Politicking and the Poor

It’s that time again – the time every four years when two powerful people sling insults at each other and their respective political parties, hoping to gain the confidence of a nation.  Presidential candidates used to advertise on the radio.  Then television came onto the scene, and with it the potential for unlimited amounts of money spent to raise awareness for a campaign.  President Obama’s campaign is expected to raise over one billion dollars and the Grand Old Party (GOP) hope to do the same for their candidate.  That is a phenomenal amount of money.  One billion dollars can do a lot.

It could buy up every Super Bowl ad slot.  For 4 years!
It could buy 600 Bugatti Veyrons – the most expensive car in the world.
It could buy 40 private islands.
It could buy 284, 900,285 Big Mac sandwiches from McDonalds.
It could buy a gallon of milk for every single person in the United States.
It could buy a 30 month supply (on average how many months it takes to potty train) of disposable diapers for 666,000 children.

If you had 1 billion dollars, and you spent $1,000.00 every day, it would take you a million days to spend that much money.  That’s almost 2,738 years.  The average person in America makes roughly $29,000.00 per year.  To make one billion dollars, a person making $29,000.00 per year would have to work for 34,482 years.  And that’s not spending a single penny!

Seems like a lot of money to spend on advertising for one person who wants to be president.  The interest groups lobbying congress spend easily as much.    Michelle Obama was quoted in 2008 as saying “Someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”  One billion dollars buys a whole lot of pie.  It would buy a lot of food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, and shelter for the homeless.  According to Fox News, from 2000 – 2004 the Obama’s gave $10,772.00 to charity – less than one percent of their income.  And while any contributions are appreciated by those that receive them, that doesn’t seem like giving a very big slice of pie away so that someone else can have more.  To be fair, there are plenty of other politicians who give one percent or less; don’t think that I’m just picking on the Obamas.  Across the board charitable giving does not appear to be a priority.

There’s a common misconception that there’s not enough “pie” to go around.  There isn’t enough money to erase poverty; there isn’t enough resources to stop aids; there isn’t enough food to stop world hunger.  Those ideas are simply wrong.  There is enough money, resources, and food – but they’re not being prioritized correctly.  One billion spent by one candidate for an election (whether democrat or republican) isn’t a correct priority.  At least, for a Christian.

Isaiah chastises the rulers of Israel in scripture for their misuse of resources: “Your rulers…love bribes and chase after gifts.  They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”(1)  American Christians place a higher priority on the defense of their stuff than they do on care for those without stuff.  The United States military budget for the 2011 fiscal year was about 680 billion dollars.  We spend a huge amount of money as a country on the latest technology that can erase governments and peoples that pose a threat to our way of existence, but less than half of that amount on the families that are struggling just to exist in the first place.  Americans as a whole (including corporations) donated roughly 300 billion dollars in 2009 to charitable causes, about half of which went to religious institutions such as churches.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it could certainly be more.

America is the richest nation in the world.  American Christians are some of the richest religious in the world.  We pour millions of dollars into constructing beautiful sanctuaries with impeccable landscaping and state of the art cooling systems and sound equipment so that we can be comfortable and entertained on Sunday mornings when we worship.  Should we care for the building we meet in?  Of course.  Should we do everything well?  Of course.  But what is the value of a beautiful sanctuary if the people inside are not cared for?  Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord again, rather angrily: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!  Your incense is detestable to me…I cannot bear your evil assemblies…They have become a burden to me; I am wearing of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood.  Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight!  Stop doing wrong, learn how to do right!  Seek justice, encourage the oppresed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow.”(2)

God asks, “What do you mean by crushing my people, and pushing the faces of the poor into the ground?”(3)  What can we answer?  We can we say when buying meaningless items to satisfy our materialism when not a mile away a single mother struggles to pay for diapers?  What can we say when we parade against abortion, but condemn and ostracize the teenagers who have babies out of wedlock?  What can we say when we drop a dollar or two in the offering plate for missions, then spend fifty on a Sunday lunch?

What is there that we could possibly say?  Only one thing – I repent.  Then perhaps the seraph (angel) will come with a live coal and touch it to our lips, saying “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”(4)

Perhaps then we could defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the cause of the poor and the widow.  Perhaps then we’d worry less about who’s president, and more about how to love our neighbor. Perhaps we would spend less on entertainment, and more on real relationships with others.  Perhaps we could offer hope – the hope that Christ came to give the world.

(1) – Isaiah 1:23
(2) – Isaiah 1:15-17
(3) – Isaiah 3:15
(4) – Isaiah 6:7

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Beginning Again…Again.

Today was the first day of my new job as a Claims Adjuster at GEICO.  My husband already works there, also as a Claims Representative, and I’m super excited that I now get to bother him whenever I feel like it!

So I work for the Gecko now.  This means that I will soon have all kinds of gecko related paraphernalia, and I will obnoxiously try to convince everyone that they should switch to GEICO.  Awesome, I know.

We had to turn in a paper today that listed all of our work history for the past 5 years.  For some people, that would be easy.  It took me an hour to fill out that paper.  When all was said and done, I counted 13 jobs over the last 5-6 year period, since right before I started college.  It’s true that 10 of them were part-time or summer jobs that overlapped with my studies, but 13 is still a pretty large number.  That’s a lot of new beginnings.  A lot of new people to meet, a lot of new-hire orientations to sit through.

And here I am, beginning again.  There’s something exciting about beginning, about starting over.  You can remake yourself in a new place, to new people, doing a new job.  There’s new opportunities to explore!  The only issue with starting over in a new place is that you will still be there.  New places don’t magically make new people.  What’s on the inside stays there no matter where you find yourself.

Sometimes, it takes more effort to stick with it than it does to begin again.
Sometimes, a new beginning is just an escape from an old new beginning.
Sometimes that’s okay.
But sometimes you have to stop beginning, and start the middle.

No book would ever be written if the author only wrote beginnings.
No music could be heard on the radio if the composers only composed the first few stanzas.
No marriages would ever work if during the ceremony the vows never got past “I.

It’s not just “I.”  It’s “I do.”  And it’s not just “I do.”  It’s “I continue to do.”  If you stop doing, then all that’s left is the “I.”  The “I” isn’t much good alone.  Not in a marriage.  Not in a job.  Not in life.  It has to be accompanied by the “do.”

But what about when you don’t want to do anymore?
When you’re tired?
Grumpy.
Hurt,
or lonely?
What if you just want to give it up and begin again someplace else where no one knows you?

Then you call a friend.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 states, “You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn.  If you fall, your friend can help you up!  But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble” (CEV).

Having a friend means being able to write the middle of our story.  And Proverbs 18:24 says that “There’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (NIV).  A friend that’s there 24/7, 365 days a year.  A friend that won’t care how late it is when you call, or how long the conversation is going to be.  A friend that has an extra comfy shoulder to lean on, and won’t mind if you snot all over it.  Plus, he’s capable of giving you a zillion cheezburgers if that’s what you need.

Okay, that’s a little metaphorical.  You probably won’t need a zillion cheezburgers when you’re sad, unless you happen to be a lolcat.  But it doesn’t matter what you need.  This friend can meet that need, and even more importantly, he’ll be there for you through the whole thing.  Who’s this friend?  It’s Jesus.  Jesus can give you the strength to face anything (Phillipians 4:13).

Even if facing “anything” just means sticking it out a little longer.
Standing strong, instead of turning and running away.
Writing the middle, instead of writing a new beginning…
…again.

10 Things I Hate About American Christians

Let me begin with a disclaimer – this should probably actually be titled “10 things I hate about narrow-minded, mean, divisive, holier-than-thou, American Christians.”  But that’s just not very catchy.  The disclaimer is to save my skin, and because every American Christian does not exhibit the traits I’m about to complain about.  There are plenty of genuinely wonderful, Christlike people leading and attending churches across the United States.  They love on people, help people, care for people, and do their best to make a difference in the world.  This is not directed at those people.

1. The teaching that if you just say a prayer, getting “saved” will make you RICH/HAPPY/YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WILL BE SUPERDUPERAWESOME!  (Otherwise known as Prosperity Theology)

Um.  Not so much.  In case you haven’t read the Bible, Jesus died a horrible agonizing death only reserved for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state.  And for all of you who want to point out that he had to die as part of the divine plan to save us from our sins, let me ask this – what about the disciples?  They were all killed too, with the exception of John.(1)

Looks fun, right? Right?

Sure, it could be in God’s plans that you get rich, that nothing ever goes wrong in your life, and that you live happily ever after until you die.  Or, he could want you to give up your riches and go help malnourished babies in Libya.  He might want you to stop being materialistic and live a modest, quiet life, serving in your community.  There might be some pain and hard times in the plans for you.  God never promises that we’ll be “happy” or that we’ll have possessions.  He promises that he’ll never leave our sides.

Faith in Christ is not a “fix-it” pill.  It’s a process, and sometimes it’s really, really hard work.   Telling people otherwise isn’t just false advertising.  It’s a guaranteed recipe for failure when something goes wrong.

2.  Dress Code

We’ve all heard the phrase “Sunday best.”  Dressing up to go to church was a staple of American society for years.  It’s just what you did, and no one questioned it without negative repercussions.  My mother used to make me wear pantyhose and dresses, even to Wednesday night services.  We were going to the house of God, after all.  There’s a flaw in that logic that it took me years to uncover – the church building is not the house of god.  We are the house of God.

Which means God sees me all the time.
No matter what I’m wearing.
He sees me even if I’m not wearing anything.
He did create me, after all.  I doubt he’s offended if I, his perfect house that he created, walk into a building that man created, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Seem familiar?

What I am positive is offensive, however, is how people who don’t meet the dress code are still treated when they walk into some churches.  Those are his babies.  He created those people.  It might have taken a very long time and a very long list of circumstances for those people to set foot inside a church door.  They might have come looking for answers, or hope, or peace, or some story they didn’t quite believe about a God that might care about them.  Instead, they get talked about because their clothing doesn’t meet the status quo.

Grow up, people.  If a person wearing baggy pants won’t come in to your church  because all the men are wearing suits, check yourself.  If a girl with neon pink hair and combat boots won’t even look your way because every woman is in a dress and heels, check yourself.   Make it fit with the culture of your area – if your church is in a place where only business types gather, maybe a business dress is appropriate.  But you might want to preach a few sermons on how God wants to reach everyone, and then take a few field trips to the areas that aren’t so businessy.  After all, Jesus spent most of his time with the people who had nothing.

3. Fat Pastors

This is a touchy one.  Like, really touchy.  Weight is something we don’t talk about in church.  We’re not allowed to be addicted to alcohol, or cigarettes, or porn, or crude tv shows, because those things are all “bad.”  But we are allowed to be addicted to food, and no one says a word.  Having a youth event?  Pizza’s #1 on the menu.  Having a 4th of July barbeque?  Well…might as well eat a hot dog, a hamburger, and a sausage.  What better way to celebrate being American than stuffing our faces full of processed foods that have almost negative nutritional value?

I once had a (very large) church lady lecture me for ten minutes on the definite evils of the half glass of wine I was drinking, while stuffing her face with a large nugget meal from McDonalds.  Her argument?  My body was the temple of the Holy Spirit.  How could I be putting that crap into it?  I could’ve asked her the same question.

It's okay. My temple for God just has a little extra cushion!!

We eat and eat and eat and lie around and watch tv and never ever exercise.  And then we want God to just heal us when we have heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and a myriad of other ailments that we bring on ourselves?  Pastors, of all people, should take care of their temples.  They are the examples for the rest of us.  Somehow, pastors seem closer to God.  If it’s okay for the pastor to be fat, well, then it’s okay for me too.  God must not mind what I do with my body.

I think I’ll have another slice of that pizza.  Oh, and two scoops of ice cream.  With hot fudge on top.

4. LGBT

LGBT – or just “those people” in most Christian circles.  For those of you who don’t know, LGBT stands for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community.  Fundamentally, LGBT people think they should be given the same rights that people in heterosexual relationships are given, and would like to be recognized as human beings.  Also, they’ve adopted the entire color spectrum (the rainbow).

Now, I am not here to start a debate about whether being LGBT is right or wrong, whether people who have those tendencies should remain celibate, what the Bible says regarding the issues, etc.  If you’re looking for a fight, go somewhere else (if you’re looking for honest, humble dialogue about LGBT issues, check out http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/).  I’m simply here to complain about how the church treats LGBT persons.  Most of the time there’s little to no dialogue, and an enormous amount of judgement.

I have a happily married straight friend who recently walked into a church hand in hand with a friend of hers as part of a research project.  The two girls went in, sat down in the back row, and were not very politely asked to leave within 5 minutes.  5 minutes!  For all the drivel the church puts out about how Jesus loves everyone, he sure seems awfully picky.  It feels like Jesus doesn’t love those people, and won’t until they stop what they’re doing.  Everyone can come as they are…except LGBT persons.  And if we do let them in the building, God forbid they don’t give up their lifestyle immediately.  After all, we can’t have “those people” around our children.

Those people?  Those people are God’s children.  He created them.  He loves them.  He probably gets really pissed off when people hurt them using his name.  Sure, they have sin.  So does everyone.  Beating someone over the head with a metaphorical Bible is never a good way to save a soul.  If I walked into a church and someone told me to leave because I had pre-marital sex or told a lie or stole something, I would probably never go to another church.  Stop being sin snobs.  Try actually having a conversation for a change.  You might realize that the LGBT community is made up of people, not sins.

5. No Care for the Environment

Now I sound like a tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving hippy, right?  I wonder why that has such a bad name.  Is it because saving trees and whales and fossil fuel is inherently wrong?  Or is it just because it’s inconvenient for us, and it’s too much work, so we don’t want to bother.  If we were going to save the Amazon rainforest, we’d have to stop eating so much McDonalds, since it’s getting chopped down for farmland.  If we were going to save energy, we’d have to turn up the air a few degrees in our houses and open the windows.  Maybe we’d have to take showers instead of baths, and drive cars that got better gas mileage.  Maybe we wouldn’t use so much disposable dishware and plastic bottles that end up in landfills, never to decompose.

None of this matters though, right?  I mean, we’re all just going to die and go to heaven, and if it does matter, it’s only because our kids live here.  Wrong.  We’re not “going.”  Heaven is coming here.  The Bible doesn’t say that God is going to “make all new things.”  It says he’s going to “make all things new.”  Which means that all the things will still be there, and that they will be the building blocks for the new heavens and the new earth.

Don't lie. You'd totally take your kids for a swim here.

In Genesis 1, right after God created humanity, he blessed it, and told it to “rule over the earth.”  Another way to say that is to “be responsible” for the earth.  Be responsible.  Drinking water from a different plastic bottle that you don’t recycle every day isn’t responsible.  Driving a vehicle that guzzles gas short distances when you could ride your bike or walk isn’t responsible.  Throwing things that could be recycled or given to thrift stores away isn’t responsible.

It’s convenient, but it isn’t responsible.  Let’s stop pretending we care about the environment just because we bought a trendy reusable sports bottle.  Yes, every little bit counts.  But it’s not enough.  In the words of a famous superhero, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Step up, Christians.  Stop and plant some roses before there aren’t any for you to smell.

6. Women aren’t Allowed to Minister

Now, this isn’t always true.  Some churches and denominations have women pastors on staff; some even have a few women leading congregations.  As a general rule, however, the church is a male-dominated society.  There are all kinds of debates about this – whether the Bible allows for women in leadership, whether women should be silent, whether women can minister, but can’t be the “head” pastor.  I am not going to list those debates here.  There is plenty of literature on the matter.  Educate yourselves.

My point is simply that the church is just one more place where women have been oppressed throughout the centuries.  Even in churches that say they allow women in leadership, there can be little opportunity to minister.  If women are allowed to minister, it is usually only to children, other women, or as part of a husband-wife team.  And why is that?  Because we are only capable of being a “helper”?

We have something to say, but our lips have been closed by oppression.

The holy community of God’s believers should not be just another place where women feel oppressed and marginalized.  We have a voice.  A strong voice.  There are more women than men in churches across America.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.  We have an enormous pool of talent, experience, and resource in the women in our churches.  It’s wasted, because no one bothers to fight the status quo.

7. “Jesus is American!”

I don’t actually know anyone who would say that phrase outright, but too many live as though they believe it.  “God bless America!”  “God’s on our side!”  “America’s a Christian nation!”

…Yeah….right.

Last time I checked, the only nation God was ever on the side of was ancient Israel, and that was only when they were following his express commands to a T.  When they weren’t, he let all kinds of terrible things happen to them.  America definitely isn’t Israel.  And it definitely isn’t a Christian nation.  No, that’s not because they took prayer out of schools, or the 10 commandments out of courtrooms.  It’s because the people who make up the nation aren’t Christian.  Like, at all.  I know that may come as a shock to some of you, but it’s true.  America doesn’t really care about Jesus, except as a trendy wardrobe item or a laughable badly drawn adult cartoon.

Jesus' heart is red, white, and blue! YEAH!!!!

Stop pretending that Jesus is a blond haired, blue eyed, pageant king wearing a white bathrobe and a blue beauty sash. Stop pretending that Jesus hates gays, muslims, liberals, and those people who just stay on government disability and never get a job.  Stop pretending that Jesus would support blowing up the world if it’s in America’s best interests.  Jesus is NOT American.

In case you missed it, Jesus is a little more global than 1 continent with severe ego issues.  He looked like an Arab.  And he hung out with the people that the church rejected – like the gays, the people with a different religion, the liberals, and the poor.   In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with Jesus, if he just showed up on your doorstep.  Think about that, before you go saluting God and country.

8. You don’t believe in Hell

What?!  That’s outrageous!  Of course you believe in hell.  You talk about it all the time!  Those sinner people will burn there and stuff, if they don’t get saved.

You don’t believe that.  You don’t really believe that.  If you really thought that there was a literal place of terrible agony and eternal pain where nearly all of the world was going to go once they died, you would do something about it.  If you believed that your unsaved mother was going to get thrown into a lake of fire that burned so incredibly hot that you couldn’t see the flame (think the part of the flame closest to the wick) for eternity with no hope of escape, ever, you would try to save her from it.

Oooooooh this place looks awesome!!!

So make up your mind.  Either you believe it enough to try and actually save people from it, or you don’t.  If you don’t (which, clearly, you don’t), then stop talking about it.  Make it one of those parts in the Bible that never gets brought up, like all of the sex references in the Song of Solomon.  “What?” you say!  “We can’t just take out part of the Bible!”

If you don’t believe it, what’s the point?

 9. Donating.  Not Doing.

We’ve all seen the videos that missionaries bring in of starving children in faraway places.  Pregnant mothers that have no shelter or water.  Girls kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, boys carting around guns at 7 years old.  It tugs at our heartstrings.  Makes us weepy.  Makes us feel guilty, even, since we have so much.  So we get out our checkbooks and write a nice sum and send them on their way, able to feed 2 more children for a year.

Meanwhile, we don’t actually ever do anything.  It’s easy to ignore the starving babies in Rwanda – they’re super far away.  But what about the homeless people right down the street?  What about the pregnant women in your community that can’t afford proper nutrition during the 9 months before they give birth?  What about the fathers that can just barely afford the rent for their families, and the mothers that have to take their children back-to-school shopping at the Salvation Army?

Are you the Good Samaritan? Or are you just going to walk by on the other side of the street?

You could help.  But helping isn’t as easy as writing a check and sending someone else on their way.  You have to actually do something.  And that just isn’t pleasant, now is it.  Again, you probably wouldn’t really want to hang out with Jesus.  Because he’d be doing something.  Not sitting on the couch, or in a church pew.

10.  Use your brains!

Of all the things I hate, this one bothers me the most.  American Christians don’t use their brains.  You don’t think.  You just take what people tell you (so long as it fits in your comfortable lifestyle) and absorb it.  Never questioning, never analyzing.  And then the thoughts are left to stew in the cauldron of your brain, never seasoned with new knowledge, until someone challenges you.  Then the brittle beliefs bubble up and out into the air.  To everyone else, they’re stale, not defensible.

It is not enough for a Christian to go to work, come home, eat, watch tv, and go to sleep.  You have to expand your horizons.  You have to learn, think, grow, challenge, expand.  God created your mind.  Don’t let it stagnate into a puddle of disgusting putrid mush.  No one wants to listen to that.

Trust me.  You’re not just making yourself look dumb.  You’re making God look dumb.  You’re his ambassador.  Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Ambassadors are not supposed to be stupid.  So turn off the reality television and learn something, will you?

____________________________________

1: John died of natural causes.

Peace is a Verb.

“We pray for peace!” cries the Christian, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Hindu.  “We need peace,” grumble the businessmen, the traders, the CEO’s.  “We voted for peace,” complain the democrats, the republicans, and the independents.  “We fight for peace!” shouts the soldier; “We pay for peace,” sighs the taxpayer.  The world is peace-hungry.  Peace is a fad; peace is a commodity.  Politicians trade it like currency; beauty queens include it in their winning speeches.  Colleges offer classes on peace for those privileged enough to attend, and pastors sermonize it weekly for the masses.  Peace signs appear on backpacks and buttons, t-shirts and jewelry.  It shows up in songs and movies, at poetry readings and anti-war protests.

Few ever bother to define peace, and if they do, it’s often a miserable slogan designed to promote various political or religious agendas.   Even the dictionary limits peace to  “the absence of hostility, a state unmarked by violent conflict.”  What can we say about peace to the millions of starving children in India, to the thousands of broken and destitute families in Rwanda?  What can we say to the countless abandoned infant girls in China, or the Palestinians still confined to refugee camps?  What can we say to the American Indian whose ancestors were victims of genocide and the Japanese whose grandparents were vaporized by an atomic bomb?

What can we say to ourselves, we who so often ignore the suffering and misery of others?

In the middle of unfathomable tragedy, ancient words whisper.  “‘Peace, peace to those who are far away, and peace to those who are near.  I will heal them,’ says the Lord.”(1) The Hebrew word for “peace” is Shalom.  It is more than a state of mind, of being, or of affairs.  It encapsulates a reality and hope for the individual, for societal relations, and for the whole world.  It is wholeness, completeness, and oneness, both within the person and the global community.  Shalom does not merely speak of what is or what could be.  It describes the process, the activity, and the movement towards restoration.

Peace is a noun, a thing, an entity.  It does not spontaneously appear; it cannot create itself.  It needs a verb to set it in motion.

We are the verb.

We can’t just talk about peace.  We can’t just advertise peace.  We can’t just dream about peace.

We have to work at it.
And work at it.
And work at it.

Peace demands a struggle against violence, discrimination, poverty, hunger, abandonment, greed, abuse, neglect, sickness, exploitation, and war.  It requires courage, commitment, endurance, vigilance, and integrity.  It is built on preemptive measures taken before conflicts escalate and on acts of service in places where conflicts have already occurred.  It is founded in unconditional, unwavering love and an acute awareness of the global human family.  In the sage words of Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

The child born with AIDS in Somalia is our child.  The pregnant mother forced to abort her baby because of population control laws in China is our sister.  The radical violently defending his religious ideals in Lebanon is our brother.  The little girls kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking, the CEO’s who exploit overseas workers, the druggies that sell their own bodies just to get high, the parents who neglect their own offspring – these are all our family.  Man’s skin has many colors, but underneath all his blood is red.

We belong to each other.  We are each other’s future; we are each other’s past.  Lao Tzu, a philosopher in ancient China, penned a poem that has now spread throughout the world:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

Peace begins with us, right here, and right now.  It begins in our homes, with our families.  It begins at our workplace and at our sporting events.  It begins in our minds.  A group of children were recently asked to define “peace.”  They came up with this:

Peace is the only battle worth waging.  It may sound simple, but it requires of us every dream, every ideal, every strength, and every hope.  It is right, and it is our duty.

To these children, peace is having a future.  It’s up to us to determine what kind of future it will be.

(1) – Isaiah 57:19

Spiderweb Gospel

A dear friend recently expressed to me his overwhelming desire for deep, intimate connection with other human beings.  He made a statement that I always will remember: “Perhaps we all have a sense of loneliness…for when we wish to pour our heart and soul into another, it cannot be fully grasped.”  It is as though togetherness and perfect mutual understanding are butterflies, beautiful ideals that disintegrate at the merest touch.  Humans daydream of being in unadulterated relationship with other human beings.

We want to find that one special person that will understand us without effort.
That one we can’t live without.
That one that will make our entire lives fulfilled.
The one thread of life that will intertwine with ours and make us complete.

Our view of relationship is tragically flawed.  We are not autonomously existing entities that weave together with other autonomously existing entities as we so choose, allying ourselves here and there with what pleases us, and disengaging subtly from what doesn’t.  Neither are we only half of a cord, perpetually waiting for the one other person that will complete us and make us strong.

We are, instead, threads in a spiderweb.  We are intimately connected with every other thread, and cannot exist apart from them.  Only in community can we find strength, purpose, and commonality.  We were created to need more than just one who has everything.  If we were, would not God alone be enough?  He certainly isn’t lacking in any area. What we need is all around us, scattered here and there in various personalities, worldviews, and opinions.

I used to think that the connections existed for the few moments of perfect understanding that exist in any relationship, when everything is right and good and perfect, and no explanation is necessary, and the channels of communication flow unhindered. I find that I was wrong. There is infinite beauty in the struggle to connect with others.

Even when we know they’ll hurt us
misrepresent us
misunderstand us
love us selfishly instead of unconditionally
and at times, ignore, annoy, and lie to us,

even then we must seek connection, for we cannot exist without each other.  Humanity needs us just as much as we need it.  We need each other for when we fall, for when we rejoice, for when we work, and for when we rest (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).  Personhood requires personal relationships with persons (plural).  Only in plurality can unity be found.

Perhaps, in a mystical finality, it’s not being understood that matters so much. Perhaps it is the connection itself that is the pinnacle, and understanding is merely the shrubbery that graces the slope.

Puddle of Blood

The world seems to have a strange, sick fascination with blood.  Movies full of gory violence and dramatic bloodshed appear in ever-increasing numbers; books about vampires and other mythical creatures that exist only by consumption of blood have obtained something akin to a cult following.  Blood is a precious commodity, sought for both by those suffering from disease and those interested in perpetrating it.  Countless wars have been fought for the sake of bloodlines.  Entire countries crumble because their citizens perish from tainted blood.  Martin Luther, later quoted by Benito Mussolini during World War II, stated “Blood alone moves the wheels of history.”  Leviticus 17:11 intones, “The life of a body is in its blood.”

Yet, for all the world’s enchantment with blood, very few seem interested in conserving it.  Conflict, oppression, and mass murder have left jagged scars on the history of the last century.  In the last decade alone, roughly 105 million people have been killed as a result of war.  In Afghanistan, 2 million have perished.  In Sudan, 1.5 million.  In Rwanda, 800,000; and in Bosnia and Burundi, 250,000 each.  The list of countries is nearly endless; the list of names practically infinite.  Tragically, once large numbers of people have been killed, they cease to have names.  How can we name one out of millions?  How can we keep track of unfathomable devastation?  How can we atone for such immeasurable desolation?  The heartbeats that pounded through the veins of millions have been obliterated.

I wonder how big a puddle the blood of 105 million people would make.  Would it be a swimming pool?  Would it be an ocean?  It amazes me how easily tragedies are categorized in lists, as if one can be ranked higher than another.  Should not the life of just one be infinitely important to us?  Should not the loss of even one child, one mother, one brother, or one grandparent fill our hearts with grief?  To feel the abysmal darkness of the death of others is an integral part of love.  It is part of a love exemplified by God himself, who is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  Can we fathom the heartbreak of God when his precious children are killed, and then become just another tally mark on our lists of dead?

Blood is incalculably precious, for in it is one’s life.  It is with blood that we were redeemed.  It is by blood that we can approach the throne of God.  It is blood that allows us to share hope with others.  “It was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

One puddle of blood repaired the connection between humanity and God.  May we accept the enormity of that event, and may we love so intensely that we dedicate our lives to the spread of that sacrifice.  May we do our best to spread peace wherever we go, for, as an ancient proverb hums, “Man’s skin has many colors, but underneath all his blood is red.”  We are all kin.  May we, being made new in our inner beings, spark a revolution of hope instead of hate, brotherhood instead of division, and faith instead of fighting.  May we move the wheels of history, and transform the future.

Infinite Love

Humans are such needy creatures.  We spend our entire lives fighting with each other so that someone else will tell us that we’re important, that we’re needed, that we’re valuable, that we’re the best.  It’s as if we have no idea who we are or why we’re here but we still need to be reassured that our existence matters, that we matter.  When other people don’t appropriately affirm us, we get offended.  How could they not see how important we are?  We set about proving to everyone that we are valuable in many ways.  Some people acquire things, some acquire knowledge or position.  Some need others to be dependent on them and some pretend like they need no one.

All of these things are able to give momentary affirmation, but when the moment fades we’re back at square one, needing someone else to tell us who we are.  We want to feel wanted.  We want to feel appreciated.  We want to feel loved.  But we can’t create those feelings by ourselves; these feelings only exist in relationship.  So, we set about trying to have community, trying to have relationship, trying to find our identities.  Sadly, all we seem to find are cheap substitutes.  Our shallowness has caused us to ration out affection and devotion, replacing things meant to be unconditional with “ifs” and “buts.”

“If you really loved me you’d have sex with me.”  “I’ll be friends with you, but only if you do this for me.”  “Don’t expect me to talk to her, she hasn’t called in three weeks!”  The list could go on endlessly.  Somehow we’ve taken things that by their very nature belong to others and made them about us.  Any rejection or affront is personal, from a refusal of a date to being cut off while driving.  It threatens our personhood and our identity.  We have a fear, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious, that we’re not good enough and that we never will be.  We cave to the demands of others because of what they might think if we said “No.”  We are constantly afraid that someone, somewhere, is not going to see us the way we think they should.  They might perhaps get a glimpse of something they don’t like and proclaim us “not good enough” by an action, a glance, or a word.

A friend made this statement:

“I am so scared I’m going to forever be good enough to f*ck
But never good enough to love.
” – Beautiful

I signed her name as “Beautiful” because she is.  Not because of her appearance or her brains, though to the naked eye they might be appealing, but because she is a creation of the Almighty God.  To call her anything less would be to lie and indeed, this cannot even come close to doing her justice.  Her statement embodies one of the most deep-seated human fears – that of being only a stepping stone in another person’s need for affirmation.  You may think me wrong for having posted her words (one word, in particular).  I cannot apologize.  Sex is one of the most intimate things two persons can share.  It is also one of the things that can make a person feel most used.  There is perhaps no other action that can cause such a range of emotion and consequence.

I could reword it, though, for palatability’s sake.  “I am so scared that I am forever going to be good enough to use, but never good enough to keep.” It is a terrible thing to realize that you are the victim of someone else’s need.  What can be done about this?  How can we take our conditional expressions of love and make them unconditional?  How can we find affirmation and worth in such a broken system, made such by us, the broken?  Can we ever expect wholeness and unity with humanity?

It is almost like we are children lost in a big store.  Our parent had just been close, and we were safe, secure, and happy.  But now we’re lost, seemingly very small and insignificant, insecure because we feel alone.  Donald Miller writes, “How terrible it must feel, no longer feeling God, the ache of emptiness and the sudden and horrifying awareness of self.” We were wired for someone else to tell us who we are.  We were created to not be able to function without being connected to someone else.  That someone, of course, is God.  Tragically, that wire has been broken.  We’re just scared children, lost in a store, running around trying somehow to convince all the other scared children that we’re not as desolate and neglected as we feel, that our “parent” hasn’t forgotten us, and that we know exactly which aisle we’re on.

There is a chance, a little glimmer of hope for us lost children.  Jesus has repaired the connection between God and man.  If we would only take the step up to the outlet and plug in, we could experience wholeness, oneness, love, and devotion, all without cost, all without fear of rejection.  We no longer have to prove to the world that our “parent” hasn’t forgotten us, because He will be standing right next to us, holding our hands.  1 John 3:1 excitedly tells us “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” We no longer need to struggle with insecurities.  We are children of the Most High, heirs to the universe, and loved and cared for by the Creator and Savior of all.

When we are plugged in, when we are told by God who we are, we no longer have to ration out love and affirmation to others.  The storehouses of God are full of these things.  We can always get more.  We can love and love freely, because love is infinite.  God is infinite and God is love.  We have an infinite supply flowing to us.  Sparing a bit of it for someone else is easy when we’re no longer afraid we’re going to run out.  We can be patient, kind, without envy, never boastful, never proud, never rude, never self-seeking, and never easily angered.  We can keep no record of wrongs done to us and never wish evil on others.  We can always protect and trust others, hope and persevere.  Before 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, chapter 12 speaks in an often overlooked verse.  It reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way” (verse 31).  We can live constantly in the most excellent way – love.

This love, this beautiful, wild, indescribable love can be ours.  We can know who we are.  Instead of something miserable or angry or sad, we can say with Emily Logan Decens, “Happiness pulses with every beat of my heart.” And it will be an infinite happiness based on an infinite love that we can infinitely share with everyone we come in contact with because it will never run out.

Because God never runs out.