“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
- Mahatma Gandhi“This is my body, broken for you.”
43.6 million people in the US were in poverty. That's 14%. In the richest nation in the world. 15.5 million children were in poverty.
49.1 million people in the US lived in food insecure household (hunger was a daily threat for them). Homes with children reported food insecure households at twice the rate of homes without children. (Statistics from: Feeding America
).“Let the little children come unto me.” “I am the bread of life.”
There is NO EXCUSE – NONE – for letting people go hungry in this world.
A very good friend, Bryan Field McFarland
is the Hunger Action Advocate for Salem Presbytery
. For most of this year he has been working on a very important music project: an album entitled, “...until all are fed.
How could an album be “very important” in combating hunger? Two key ways 1) it raises hunger awareness and 2) it raises money for the hungry.
It is a powerful album. Using a variety of musical styles, the album walks you through a journey of worship. All the while, the powerful lyrics, Bryan's commitment to doing something about hunger, his sincere sense of reverence and authenticity ride just below the surface of every song evoking not only an emotional response to the issue of hunger but also an awareness that inspires you to do something about it.
To quote a few songs from the album:“Some possessed by their possessions, look for more to buy and keep; others long for simpler blessings: 'Let my hungry children eat.'” “On the green, green grass they gathered long ago. To hear what the Master said. What they had they shared some fishes and some loaves. And they served until all were fed. Until all are fed we cry out.Until all on earth have bread.Like the One who loves us each & every one...We serve until all are fed."“May we be bread for a hungry world.”
To quote from the Bible:"If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday."
Isaiah 58: 10 NRSV "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?'… And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"
Matthew 25: 37, 40 NRSV "It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there be a fair balance."
II Corinthians 8:13, 14 NRSV "How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
I John 3: 17,18 NRSV A percentage of each purchase of "...until all are fed" goes directly to the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
I hope you will consider sharing this blog post with your friends, by clicking on of the share buttons bellow. I hope you will consider making a pledge
eed your soul. Feed the hungry.
Churches are dying at an alarming rate. Research by The Barna Group
suggests that 3500 to 4000 churches close every year. More than 2,765,000 people leave the church each year. And yet we, the Church, insist on doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting different results. When confronted with change we insist that “it has always been done that way,” as if history is an acceptable excuse for continuing down our path to demise.
In thinking about this, it is helpful to turn to Dr. Paul Batalden. In looking at the dis-function of our health-care system Dr. Batalden, a Dartmoth Medical School Professor, is fond of saying, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the the results it gets.” If your church is dying, it is perfectly designed to die. You can keep repeating the past over and over again and consistently get the results of dying. That's exactly what most churches are doing.
For years and years churches have joined in with movement after movement, each designed to help the church change. Most of them don't work – at least not in terms of change. They do tend to be very good at distracting from real, substantive change. They are very successful at taking away our guilt for having a church that can't attract new members, because we think "at least we are doing something."
The problem with why these programs fail more times than they work is also part of the problem with many churches themselves: our ability to accept cognitive dissonance. Talking the talk, but not walking the walk... and not really being bothered by it, more or less acknowledging it. The world outside the church, in large part, see us as hypocritical. And we've given them every reason to do so. Churches profess love of neighbor yet either explicitly condemn people of certain lifestyles or implicitly condemn them by our silence when others claiming to be Christians do. We profess that we are all made equal and that we are equal in the eyes of God yet we are astoundingly silent on issues of social justice. The list could go on and on, and I'm not saying that some churches aren't authentically living into these things (because some are). What I am saying is that the world outside the church just doesn't see it much. What they do see leads them to deem us all hypocritical.
That kind of existence allows us to work our way through programs on emerging\ transforming\re-imagining church without ever really doing much more than the head work. We have learned the skill of cognitive dissonance well. It keep us from having to do things that make us uncomfortable like spending time in low income housing areas, talking to the homeless, ministering with those in jail...you know all the things Jesus said we were doing to him when we do them. Cognitive dissonance means we get to be 'Christian' without actually being very Christ-like.
Naturally our churches get to do the same. We can read all about the “hopey, changey” stuff, talk about it it in positive tones, and ultimately back away from it when it leads us to do something as drastic as playing a guitar instead of an organ during worship... or worse yet, playing a guitar instead of an organ during worship and feeling like we have really stretched ourselves.
While we “study” the programs on changing, we get to feel like we are doing something. The problem is the companies who market them have to be able to... well, market them, so the programs always have some kind of a release valve built in that allows those who don't really want to commit to change to be able to do a little something different, feel better about having done something, without actually really addressing any of the systemic problems. It leaves the core system in tack and it continues to perfectly get the results it gets...but we feel better because, “Well, at least we tried.”
In the next three parts of this four part series, we will look at how we got here, the Church's response to dying, and what we might do about it. In book after book, authors have tried to take on this topic so the work I'll do here is admittedly cursory, but maybe it will be a place for you and/or your church to begin engaging in the conversation. If so keep one thing in mind, don't do it if you aren't willing to enter into it with a willingness to be committed to the vision and the change. This is more than a good idea; it is more than a possible way to keep your church from dying; it is an act of faith.Part 2: Sit Boy, Sit. Good Dogma.
Editor's note: Guest blogger The Christian Left (a consortium of Progressive Christian writers and thinkers whose web page recently went live) submits the following article on biblical examples for mixing church and state.
Both the Old and New Testaments stress the importance of government for protection and for maintaining order.
In the Bible, kings or other rulers were expected to rule with wisdom and justice. The Old Testament contains story after story of wicked, greedy and oppressive rulers who brought disaster on themselves and their people. Many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha and Daniel, delivered their messages of reform to Israel's kings.
Those of us who live under democracy elect our own "rulers." Our votes decide whether our government will be benevolent and just or harsh and oppressive. The Bible's advice and reproaches to the ancient rulers provide us wisdom to help us make wise choices in our own times.
A recurring theme in the Bible is that we should provide equal justice for all, not favoring the rich or powerful. Also, because all the peoples of the world are God's creation, we should not discriminate against foreigners: He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (NAS, Proverbs 14:31) Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (TNIV, Exodus 23:6-9) Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? (NAS, Isaiah 10:1-3)
The Bible often speaks of charity as an individual-to-individual act of generosity. The law of Moses and the Hebrews, though, provided an institutional way of providing for the poor that did not depend on the good will of any individual. Not only was individual generosity encouraged, but, as a matter of law, part of everyone's produce or income was to be set aside to aid the poor: "And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (NAS, Exodus 23:10-11) "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied. (NAS, Deuteronomy 26:12)
Let's also recall the celebrated story of Joseph, son of Jacob: Genesis 41:25-42 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God hath shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years: the dreams are one. And the seven thin and illfavored cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He showeth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine shall consume the land. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following, for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh seek out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up a fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store for the land against the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land perish not through the famine." And the counsel was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, "Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Inasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou." And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
In above story of Joseph, "The Government" set aside the bounties of 7 years of plenty to be "redistributed" during 7 years of famine. Enough said?
One doesn't have to dig very deep to learn the spoken sentiments of Jesus related to these matters: Matthew 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The ancient Hebrews lived in extended families or clans and could generally take care of their own. In modern industrial societies, though, families are often fragmented and many have nowhere to turn except to "The Government," which is really We The People. In Jeremiah 22, when the prophet delivers a scorching sermon about the treatment of workers, aliens and the poor, he specifically addresses both rulers (government) AND individuals. Jeremiah 22Judgment Against Evil Kings 1 This is what the LORD says: "Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.' " 13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. 14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. 15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. 17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
Everyone, both rich and poor, benefits when a government respects the rights of all and provides for the needy. Crime and drug abuse breed in areas of poverty and unemployment, where people may feel they have nothing to lose. Likewise, apathy and violence breed where people perceive injustice and feel excluded from the benefits of society. To the extent every individual feels empowered as a valuable, productive member of society, then society becomes healthier and more secure for everyone. Amos 5: 11-12 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Courts? That would be "Government." Sources:
Copyright © by Cliff Leitch
The Christian Bible Reference Site
Used by permission.
Scripture taken from
the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica.
Used by permission of Zondervan.
All rights reserved.
Some Scripture quotations taken from
the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Editor's note: Please welcome our first guest blogger: Janet Conrad. She's the author of the blog "Nuggets n Bits" and the admin for Facebook's Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented page. If you aren't familiar with her FB page, I strongly encourage you to check it out!
Washing someone's feet in bible times was like cleaning someone else's toilet in modern times. What would you do if you knew that the President was coming to your home to clean your toilet? Eeeek. Exactly!
As we listen to the Religous Right tout their purity, cling to the righteousness of their cause and inform the rest of us that they are the ones representing the Bible, read what Jesus did and compare the two. (words in blue are my comments)
John 13"Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, 'Master, you wash my feet?' (or Master, you wash my toilet?)"Jesus answered, 'You don't understand now what I'm doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.' Peter persisted, 'You're not going to wash my feet - ever!" (or You're not going to clean my toilet - ever!)"Jesus said, 'If I don't wash you, you can't be part of what I'm doing.'"'Master!' said Peter, 'Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!' (or Not only my toilet, clean my floor, wash my dishes)
This goes beyond political views. The point is if we are going to hold up signs and slogans that label us as Christians, we better be prepared to act in a way that represents the Christ that we follow."You address me as Teacher and Master, and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do. I'm only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn't give orders to the employer. If you understand what I'm telling you, act like it - and live a blessed life."
I've been bothered, and I suppose curious, for awhile about people who claim to be Christian and yet passionately carry around signs like this:
And look, she's smiling. God loves a joyful hater...or something like that. It's almost as if they can't be bothered with the actual words of Jesus. You know, pesky little sayings that get in the way of genuine American hatred. Things like, "Love your neighbor as yourself" and "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
The cognitive dissonance it takes to both claim to be a Christian and gleefully hold up such hateful signs is astounding. "You are doomed to hell! God hates you!...but I love you because you're my neighbor. Oh, and have a nice day."
Then there are the nuts that assign violent acts to God as some sort of retributive act for the 'sins' of those that aren't as loved by God as they are:
Yes folks, not only does the Prince of Peace hate 'fags,' but he gets his Daddy to kill a disproportionate number of the poor along the gulf coast as well as honorable soldiers to show us just how bad it really is...because that's just how God rolls (can you hear the sarcasm yet?). Or it could be that we all just look alike to God - kinda' like the way we see ants. In that case, it would only follow that the way God's anger is actualized is somewhat blind and discriminatory. (Because if there is one thing Jesus taught us it is how unruly God is, prone to unfair, prejudicial treatment of the children of God - particularly the one's that aren't like 'us.')
I guess it's that kind of thinking like that leads so many Christians to get all worked up over the thought of getting to go vigilantly in the name of God.
After all, if God is a violent God and we are the children of God, created in God's image, it only makes sense that from time to time we should pull out weapons of destruction and aim them randomly at those who don't look like us or at least threaten to - after all, they all look the same, right?
What's the point to this post? Well, it's mostly just a rant because I'm tired of it. I'm tired of people trying to making God look more like them rather than trying to make themselves look more like God. I'm tired of people acting like Christianity is a members only club that has its privileges rather than a peaceable kingdom that has its responsibilities. I'm tired of people metaphorically putting the smoking gun in the hands of God to justify their own hatred.
I'm tired of it because it is not what God wants; it is not what Jesus taught us; it is not who the Spirit calls us to be. And I AM MAD about it!
I guess I need to take a lesson from those holding the signs in these pictures and "hate the sign but love the signer."
In many ways, this blog page is my response to what I see as a general malaise that has fallen across Christianity in the U.S. We have bought so far into a kumbaya, turn the other cheek, Jesus is more of a doormat than a door theology, that we have rendered ourselves ineffectual. We think that being nice and kind and loving to one another means not making anyone upset and being non-confrontational. Worse yet, we have started measuring our success at being that kind of Christian by how many people 'like us' compared to how many people don't.
How we got here, I hardly know and, quite honestly, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that a very large number of Christians practice their faith by this misguided understanding of what love looks like. In that kumbaya version of Christianity having an “attitude of gratitude” means possessing a disposition of constant submission to the world and those who think they rule it – turning the other cheek so many times that you no longer know if you are looking left or right. Biblically that song is a disharmonious, disconnected and disturbing distortion of who Jesus was.
Need I remind us all that so many people didn't like Jesus that they nailed him to a tree. Not because he was a bad person, but because he did not make nice when people distorted God's message of love. He didn't turn the other cheek when politicians and religious leaders conspired to step on the 'least of these.' He stood up for what was right. He flipped tables in the name of God. He did not lash out violently at another human being, ever, but he did lovingly confront them. He was always motivated by love... but he did not back down, he did not sacrifice the Word of God for the comfort of humanity; he did not keep his mouth shut in the name of being nice.
For too long the people of God have suffered – for far
too long. God has claimed the meek and the poor in spirit and those who morn and those who thirst for justice and the merciful and the pure of heart and the peacemakers and those that suffer persecution for justice sake as God own, as the children of heaven. Those who take advantage of the meek and persecute people who work for justice, have been given a pass by Christians who think that 'turn the other cheek' means to sit passively by like a doormat as they and the marginalized get stepped on, used and abused, by the powerful who wipe their feet of the world's sometimes gritty reality so that the houses that they have built on the backs of the rest of us don't get soiled with the pain, the abuse, the hatred of the world that they themselves have created.
When Jesus was confronted with people that had distorted the purpose of the house of God, he flipped tables. When Jesus was confronted by people using God's name to dupe those who had little, who were meek, who were abused and marginalized, he flipped tables.
What makes a peace-loving, easy-going, hippy-dippy, Jesus freak start flippin' proverbial tables? People using God's name for false purposes. Politician and religious leaders using religion to further marginalize 'the least of these.' Pharasetical proclamations from 'Christian' leaders that inspire hate, division and at times violence (even if veiled in words like 'hate the sin, love the sinner).
I had had enough and so The God Article began. I hope you too have had enough. If you have, let me hear from you in the comment section, share this post with your friends far and wide. In the words of Bob Marley, “Get up, stand up. Don't give up the fight.” Start flippin' tables.
In the name of Jesus, people like The God Article
, The Christian Left
, The Progressive Christian Alliance
, Those Crazy Liberals...and Conservatives
are taking up the good fight. It's time for us to not only flip the tables but to turn them. It is time for us to take back the voice of Christianity. It is time for followers of God to start acting like followers of God. We must confront hate at every turn. We must profess love in every moment. We must see Christ in every face... and it might just take flipping a few proverbial tables.
For me 'Left Behind' has become much more than a book. Much like 'Tea Party' has colloquially become a descriptive for a particular archetype of a group of people, Left Behind has become the same for me.
Recognizing that I am working with generalities here and that generalities always do a disservice to some people who identify with the group, for me 'Left Behind' has come to describe a particular type of church goer. (I use 'church goer' here because I find that some of the people, while they might identify strongly as Christian, exhibit far too many actions that call to question the authenticity of their identity. They do, however, tend to be very good at going to church). This group believes that one day those who have not been 'good Christians' will be separated from the love of God – left behind as all the 'good' people get sucked up in God's magical, over-sized Hoover (actually probably a Dyson, I can't help but believe God would have upgraded by now). That may not be exactly how they would put it, but you get the idea.
Along with this perspective comes a few other... well, let's call them personality quirks. Frequently, Left Behinders have a quiet (mostly unspoken) air of superiority. Let's face it, if you know you are going to be saved (sucked up by the Holy Dyson) and that others are going to be left behind to wallow in their heathenness... it would be sort of hard not to feel the littlest bit superior. Along with that comes a few things: very little spiritual growth because they already have it right, a general sense of entitlement, resistance to 'other,' resistance to new ideas (or change), and the ability to be thought of as 'nice' without actually having to consistently demonstrate love of neighbor and enemy.
This all creates a problem with moving the church forward. I have to completely agree with John Spong's assessment that the Church must change or die. As a matter of fact, I am no longer interested in participating in arguments that suggest otherwise. There is much work to do and anything that distracts from moving forward puts the Church that much further behind.
That's the crux of the problem. As a church tries to reclaim the foundations of Christianity (to reassert the necessity for love of God and neighbor and those we may perceive as enemy; to actively minister and worship with those who have been marginalized; to stand up to the status quo, hypocrisy, piousness, and those who take advantage of 'the least of these'), we meet great resistance from two places.
The first is the Left Behinders, who do not like the change that comes with doing all of those things. What the change looks like can be offensive to people who believe they already have it right. It confronts who they have been for years and can even suggest to them that they were wrong. Understandably that can introduce doubt in a place where there had only been blessed assurance that they had their one way ticket to the Holy Dyson in the sky. It also means letting in people who may have previously been thought of as outsiders, 'others' and quite possibly the ones that would miss out on the great vacuum ride to the heaven.
Typically, the Left Behinders, have established some place of power, prestige or position and the change needed in the church to avoid slow death threatens those places. They are likely to hunker down without any real regard to the theological soundness of the movement forward (or movement back to biblical foundations) and will cherry pick verses, make appeals to tradition and even demonize the leaders of the change. Their reactions are completely understandable considering what they believe and how they have experience Christianity thus far. It also happens to be a path whose tangent would continue to lead the church further and further away from it's calling...and it is not acceptable.
The second resistance will come from those who agree with the need for change. They tend to have a real passion for the life and teachings of Jesus and in their own lives you can see those teachings mirrored in their passion for those some might think of as 'other.' These are people who have frequently themselves been marginalized within the traditional church; their voices, while allowed to be expressed, are lovingly (possibly 'nicely' is a better word) minimized by the Left Behinders who hold the power.
As change begins to be realized, it is this group that will put up the most earnest and biblical arguments to slow the change down – they don't want to leave the Left Behinders behind.... ironic, isn't it? ... (and we're not even done with the irony yet). Their love of neighbor will lead them to advocate for those who, in one form or another, had previously 'nicely' marginalized their voice - the marginalized voice speaking up for the powers that be (and the irony still isn't done).
It is actually easy to see why they would react that way. It is exactly what they wish, on some level, someone would have done for them when their voices had been marginalized and it does seem to be the loving thing to do.... and it is, for awhile. There is a point, however, when it should be clear that, while some have chosen to be a part of the change, others do not have ears to hear and out of love for the overall Body of Christ (of which they are a part) we must shake the dirt off of our collective feet and continue on our journey forward. While we do, we can still wish blessings upon them, but in a time when transformation is essential for the longevity of the Church, holding our forward movement back for those who have made it clear they do not have ears to hear is analogous to shooting the Body of Christ in the foot.
Ironically, there will be Left Behinders that chose to remain behind. They will act as an anchor pulling the Body backwards as it tries to move forward. The funny thing is, if we don't move forward we will continue to move on that tangent further and further away from God's will and when the second coming does arrive, at least in terms of their own theology, we will all be left behind...even them.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
We have wandered – drifted if you will. We, the Church, have drifted away from the sound doctrine of the One who came to show us that love has no bounds. There are plenty of pieces of doctrine that we could point to as proof that we have drifted. From our attempts to integrate church and state to the completely upside-down way it is actualized when we do - forcing our religion on others, favoring the powerful over the powerless, the haves over the have-nots, and ignoring the needs of the least of these in favor of a secure bottom line. Oh, we have wandered - we have drifted.
Worse yet, that part of us that was crafted by God, made in the image of God, into which God breathed the Divine breath giving us life...that part of us knows that we have drifted and even as those who preach this ungodly doctrine spew their distorted gospel on our ears, our ears itch - knowing that what they receive is not of God but of humanity. So, we seek out others who will repeat that message time and time again until the itch seems normal, until we buy into their myths that speak to our earthly desires of power, prestige and self-promotion. All the while, the part of us that seeks it's Creator itches, longing for a piece of respite from the earthly myths that propagate hatred, entitlement and advantage. We have begun to believe the myths.
We have begun to believing the myths of -isms. The -Ism Myths that say one race is more important than another, that one sex is inferior to another, that the wealthy should have more power and voice than the poor, that not everyone deserves to have to their basic health needs met, that the way God designs some people's sexuality is more acceptable than others, that forgiveness is a good thing to talk about but it is sometimes impractical in life, that being disabled makes a person less capable, that we are not to bare false witness against others unless of course it benefits us in some way....oh, we have drifted and we are lost in the seas of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, ableism, heterosexism...we are lost in a sea of -Ism Myths and we need to reorient ourselves toward sound doctrine for our itching ears.
All of those -ism are important parts to recognize. They can also be very complicated and complex issues to sort out. The issue in which I am most interested, the myth which I most care to refute, is the one that says our differences divide, that we are too different to get along, that in God's infinite wisdom God failed to see that making us so different would mean we could never come together. It is upon that myth that we, the Church, have ultimately been set adrift.
It has been said, and rightfully so, that the most segregated (the most separated) hour of the week is the hour of worship on Sunday. We have bought into the myth that our cultures are so different that it only make sense that we would worship separately. It is a myth because it is not our differences that divide us...it is our similarities. It is not the differences in our cultures that divide us when we come before God, but our similar inabilities to over come our intolerances.
We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and have been set adrift in our love of self. We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and been set adrift in our own personal needs and desires. We have lost sight of the love of neighbor and been set adrift in an intolerance rooted in selfishness.
It is of little surprise that our nation is so divided when our churches are so divided – by age, by race, by economics. It is not surprising that we cannot figure out how to come together in our daily lives when we cannot figure out how to come together in our spiritual lives.
I remember siting at the children's table at Thanksgiving and wanting to be at the adult's table. In the Kingdom of God there is no children's table, no black table, no white table, not one for the rich and one for the poor, one for the able and one for the disabled. In the Kingdom of God all sit at one table. Until we, the Church, a place that professes that our foundation is love, can overcome division due to intolerance, we have no right to act surprised or disheartened when our nation can do no better.
Love does not divide, it unites. Love of God and of neighbor is sound doctrine. The question is do we have ears to hear, or will we continue to allow our ears to itch?
I meet monthly with a group of ministers to discuss the current state of The Church and possible paths forward. We guide our discussions by working our way through books that do much the same thing. I suppose our hope is that the people who write these books will have much more experience in helping churches gain new life than any one of us individually might have and thus give us much needed guidance in doing the same for the churches where we serve (and a magic blueprint would be nice too).
The most recent book talks about churches “reinventing” themselves to appeal to younger generations. Now mind you, it is not advocating for or against “reinventing” church, it is merely making commentary about churches doing so. Well, I have to say, I had to read that part of the book over and over again to try to make sense of it. Something just wasn't setting well with me about “reinventing” church.
The book itself is about change and the part that mentions churches reinventing themselves is actually addressing the way change represents loss – loss of the past, loss of how things used to be done, loss of traditions. With that loss is, understandably, also the loss of things that helped define both personal and corporate identity. So, reinventing, changing, represents loss which threatens identity. I have no problem with that. Not only does it make sense, I've seen it happen time and time again in church when change is introduced.
It seems to me that the fact that we see change as “reinventing” is the problem. Our churches and our personal lives are supposed to be about journeying to\toward\and with God. When applied to churches within our modern context, talking about reinventing our churches, changing to appeal to younger generations, points to a previous lack of movement, a stagnation.
That's the problem. At some point we, The Church, stopped moving and we allowed our identity to get wrapped up in the pursuit of the things of this world rather than in the pursuit of God. Change must be who we are – people in motion, moving toward God, toward Creation, toward the children of God. As Christians, when change threatens our identity, it doesn't point to a problem with change, it points to a problem with our identity. God was constantly calling the people of God to go on journeys (think Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Jonah) and Jesus asked everyone he met to change in some way. In every case, constant change. To be Christian is to be a people of change, the old life is gone the new life has begun.
Despite our best efforts, we never manage to be the people God calls us to be, but we must always try – and that means changing from what we once were to something closer to what God is calling us to be, reinventing ourselves every day, every hour, every minute to be a better reflection of God.
It is a problem that we think of changing as reinventing ourselves. If we hope to survive going forward, rather than reinventing ourselves, we have to reclaim our heritage as people constantly on a journey, embracing change at every turn...and we have be willing to do it every day, every hour, every minute. Rather than threatening our identity, change must be our identity as we constantly reinvent ourselves closer to the reflection of God we were created to be.
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?"
Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day
. The fact that we even have to have this day is a sad statement about how committed we are as the Body of Christ to justice and to equality. It is also a sad statement about the hate and fear-mongering that continues throughout The Church. There are still untold numbers of people who must pass for someone they are not, out of fear for how they will be treated.
Yes, we live in a nation where, for some people, being the people God created them to be must be feared and hidden... “In God we trust,” indeed. Justice is blind? From what I've seen, it is not nearly blind enough.
In terms of seeking equal rights for our gay brothers and sisters, we have been traveling in the right direction for some time now, but we have been traveling too slowly, to begrudgingly and by asking too many to hide too much of the reflection of God that is uniquely revealed in them. Justice delayed, certainly is justice denied. And as Dr. King reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Today I ask my minister friends and my straight friends to stand with me on this National Coming Out Day. Stand with me and our homosexual brothers and sisters who were made equally in the image of God and should be treated equal in this great nation of ours. I ask you to come out for equality.
Fear can be overcome with knowledge. So let's let those who have had to pretend to be someone they are not for so long know
that not only does God love them, but we love them – that not only does God stand with them, but we stand with them.
Equality is not up for biblical questioning my friends. We are all created equally in God's image. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So I ask you to step up and speak out. Share the HRC
logo on your FB page, on your Twitter page. Post quotes about equality, loudly claim your love for all of God's children and demand that they ALL be treated with the same grace, dignity, respect and rights that are afforded to you.“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”