never thought I would see the day that a Black person would make it to the White House. To witness that was breathtaking; I can’t explain it adequately.

I find myself not being able to explain my feelings this year as well, but for vastly different reasons. I am not excited, or welling up with pride, or feeling we’ve overcome a major milestone with the election of Trump. I feel like we have regressed. I feel like someone punched me in my gut and have yet to catch my breath again. I feel as though the things he promised, the things so many of his supporters are looking to him to do, will not come to pass, or worse, will blow up in our faces and make things worse. I feel we elected him for all the wrong reasons, and that it is not going to be pretty. And it’s not because I hate him, or because I hate people who voted for him; I just believe that he is not what we need as a country. That we are at a turning point right now in our history, and that his presidency may just push us in the wrong direction, to the point of no return.

Aren’t I a bowl of sunshine today?? But this is where I am. And this is why my impulse to march, to speak out is so strong. Because I want us to stop the train before we reach the edge of the cliff.

But…

Earlier this week I read that the organizers of the march had pulled one of their sponsors because that particular group is a pro-life group. In other words, this group is against abortion. The platform of the organizers is adamant that abortion, or what they term “reproductive rights” are a core part of being pro-woman and that any group that would differ on this point does not deserve to march with them on Saturday. I think that is wrong and very unfortunate.

Today I read an article in the Washington Post about the architects of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Susan B. Anthony in particular was highlighted in this article. The writer explained that Anthony would not have marched on Saturday, and in fact would have probably been uninvited because she and her feminist comrades were staunchly anti-abortion. On nearly every other point held by the current iteration of the “Feminist” movement would have been agreed upon except this one, and for that reason, she would have been shut out of a movement she helped found. How sadly ironic. And how telling of the fact that we do not know the history of the very movements we say we support.

I’ve been called a feminist a few times, sometimes as a compliment, sometimes as an insult. If believing that all people, regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation, body type, physical ability, gender, or sexual orientation (yeah, I said it) should be treated with dignity and provided the same access to opportunities to flourish within a society, then yes, I suppose I am a feminist. But if I must support a something I am theologically and personally opposed to in order to be a feminist, then that is not me. I believe the potential of an unborn child is just as profound and worthy of protection as my potential. But this would make me unwelcome in the organization that is seeking to mobilize and unite women for positive change. Why is that? Why has the movement been boiled down to this one thing, this one litmus test?

So I find myself in a bind here. With a few notable exceptions, I agree with most of the things that the Women’s March is speaking out against. But on this point, I strongly disagree. I am willing to join hands with my fellow sisters to fight for those things we hold as common causes, and dialogue on those things with which we differ. The question is: would they be willing to return that same open hand to me?

I will not be in DC this weekend; but a sister march will be taking place here in my town. I will probably be marching. I am willing to fight for the basic right of dignity that all people deserve – and I strongly believe I can support that position scripturally. But I will do so with a twinge of sadness in my heart, that even in “unity”, we will be torn asunder by this one issue, the one issue the movement’s founders likely would have wept to see come to pass.

More later…grace and peace…

“True tolerance demands civility with those with whom we disagree.” – Randy Boltinghouse

Why Am I A Christian?

Why am I a Christian?

I was asked this question recently, and it has been resounding in my heart ever since. It’s a good question too; it speaks directly to the very thing that defines who I am as a person. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I do feel it is important that I share the answer – the introduction to this topic – that I gave to my dear friend. She has given me permission to share.

I am a Christian because I believe it is true.

Truth has been given a bad name these days. Oxford Dictionary announced that the word of 2016 was “post-truth”. They define it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” We don’t need to think very long to consider areas of life where this phenomenon runs rampant. I would argue that much of what we witnessed during this last presidential election had much to do with this very idea. No amount of fact – or debunking of falsehoods – could persuade many on either side of the reality of their chosen candidate. We shall reap the consequences of this soon enough; but I digress. That is not the purpose of this post…

It is interesting to me that there are certain areas where we are post-truth, and certain where we would do not dare question the truth of certain objective facts. For example, I would never dream of climbing up on the roof of my office building and jumping off because I have been influenced by my personal belief that gravity is not true. We don’t argue with a creditor based on appeals to emotion or personal belief that we should be forgiven of this or that debt and expect to get anywhere. We don’t design buildings on the personal belief that load-bearing walls really aren’t necessary to keep the thing standing up. And I certainly wouldn’t go under the knife with a surgeon who has decided that he personally doesn’t believe in germs and therefore will not be sterilizing his surgical instruments. Facts are facts, we say.

But in other areas? We get squishier. Politics, as I referenced above, is one area. Religion is another. The two subjects that we are told not to discuss in polite company. And yet they shape and influence so much of our lives, both individually and collectively. It’s a matter of opinion. It’s what is right for me, or you, or whoever.

But what if, speaking specifically about religion right now, there is an objective, factual, and reasonable way to determine what is true? What if there were objective facts – facts that are true regardless of what I think about them – that have consequences in our lives and have bearing on what we believe and in whom? What if?

This was the question laid before me in my early 20s. Although I was born into a Christian home, and was in church from the time I was a baby, I did not embrace personal faith in Christ until much later. I was baptized at the age of nine, mainly because I was able to answer all the questions correctly that made me a candidate for it. But an embrace of faith, a conviction and belief, was absent. My faith was entirely cultural, and although I had a vague belief that there was a God, I was not convinced that the God of the Bible was the God.

I stopped attending church in my late teens and entered college as what I would call an agnostic. I never stopped believing that a God existed. But I was not convinced that we could know God or understand Him. And I certainly didn’t think if there was such a God He would be so small-minded as to provide only one pathway to knowing Him. The environment I lived in at the time (the University of Illinois) affirmed this idea. But I was still curious. My curiosity led me to take a comparative religions course as an undergrad. I left that class with unanswered questions and this nagging feeling that the “all roads lead to the same place” theory was just plain wrong. I wasn’t ready to take the step of saying there was no God at all. I didn’t think the evidence supported that idea. But I set that aside and began pursuing other things. I was having too much fun. I thought my life was fine just the way it was.

And it was. As lives go, I have lived a charmed one. Not that I have not had problems; but I know I’ve been blessed. And even then, I was aware of that. Not because I openly acknowledged it; it was just a knowing. Nothing I could define. I just knew. But I didn’t ascribe that blessing to a particular God. I was just blessed.

Thankfully, I have parents who did not try to cram religion down my throat. They let me take the path I needed to take, and loved me no matter what. I don’t know if the outcome of my story would have been different had they been hard-line with me. But, given my personality, they knew that approach would not work, so they had to let me fly on my own. Even if I crashed and burned. I had to figure it out for myself.

I didn’t have a “burning bush” moment. There was no tragic event that led me to faith. God did not audibly speak to me. I didn’t have a spiritual experience at a revival. It wasn’t one moment that I can point to and say, “this was the moment”. I can point to a moment when I realized there was a shift in my thinking, but I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint the source or exact point in time that shift took place. It was gradual. Methodical almost. Slowly, my arguments against God, and Jesus in particular, were chipped away until I was left with nothing but the hardness of my own heart, my own refusal to bow the knee, to accept the truth.

I read and considered the theories about the resurrection. I studied translation philosophies and how the English Bible came to be; of the thousands of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that verify our translations. I’ve pondered the arguments for possible contradictions, and the evidence against those arguments. These were objective facts that lay before me and demanded a response from me. I couldn’t be neutral about it; I had to pick a side. That’s what I was left with. And I surrendered to that.

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I believed. I still do. I am a Christian because I believe it is true. And it’s not true because it makes my life perfect, or gives me everything I’ve ever asked for in life.

I believe the evidence I studied about the manuscripts that are used to translate our Bible. I believe the evidence for the life of a man named Jesus. I believe the historical records that confirm He was a real person and that He really was executed on a Roman cross. I believe that His followers preached His resurrection, and lived and died for this proclamation. I believe in the objective, historical fact of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He said His resurrection would confirm that what He said about Himself was true. If He rose, then Christianity rises; if He is still in the grave, it is dead. I believe He rose. And I believe He is true, that He is Truth. I believe because the Christian worldview, one that is fully informed by the full counsel of the Word of God, makes sense of this life better than anything else I’ve considered.

That is why I am a Christian.

I don’t think I persuaded my friend. And that’s okay; she’s still my friend and I love her, and she knows that. Her decision one way or another won’t change that. I would love for her to embrace Christ as I did. But I can’t make that decision for anyone else. It is a “leap of faith”; but it is not a blind leap. There are reasons to believe. Good reasons. No, we can’t see with our physical eyes. But we can, with hearts open, consider the possibility that there is more to life than what we see. There is more than just this time and space we occupy. If we sit still long enough, perhaps we can hear an echo of eternity in our hearts, an ache for something that cannot be fulfilled by the here and the now. And that something gives meaning and purpose to the here and the now that it cannot have otherwise. It may sound like foolishness to some; but it is breath and life to me…

This year I resolve to…

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…And you can fill in that blank any way you wish.

I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. They feel like a set up to me – when the year is fresh, I can feel like anything is possible. A brand new year brings a new beginning with all the possibilities I can imagine. But soon the excitement and newness of the year gives way to the drudgery of the common, everyday grind. And before I know it, the year has passed, and it is time to usher in a new year yet again. And those resolutions I was so excited about are long forgotten.

Since I don’t make resolutions, I’ve made it a habit to write out a prayer at the end of each year recounting the blessings of the 12 months gone by, and praying for strength for the new. Sometimes I get the sense that I’m going in a particular direction and build my prayer around it. And then other years I’m just grateful I made to the end and breathlessly stretch toward the finish line and the new beginning.

This yearend is a mixture of both.

No one will deny that 2016 has been downright brutal. The memes crowding my social media newsfeeds that express our deep loathing for the year that has gone by testify to the fact that many of us are walking into to 2017 emotionally exhausted and slightly paranoid. What in the world will happen next, we wonder.

Personally, I had a rough 2016 – but I can also find wonderful blessings and awesome surprises that walked into my life during this year as well. I face 2017 with a sense of excitement and hope, with a pinch of fear. And I pray for wisdom to walk well this year.

That brings me to the reason for this blog post…

The one thing I want to do this year is focus anew on the wonder of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, I have decided to become a facilitator for a wonderful ministry called Love God Greatly. They exist to help women get into the Word, be enriched by the Word, and grow in our faith through knowing the Word. The first study of the year is a survey of the book of Proverbs called Walking in Wisdom. If you are a woman looking for a way to get into the Word, I would so love for you to join my Facebook group and walk through this study with me! I’ve provided all the necessary links below.

We start January 16. I hope to see you there!

Happy New Year!

Walking in Wisdom study journal: You do not need the journal to go through the study, but if you would like to keep all your study notes in one place, this is a good way to do that.

Love God Greatly E2W Group: This is where all the action will happen! Hop on over and join in the fun!

Encourage to Wholeness on Facebook: I’d love for you to like my page. This is where all of my blog posts, pictures, and other shenanigans will be happening outside of the actual study.