Audio Message

“Stupid” and “Uninformed”

I have friends on Facebook who are extraordinarily nasty to me. Now, to be fair, they don’t know it’s me to whom they’re being extraordinarily nasty. Of course the car is always driven by politics. From one side, I’ve been called “selfish” and that I “don’t care about other people.” From the other, I am “faithless,” “living in fear,” and that I “don’t care about the Bible.” I take the Bible too seriously and simultaneously water down the Gospel. But in this world of solid lines of division, what we can all agree on is that I am “stupid” and “uninformed.” About what I am so stupid and uninformed, however, is different and strictly adheres to those solid lines.

You know, I considered putting the word friends in the first line in quotes, as if these people are actually not my friends, just an imaginary designation to perpetuate the illusion of connection. But they ARE my friends. They are very lovely people, some of the very best human beings I’ve ever known, IRL and they would never, never say these things about me to my face (or to anyone else, for that matter.) I’m quite certain they don’t know they’re talking about me when the violence is posted.

Before we go too far, I should say I really like Facebook – I love your pictures and I love your point of view, even if we don’t agree. I care what we all think. I want to know what the people in my life think about masks and vaccines and Game of Thrones and the Dodgers and LeBron James and dinner and voting rights and Britney Spears and even your vegan lifestyle. I believe that we are capable of having these conversations respectfully and without the vitriol that marks social media posts. In fact, I think it’s even possible to have an honest, open discourse with love and kindness and the sort of space that allows us to search and perhaps change our minds (gasp!!!!!). Love and kindness and that sort of space do not exist in the same space as “stupid” and the rest of the condescending name-calling.

This post is, again, about “us” v “them” and “the other.” It’s easy to write about a general faceless nameless villain who is the enemy, who is stupid and uninformed and whatever else our politics demand. But when we put flesh and blood on these few specific slices we’ve decided are the most important and fully round out the whole picture, including all of the many facets that make us, us, it’s much harder to discern who the bad guys are, if there are bad guys at all.

Maybe that’s why Jesus created the Church, to remind us that more unites us than separates. (Maybe not more in quantity – there’s an endless well of opinions and differences – but absolutely more in value.) That maybe He is worth infinitely more than these distinctions, and loving each other is far more important than winning. The Church connects us and dismantles the us/them dichotomy. It is nearly impossible to hate the one that sits next to you on Sunday morning when you know their birthday, have prayed for their children, celebrated that great new job, and mourned the passing of their parent, even if they did vote for the wrong candidate. That’s why the isolation of quarantine has made us so sad and angry, we’ve simply forgotten that we are all made in the image of God.

Which brings me to these nasty posts unwittingly about me. The command to not judge was vague and hard to understand for me for so long (we are asked to discern but not judge, what is the difference????), but recently has come into focus. Judgment says you are “stupid” and “uninformed.” Judgment says I am right and you are wrong and you are wrong because you’re not as smart, sophisticated, and awesome in every way as I am. Judgment reinforces the walls between us. Discernment decides what is beautiful and healthy and what is not. Judgment uses fists while discernment uses hands.

This hurts my heart because I have so often made mistakes. I have fought with sharp, cutting words dripping with venom. I have sarcastically made others feel small and insignificant. I have devalued people I dearly love by devaluing their perspective. I have not been careful with journeys and paths that were different from my own. I have tried to control using any and all means necessary. And I’m deeply sorry for all of this.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the good stuff – tell me about last night’s vegan dinner and your thoughts on Olympic badminton.

“Who Was With Her”

“She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Genesis 3 is when everything gets broken, when a creation marked by shalom becomes one of chaos, conflict, pain, fear, and on and on and on. This is where all of it starts.

I don’t find too much of a surprise in the woman’s actions. It doesn’t matter how many doors are open, I always focus on the one that’s locked. We don’t mind wearing a mask until they’re mandated. One of the most common things I hear is that we are so busy, we’d really love to have some down time to sleep in, rest, and decompress. Last March, when we were told that’s what we HAD to do, it was largely met with outrage. We are a rebellious bunch.

She took the fruit and ate it and so did he. Sadly, we probably would’ve done the same.

[If you know anything about me, you know we could talk about those actions forever, but I’m downplaying them because it’s that 2nd very tiny, very ‘insignificant’ phrase in the sentence that wears me out.]

Interestingly, the serpent tempted the woman, who was never actually personally told the rules of the garden. The man was. As she is manipulated, vulnerable and overwhelmed, he is “with her,” silently allowing it to happen.

A friend once told me, “you read too much into this,” and he is half right. I do read into this, but it is certainly not too much. What can possibly be “too much” about the first sin to occur in the Scriptures? We usually consider that the eating is the first, but it’s the man’s passivity that preceded that bite. It’s the first, and it continues to run roughshod over all of our lives. In fact, I might suggest that it is the most widespread characteristic of American men. (Maybe it’s everywhere in each sex, but I happen to be an American man and they always tell you to “write what you know.”)

We wait and see, we avoid risk, we sit idle, we play video games. It looks like patience, but it’s not. It’s complacency. We stay the same because the possibility of failure and the fear of change are greater than the faux-comfortability of our parent’s basement.

I often reference David staying home during the time of year when the kings go off to war. It’s during this comfortable abdication of his role that he causes the trouble with Bathsheba (infidelity, murder, among so many others). And all of this gigantic mess has it’s root in passivity.

The passive aggressive behavior that is so common pales in comparison to our aggressive passivity.

The athletes want to win games but will not show up for offseason workouts or invest the time in growth. Boys want the beautiful partners in their dreams but will not become the sorts of men who would be beautiful partners. Growth is hard. Standing is hard. Speaking when the serpent is spinning lies is hard. Taking the shot is hard. Giving every effort is hard.

“Try hard” is now a form of derision in schools, directed at those whose only transgression is to try hard.

Who knows what would have happened if the man had protected her as fiercely as he protected himself and his own comfort? Maybe it would’ve gone down the same way eventually. I imagine it would have, we were going to fall. Our rebellion and bend toward idolatry are hungry monsters that would’ve found a way to eat. But it might not have happened then, there and in that way.

And who knows what would happen if we would protect our families, friends, neighbor as fiercely as we protect our own apathy? If we’d just be try hards for the Kingdom. Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” I would add, “and fight for ourselves.” We weren’t made to be just standing next to her while the serpent leads all of us into darkness. We were made for the light, and most times, light requires our presence and active engagement. Light requires us to show up.

The Ocean

Last month, my family and I spent a few days at the beach. This mini-vacation turned out to be exactly what my tired, bruised spirit desperately needed. The previous days and weeks had felt as if each moment, each day was a tiny sharp chisel chipping away lightly, almost imperceptibly, until the very integrity of my self was compromised. 

The first thing to go is gratitude. I imagine it’s that way for most of us. It’s much harder to see a silver lining when we’re tired, distracted, resentful, in pain. Everything is just cloud. Of course, it’s also the prescription to ease the circumstance, but the darkness is blinding inside.

[Do you know how long, how many stops and starts, it’s taken me to get this far? It’s not that I’m wrestling with what to share – I’ll share everything with you. It’s simply that I can’t find the words.]

When we got in the packed van to leave, I was an angry, broken man. Those are 2 of the words that are just perfect, no trouble finding them. I was angry and broken. The chisel found a nerve and continued to tap tap tap an irritating beat. I felt different, like I was a completely new person…but not ‘new’ new, more like an older, outdated version of me that had reclaimed my soul.

Sometimes you can lose things and not know they’ve gone. A hoarder doesn’t have a house like the ones you see on tv in 1 night. It takes years and years of small invisible steps. The ground is taken an inch at a time. I guess I had been asleep for too many of the inches?

David made the poor decision with Bathsheba that started a snowball not in an instant, but in a series of small, unfortunate, seemingly insignificant, seemingly harmless choices. It’s a slide; a long slow slide, like the one from the top row of Chutes and Ladders. 

On Sundays, I teach about presence and gratitude nearly every week. How could I forget to be thankful and present? How could I be sleepwalking through sermons about the importance of living wide awake? How could I blindly read verses about “eyes that see?”

Of course, it’s easy, right? Things get uncomfortable, noisy, the volume and speed gets turned up, we’re tired, maybe bored, distracted, our focus shifts to the temporal. It’s easy.

Last Sunday we talked about how blessed the pure at heart are, and towards the end, I said, “being focused and connected doesn’t just happen,” and that’s really true. I study all week to teach the Bible, but like that trite horse & water, I can be at the well dying of thirst without intention. Life can become simply a mindless series of responsibilities and obligations without the thread that makes them strands of beautiful fabrics tied together into a rich tapestry of worship and thanksgiving.

So I got in the ocean and the waves folded around me in a (freezing cold) embrace that quickly, pasionately shook me into here, now. Not who I was. Not even really who I am. But who He sees. 

The scales (along with the anger and brokenness) fell – life sometimes seems like a great big long series of scales falling away – loudly to the ocean floor. I know it’s not the last time I’ll be there, on the slide, BUT I also know that He’ll wrap me up time and time again with that overwhelming love of His that just never quits.

A Shadow

So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:15)

That’s a strange passage, if you stop for a second to think about it for a second. I think that sometimes we think of the Bible as mere words on the pages of some old book. I know people that make fun of religion figure it as a work of fiction, like a science fiction novel, but when we read passages like this, do we really handle it any differently?

What I mean is, we read it every Sunday morning and (hopefully) a little during the week, we call it the Word of God, we defend it to our friends and teach it to our children, but does it impact our daily lives. It sits on our bookshelves or on our home screen, but have we allowed it to cross over into our cars and beds and schedules and lives?

We’re studying the Beatitudes, and we don’t seem to value the poor in spirit as if the Kingdom of God is really theirs/ours. Or that the meek will actually inherit the earth. If we did, maybe we wouldn’t put such a premium on image, on looking like we have everything together, on winning. If mercy was worth as much to us as it seems to be to God, maybe we could relegate resentment and the grudges we feed & water to the trash heap of our pasts.

I ask these questions of myself often. I teach the Scriptures in a faith community, yet there are weeks when that is simply an intellectual exercise. My study might as well be of flowers or physics. The Bible becomes a textbook, which might be better than collecting dust on the nightstand. But maybe it’s not. Who knows? I know that both perspectives strip it of its life-changing power.

But then there usually comes a disruption. There always comes a disruption. And that disruption is either a distraction or an invitation.

For instance, yesterday I received this passage in Acts in my email and didn’t read it until an hour ago, maybe yesterday I wasn’t open or attentive. Maybe I was so miserably hot I couldn’t think straight. Today, when I did, my mind was flooded with observations, having nothing to do with a sermon and everything to do with phone calls, baseball practice, COVID vaccines, kisses, pop songs…in other words, it had everything to do with everything.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had the faith to take my sick friend out into the street in hopes that a shadow of a man I’d never met would pass by and fall upon him/her. Again, it’s the street and it’s A SHADOW! And I think of the many ways in which I display a faith that, essentially, believes that that friend is mine to heal or that a shadow couldn’t possibly be enough. Of course, there are lots of other very specific ways each of our spiritual lives show a depressing lack of faith.

So today this is the disruption that has stopped me in my tracks. Either I can treat it as a brief annoyance that takes my mind from my work or the responsibilities on my day planner, quickly chasing it out of my mind like a spider on the ceiling. OR. I could ask the questions, sit in the uncomfortable space between Q and A, and consider where the sick friends in my life are that I need to take to Jesus, for the impossible to be possible and the ridiculous expectations that sit on my shoulders to transfer to His infinitely stronger ones that are actually made for those same expectations. He is the One that saves, rescues, heals and gives peace & joy. Not me. Isn’t that great?

This gift of disruption is leaving me raw, soft, gushy, inadequate, loved and very grateful.