To the Shepherd Afraid of His Flock, an Open Letter

Dear Pastor Anthony,

This post is in response to your article, your claim that some Christians are so scary they’d frighten Jesus, were it possible. You, for one, are frightened.

For the sake of understanding, I’m going to put your words in blue, since red is already taken. By Jesus. You’re peeved and grieved about two things: how the president is handling the transgender military issue, and how many conservative, evangelical Christians are celebrating. You then settle into a tour de force: Christians are a twisted, offensiveangry, and unmerciful bunch. Scary.

I too am grieved.

I’m grieved someone I love read this article and thought of me. I’m grieved at the possibility I am painted in these adjectives. But what most grieves me is something on which we agree: the tags Christian and conservative have become, for some segments of the population, interchangeable with expletives. Articles like yours are gasoline on that flame.

An email got under your skin– a conservative Christian group praised the President’s ban on transgender military personnel. I understand getting worked up. The very same thing happened when I read your article, which I consider a nebulous condemnation of Christianity and singularly interesting, considering you are a senior pastor of a fairly large church.

You begin your rhetoric with the Christian controversy over Bible versions. We (a loosely defined subset of Christians, but most certainly those who have not come out in opposition to the President) have been reading the Reversed Standard Version of the Bible. It has been poison kool aid, this version, guilty of reversing what the Bible clearly teaches, and someone on the inside needs to say so loud and clear.

Here’s my understanding, based on your article, why we frighten Jesus:

  1. Christians (among others) believe transgenderism may not be in the best interests of our military personnel and that perhaps the government shouldn’t pay for the surgeries that will settle their sexuality.
  2. Mega church leaders of various and sundry denominations, five of them, fell from grace or were disgraced by unethical practices. Thank you for calling to mind each specific sin in your article, for using their failures to prove Christians, more than the rest of humanity, are indeed scary. You forgot to mention King David, writer of the Psalms. He was a far worse fellow than your five examples.
  3. Christians believe in praying for the president. Someone shot a picture of it. How frightening. I hope no one ever sees me hunched over my Bible praying for the president. How can anyone know what motivates another human being to pray? I don’t, and neither do you.

Finally, we come to my favorite paragraph in your article, which begins: I get it.

Because, truly, you do. You understand: The military exists to destroy the enemy. Accordingly, it must have standards that potential recruits must meet in order to achieve its objectives. That’s common sense. And, I agree that the military should not pay for gender reassignment surgeries. You completely and totally, utterly agree with the very sentiment that so outraged you and was the impetus for your article– the email from a conservative Christian group to its own members, an internal group email. Not a press statement to Fox News. Not an op-ed to the Huffington Post. Whatever other Christian arrogance caused you to write the article, you don’t mention. I can only answer what you’ve brought up.

You ask: Must we bludgeon people in our disagreement? Is that what Jesus did? Is an email to a closed group of like-minded members bludgeoning people in our disagreement?

Your advice to the scary ones: Learn to express ourselves with compassion. That’s it. We’ve been given the green light to hold an opinion from Pastor Anthony, but we just need to be nicer about it. That’s the lesson. How do we throw off this scary Christian persona and don the garb of CNN-approved righteousness? For certainly you are keeper of the wardrobe.

Here is your solution to the problem of scary Christians: At the very time when America needs humble courage, aloof arrogance is running amuck. I think it’s time we put down the false RSV Bible and start reading one of the real translations. It’s not possible to follow Jesus otherwise.

Read the Bible. A good lesson. Except. In the name of kindness, gentleness, and the fact that a sermon on sexuality is not the scope of this letter, I’m going to refrain from quoting The Holy Bible, any version, on sexuality. I’ll just quote your church’s stance on it instead, in the hope that you agree– taking a communication meant for a closed group (in your case, people who would like to unite with your church) and using it as a tool of public argumentation can be misconstrued, misunderstood, and cause hurt feelings.

On the controversial subject of transgenderism your bylaws state:

We believe that God created the human race as male and female, and that
gender and sex are determined by God. Humans, therefore, must not attempt to
alter their own gender or sex or that of any other human being.

I humbly, and with grief in my heart, write this open letter because I believe too many of us hold our candles in a closet, for fear of exactly the retribution you deliver in your article: that we will be villainized. I love transgendered people, gay people, peoples of all ethnicity. However, I’m not going to apologize for my belief that not all lifestyles are equally advantageous, productive, meaningful, or abundant. And, based on your own admission, neither do you.

We don’t disagree that we ought to love. We disagree on what it looks like, this love. People disagree on what constitutes a human being (conception, breath, time). We disagree on what constitutes a marriage. On what constitutes gender. And when such plasticity is introduced into what ought to be tectonic, you get earthquakes. Should we be surprised?

Pastor Anthony, is it just that we don’t actively condemn our President that so offends you? Can that really be all there is to it? The antithesis of my enemy’s enemy is my friend? The way your article reads is this: a friend of my enemy is no friend of mine. In fact, he’s downright frightening. Even Jesus would say so, were it possible. But no. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies.

I thought you might like to hear from another person on the inside, also a conservative Christian but not a senior-pastor-at-a-fairly-large-church, just someone who loves Jesus and does her best to follow Him.

 

Luke’s Missions Trip 2017

Luke, 2016. To donate to this summer’s trip, click his picture. Thank you! 

Every summer since he was eight years old Luke’s gone on a short-term missions trip to an Indian reservation. This particular missions trip is so physically exhausting that most people (myself included) can’t hack it a second time around. Sleep deprivation, strenuous and sweltering construction, and mosquitoes of apocalyptic proportions are what you sign on for.

Luke loves it.

This year Luke hopes to travel with his high school youth group to Santiago de los Cavelleros, Dominican Republic, to share God’s message of salvation and love. Like his usual summer trip, this is no pleasure excursion, no summer camp experience. The students show love tangibly: playing with the kids at the dump where they live, cleaning, digging out foundations, construction– anything that needs to be done. They get dirty. They get sick. They get the gift of perspective. I dare not say God’s perspective, for no one can reach that. But they get a bit closer when they step out of their comfortable lives and go.

With all the need here, why go there? Because there is worse than here. It’s not enough to study National Geographic covers. One must go.

It is faith-building to lean on God’s provision. I’m not saying God couldn’t drop a duffel bag of $1,700  on our doorstep, but generally He works through the actions of people, moved to do benevolent work. Luke was moved to sign up. I am moved to write this post on his behalf. Some friends and family have been moved to support him with a donation. THANK YOU!!! If God just dropped the duffel, so much would be lost.

So here’s Luke. He’s been rolling subs, waiting tables, and working at various church functions– to raise the needed funds. On Sunday the students stood before the church. (Luke’s right behind Pastor Jonathan on the big screen.) As of today, Luke has half of his support raised. Kindly pray for Luke and the other students, that they’d raise the needed funds, that this trip would be life-changing, that God would eclipse all in the lives of the students, the advisors, and the people they go to serve.

If you would like to help Luke get to the Dominican Republic, send up a prayer for him and/or make a tax-deductible donation here.

Be the Gift You Want to Get in This World

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“Be the change you want to see in the world” was one of Gandhi’s famous quotes.

Of all the people turned off by Christians, Gandhi is my favorite. Gandhi was perplexed that Jesus’ followers were little crazed antitheses of Him, buzzing about the world scattering judgement like pollen, condemning, wearing the cross and forgetting its dictates.

Though he was turned off by Christians, Gandhi didn’t discount the Man himself. Imitation is not an exact science: if it flatters, it also falters. We are works in progress untill the last breath. My imperfect attempts at being Jesus may be received with misunderstanding and, sometimes, offense. You’re taking this Jesus thing too far has been applied to me. Still, others would say I don’t take this Jesus thing nearly far enough.

Depends who you ask.

People are turned off by a pilgrim taking it too far because a zealot acts unpredictably, often perpetrating heinous acts against humanity: the least of which is discomfiting strangers by talking about God and the worst of which is bringing God’s judgment down upon them– literally, in the form of passenger plane bombs, explosives, etc.

I was taught a catechism of fear– not for God– but religion. Religion makes people weird at best. I learned this in social studies when we discussed Jim Jones (in early elementary school). I learned it analyzing The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter in middle school. I learned it from the nut cases dressed as Jesus, dragging huge crosses along city streets and chanting, “The end is near!”

What I learned was all true. I wasn’t told any lies. But– think Star Wars– I experienced only the dark side of the force and not the light. Half the truth is the best lie because it precludes skepticism. If my cultural experience impressed upon me a fear and loathing of impassioned religion, then did I not receive a broken bowl for a paradigm? Certainly it had the shape of usefulness, but not the essence. No wonder when I tried to pour my life experiences into it, everything leaked out and I was left holding air.

At age 27 I got desperate and decided, against the teaching of my youth, to take this Jesus thing too far. What did that look like? Did I have to renounce logic, sacrifice a chicken, or roll around the altar babbling unintelligible oaths? Hardly.

I picked up a Bible and began reading the book of John. I’d been church hopping, a spiritual Goldilocks searching for a fit. I sat through many a pep talk, incantations, scripted kneelings and standings, services full of buttoned up people whose goodwill didn’t even last into the parking lot. One day I met a man who genuinely, ardently loved his god. Here was a thing I’d never seen before: the other side of the religion equation. It goes without saying you can’t just walk into any church and experience true faith, but walk into enough, and you’ll eventually strike oil.

That is, if you really want to. I hope you do. Don’t let the imperfections of Christ’s followers dissuade you from seeking Him. For who is perfect at anything? I’ve gotten my Jesus step wrong enough times, and those are moments I’m stepping on toes. If I think it’s pollen I’m spreading, it’s my duty to double-check every now and again. The easiest error is thinking we help by spreading a loveless message of judgment. It’s not pollen when I forget to love. But in those moments I am definitely a B—-.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2.

Gandhi and I disagree on what the message should be, but on this we find harmony: My life is my message. As the year draws to a close and our minds are on gifts, it’s a great time to ask yourself if you’ve been the gift you want to get in this world.

Don’t believe the lie that says: If God is any more than a trapping, he’s a trap. Don’t believe religion should be used as the ancients did their spice: to cover the fact that the meat’s gone bad. Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable when He said he should be consumed. Jesus can’t be taken too far. He is meant to be the main course (John 6:54). Be a pilgrim. Take Jesus too far. That’s not what will actually happen though it may be said of you. If you merely hold out a hand, Jesus takes you too far. And it’s a lovely country.

 

 

We’re Almost There, America

Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

Election Day 2016: Half the country will be going from failure to failure today. May we be enthusiastic about it– you know– good sports. If nothing else, it will be over soon. Remember The Passion of the Christ? Jesus trudging and falling under the excruciating weight of the beams he dragged while his life’s blood flowed out hundreds of whip slices, thorn stabs, and even his facial hair, ripped out like so many weeds. Simon of Cyrene told* him, “You’re almost there.” The there being the hill of crucifixion. Not the same as you’re almost there about the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Still, it was meant to encourage. This particular hell is almost over. Focus on that.

Same with today: we’re almost there. But there isn’t going to be pretty either, like as not.

I cast my vote. Life marches on. I fill my tank with gas, get groceries, get my hair cut. The deus ex machina I hope will turn our nation’s story around, but that I also fear will turn our nation’s story on its head– may or may not come today.

When the election looms too large, I’ll remember my walk in the woods. I’ll go there in my memory the way one returns to vacation or a kiss or a victory, and I’ll visit it again and again. I’ll recall the crunch of leaves under my feet, how they fell twisting to the ground like confetti, orange spades the size of hands spiraling through the branches and down past ancient trunks. It only took a slight breeze to touch off the kamikazes, a million deaths fluttering to the ground in a moment, gorgeous. Their smells enter my nose like jazz music, barely realized hypnotism. I am one such leaf, not aware I’m mid-fall, not special, one of a million. Our vast numbers make us marvelous, but not special. Except to God. How masterful is God to orchestrate such beauty in death? The most beautiful image God ever created was a death, was it not?

As the sun sets today and the polls close, it will be the death of this election. We’re almost there. God’s will will be done in America today as it is every day.  That is a great mystery– our free will doesn’t trump God’s will, and death is not the end of a matter. History has proven that over and over again. If our next president means we go from failure to failure, let us do so enthusiastically. This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. – 1 John 5:4

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*Mel Gibson’s The Passion (2004) rendered that speech. The Bible records no words between them, only that Simon was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross.

I’ll Vote for Jesus When He Runs for President

Whether you trust in Hillary or trust in Trump, most voters feel we’ve got a bitter pill to swallow on November 8th. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what your leanings, you are trusting in one of those two outcomes. But what about third parties? This year more than ever, the idea of a third party seems a palatable medicine.

11-year-old Gabe: “What are you reading?”

Me: “Election stuff.”

Gabe: “I could tell. By the look on your face.”

My face: disgusted

Political discussions “produce the most delightful clashes, the deepest schisms in friends and family, the most hell-like states possible on earth.” Indeed. Four years ago I donned the voice of Screwtape, the sophisticated demon-creation of C.S. Lewis, and wrote that sentiment in a post condemning third-party votes. Back then the mavericks cast their consciences against the dreaded Mitt Romney on the basis of his mormon faith. Mitt Romney, a veritable Mother Teresa in today’s political climate.  Miracle and/or apocalypse aside, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected. Polls say Hillary. 

What does it look like, a vote of faith? Every vote is a vote of faith in something. The difference is the something. Of course ultimately our trust is in God to take care of our nation. In God we trust. I’m not excising God out of the equation when I say we have but two options. When you have a headache, do you trust God to fix it or do you take a Tylenol? I submit: we have a political migraine, and although I’m ready for God to sweep into the American narrative in a divine coup de grâce and make America sane again/ kind again/ great again/ mine again– God’s plan may be for me to trudge to the polls and check a box.

Some boxes require more faith than others.

Exhibit: Vermin Supreme.verminHe promises free ponies and harsher tooth brushing laws. And he’ll fund research into time travel, ostensibly to go back in time and “kill baby Hitler with my bare hands.” Who can argue with that platform? If you find it insane Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, consider this: Mr. Supreme finished fourth in the New Hampshire primaries.

Hard as I’ve tried to wrap my conscience around a perfect, third-party candidate like Darrell Castle, I can’t move my (let’s face it, inconsequential little) vote into the realm of the theoretical. I can’t get comfortable putting my faith into that box. Here’s why: We’re all passengers on the bus about to be taken over by one of these two drivers. My moral obligation is to give my vote to the one with the least likelihood of crashing the bus. I could throw up my hands and ask Jesus to take the wheel. How many people who will do that with their vote would do that with their car? On I-71.

Because for me, that’s what it comes down to. My actions at the macro and the micro level must match up. I do take Tylenol when I have a headache, and I don’t think it demonstrates moral depravity or lack of faith. I will vote my conscience, within the unfortunate bounds of our electoral system, choosing the lesser evil, having faith that God is ultimately in control of my life and my country. Every day I drive I-71 downtown, twice. It’s harrowing. Sometimes I’ve prayed that God would keep us safe as we make our way through rush hour. But never have I taken my hands off the wheel and asked Jesus to drive.invisibleman2

Again this election cycle, after many an internal and external debate and prayer, I find myself begging my third-party and stay-at-home friends to cast a vote for your favorite bus driver. Or your least-hated bus driver. And if third-party is where your heart is, then by all means, get involved in the process sooner, when they have a chance of making the primetime debates, of getting their plans and values out to the masses. Make third parties a force with which to be reckoned– next election cycle.

Show me your faith without works and I’ll show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18. 

Voting for the lesser evil is not a lesser action than a vote for a pure candidate who will not win.

After I check that box, I’m pretty sure life will go on.

 

 

 

 

God, Why? Why These Candidates?

Dear God,

I want to be an educated voter. I want my vote to count. Does my vote please You if I decide for either of these wretched scraps of humanity, vomited up by our obviously faulty electoral system? I’m stunned like the rest of normal-America. Sucker punched. God?

Hillary Clinton had an idea. (I mean, she’s got lots of ideas, but this one was good.) “Can’t we just drone this guy?” She said of Assange, the Wikileaks founder who’s supposedly got further dirt on her and is about to share it tomorrow via video because it wasn’t safe for him to do it today from a London balcony.  I doubt there’s anything earth shattering. If this earth aint shattered by a cheating, lying president, why should it crack under the sins of his wife? Besides, what could possibly be dirtier than these, our candidates?

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We may never know… Assange may have a sort of accident. With a drone or something. Hillary’s Assange-drone solution is similar to her stance on social issues, so I give her credit for being consistent. Children– the live ones, those who eat, who require education, insurance and all manner of infrastructure– they weigh down an already-extended welfare system. A welfare economy can only survive if lots and lots of babies fetuses clusters of cells are aborted. Affordably. Conveniently.

Not only is it economically solvent to kill unwanted babies, those clumps of cells products can be sold and their price stimulate the economy. That’s a dark genius I never, in my wildest dreams, would have imagined. Then again, I never thought I’d hear a prospective Commander-in-Chief suggest openly, “Can’t we just drone this guy?” At least she’d mete out a quick death. With a drone attack, you don’t even know what hit you. And abortion. Bam. You’re dead. I’ve never been aborted, but Planned Parenthood assures me it’s completely painless for the mother and the child fetus clump of cells. Bam. Dead.

The next president could possibly appoint four supreme court justices. The only way abortion is going anywhere is through the placement of supreme court justices.

And, inconceivable as it may be, the only hope for the unborn may be Donald Trump. God, I pray Trump does what he says he’ll do. If I vote for him, I’ll do it for You. For my conscience I vote for a man who seems to have a very miniscule one, at best. God? Stop me before November if I’m in the wrong.

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I have a friend who may do just that: change my mind before November. I’m considering his rhetoric, and it goes like this: In light of the fact that neither candidate is remotely acceptable, the God-honoring response is to choose a candidate who represents our values. A means justifies the end sort of tack. It’s no mistake. I know my Machiavelli. My friend believes these times may call for a stress on process rather than on product, because the product (a moral governing body) has already been lost or is unwinnable. Hmmm… so what I should do with my little vote? As for my friend– he found a write-in option that doesn’t torture his conscience: Darrell Castle.

As to Hillary’s drones, that’s not how we solve problems. Kindergarten ethics, ma’am, we can’t just drone our political enemies or our inconvenient witnesses or even the scads of little breather-eaters who tax the overtaxed voters and constipate Mother Earth. I’m not suggesting we solve our political problems with two well-aimed drones, but that’s only because I don’t have the same mindset as our candidates. I have to admit, it scares me, her cavalier attitude toward life. Everyone talks about Donald Trump’s heavy finger on the nuke button, but neither of them inspire confidence.

God, do you want me to throw away (one could even use Biblical terminology– sacrifice) my vote as an act of faith? It’s no trouble to me, if I know that’s what You want. Many times You’ve worked in situations where the right thing to do was not the sensible thing. Gideon, Joshua, Peter, etc. Is this one of those times? We are blessed with a responsibility. What is the purpose of my vote? To effect my world view upon my world? To protest a broken system? To put as much free stuff in my pocket as possible?

I ask God and I ask you, because, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. I don’t care what the polls say. No one ever imagined we’d be here. I remember getting laughed out of a room for suggesting Trump could pull off the nomination. That was just over a year ago.

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The One Feared is the One Revered

hand-mushroom-cloud-blast-explosionI don’t want to be worshipped– I want to terrify. My rival covets worship, but I’ve never been so inclined. You could say between the two of us, I’m the humble one. And between the two of us, I’m the one providing a service: I scare you, don’t I? Scare you into looking before you cross the street, frighten you into taking the boring, bill-paying job, terrify you into aborting those inconsequential cells growing inside you because no way can you handle what’s coming down the pike, my dear. No way. Be reasonable.

What does my rival do for you? …What? He hung the celestial bodies, slapped them spinning… and what’s bedecked His resume since then? Ask the burned-up, disheveled Syrian boy. Ask the refugees. Or the republicans. Ask the four-footed critters or winged creatures whose orb is fracked and fractured and asphalted, whose space is raped. Ask, what has He done for you lately?

I never asked to be worshipped.

But to petrify, that is my game. Humanity thrives on terror. I submit The Exorcist, all things Stephen King, the Autobahn on a rainy day, and Donald Trump any day. Who delivers this exquisite fright? Yours truly. And I never ask for applause. All I ask is you not applaud my rival, not send upward looks and wide-open arms and prayers for deliverance. No one’s coming.

I want to terrify because the one feared is the one revered. The one feared– his fat, itchy finger perches awkwardly on the launch button. Did I mention North Korea in my exhibit list? Terror fuels the world, make no mistake. What scurrying when the alarm sounds, what an economic boon is war! Didn’t your mother tell you she beat you for your own good? I gave her that phrase.

[Submitted to Cracked Flash Fiction contest. As I wrote this entry, I realized my default is not to story, but to essay. The Screwtape Letters is branded deep into my subconscious, and I shift into first person essays without meaning to. What to do about that? Recently I posted about changing my novel to 1st person. I figure I should do what comes naturally while I’m floundering about. Babies don’t run the 4 by 400. When I force myself into a format, the writing screams, “I’m stilted!” Then I hate it. Then I delete it. I’ve collected quite a few rejections from CFF, perhaps because my writing is more aptly described as Cracked Flash Essay. Ha! Well, the wounded warrior pets herself and finds excuses as to why she didn’t get the gold, doesn’t she? Whatever mind games we have to play to get back out there and get rejected again.]

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