You Voted Scared

I know I said I was going to write an individual post for both sides of the aisle in order to give both sides a chance to look at the reasons people may have voted the way they did. I changed my mind, so sue me. (Don’t really, though. You’ll be very disappointed.) That said, I had some conversations this past weekend, over the Thanksgiving holiday, which helped me to boil down the issue into a more helpful one-post kind of situation.

Many Americans voted scared. Some were scared of racism, sexism, bigotry, of having their rights revoked, ignored or trampled on. Others were scared of facing corruption, liberal supreme court appointees, or watching their views mocked and derided. Both political parties used fear to turn out their respective voters, and so many responded exactly as the parties desired.

As a Millennial, I understand fear. I grew up in it. I was in my formative years when we experienced 9/11 and the subsequent fear-driven legislation that we have yet to repeal because we still maintain our fear. Since that day, America has been at “war” with one thing or another, this abstract idea called “terrorism.” Do I believe that there are people who harbor evil intent in their hearts and seek to influence others to also participate in that evil? Yes. But is fear helpful in these situations? No. Our movies and television, 24-hour news networks, and social media only compound the rate at which fear can grow and gnaw on our better intentions. Fear can be helpful in certain circumstances, but constant fear can only harm, decay, and ultimately kill unity and love.

If Americans had been more level-headed, neither of these candidates would have had any ground to stand on. Some states are even initiating a “None of the Above” option on their ballots. Honestly, I agree with that option and Dan Carlin when he argues that we should have a federal-level “none of the above” option that forces all candidates on that ballot to pull out and parties to present new candidates. Shame we didn’t have that option this go-around.

Our fear has gotten out of control. We are out of control. And, no, I’m not just talking about the election. We have cloistered ourselves away as if we were hermits avoiding the temptations of the world. It takes a special kind of person to live that life, and most of us aren’t that special. Ask yourself where you get your information. Does it challenge you or confirm you? Does it manage to do some of both? If you are never challenged by information, by stories, by conversations, you may be well on your way to fear.

Perfect love drives out fear. And I’m tired of being afraid all of the time. I’m sick of hearing how one group or the other is causing all of our problems. We as a people are the cause of our trouble. If our country has internal issues, we need to remember that this place has a government of, by, and for the people. If there’s a problem, we’re part of it… all of us. We’re either perpetrating, complicit, or complacent. Blaming others is weakness, fear, and entirely un-American.

Advent has started, which is typically a chance for the church to stop and reflect what it means that God became human. I would also say that this year Advent is also a time to reflect on what it means that God is King. If God is King, then rulers and authorities mean a little less. If God’s Kingdom has already come and has been breaking through since Jesus taught and healed, then relying on a government to fix the world’s problems begins to seem less useful, if not entirely foolish.

Luke begins his account of Jesus’ birth with the words, in the days of Caesar Augustus. If that seemed like just a side-note to you, look again. Luke is subtly pointing to the moment that Caesar, the great worldly power, begins to diminish and God’s Kingdom breaks through. God’s Kingdom enters the world through a baby, born in poverty, and visited by the lowest of the low. God didn’t choose a government or emperor.

So as this trip through Willy Wonka’s horror tunnel of a year comes to a close and as Christmas draws closer. Let’s take some time to reflect on our fear, and then begin to dismantle it. Let us instead put on the full armor of God and begin acting on behalf of the poor, the outcast, the fearful, and the weak, because Jesus said that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Listen at Dinner

I had planned to write a double feature for today: one post for Trump voters, and another for non-Trump voters in order to get some perspective for myself and maybe someone else. The posts are taking longer than I had intended, so look for them sometime next week.

That said… take time to listen at dinner. You may have some people at your table who are more than a little anxious about the topic of politics arriving, which it inevitably will. Be willing to listen. Be willing to empathize with your family, friends, and others, regardless of which side you are on. We’ve had enough division, so let’s let food and gratefulness bring us together.

What is thankfulness? Thankfulness to me this year is being content no matter what my situation. Thankfulness is holding our kids a little closer this week. Thankfulness is seeing the red face of a newborn boy and the pride reflected in his parent’s faces. Thankfulness is watching a gaggle of little girls in princess costumes dancing with their daddies on a cruise ship. Thankfulness is waking up on a cold morning and realizing how amazing it is that my feet touch the floor and feel the tingle of cold hardwood.

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Thankfulness is knowing that no matter what this trip-through-Willy-Wonka’s-horror-tunnel of a year throws at me, I still have my family, and we can laugh, and cry, and share life together. Thankfulness is getting sappy on a blog post that everyone can see.

Listen, share, forgive, seek understanding. Don’t let miscommunication drive you apart. Seek reconciliation, seek common ground. Pursue love. The most profound thing pointed out to me about 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s poem which describes love, is that Paul ends his poem not with “So be like this” but rather ends the poem in 14.1 simply with, “Pursue love.” We can pursue each of love’s characteristics and wind up missing most of them, but if we pursue love itself, seeking the good of others above our own, “all these things will be given to you as well.”

Photo Credit: Thanksgiving Dinner via Wikimedia Commons

What’s all this love/hate stuff?

So Jesus said I couldn’t hate my brother, but I have to hate mother, father, brother, and sister in order to follow him? And even God talks about loving Jacob and hating Esau – seems like a double-standard to me. And for goodness’ sake, Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah – what kind of messed-up families are we being shown here!?

Let’s step back a moment and talk about the words translated love and hate. We’ll start earliest with Jacob and Rachel. In that story, Jacob works for seven years in order to marry Rachel because of the most romantic “love at first sight” story ever written – he moved a gigantic rock to prove his love. And he watered an entire flock, much like his mother had done, but isn’t that rock thing impressive! So, wedding night comes, Jacob’s probably had a little wine, and the happy couple slips off for some alone time. Next morning, Jacob wakes up, and the Bible’s own words say it best, “And, look, it was Leah!” Talk about a rough morning after. Long story short, Jacob ends up marrying both sisters with the Bible saying, “Jacob loved Leah, and also loved Rachel… more than Leah.” Cue miserable groan from audience.

Genesis goes on to describe Leah as being “hated.” The word used here is literally “loved less,” but not being the chosen one can leave a body feeling hated. Leah lived her whole life craving attention from the man she loved, but who loved her with a much cooler passion than he did her sister. So, here, being loved more means being favored, while being hated doesn’t rule out love, it’s a just the lover has made a choice to divide his love unequally.

Later, the prophet will write, speaking for God, “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” There was quite a bit of animosity between Edom (Esau’s descendants) and Israel (Jacob’s descendants.) God, curiously, though, lists in the Law for Israelites not to despise or mistreat an Edomite, because of the distant relationship of their ancestors. In this case, Jacob was chosen as the bearer of the Covenant, not Esau, but that didn’t mean Esau wasn’t loved. God chose Jacob and his descendants to be the instrument through which God showed Himself to the world. Edom could easily benefit from that, as long as Israel lived out the laws of compassion and justice set out by God.

Which brings us to Jesus. When he says, “don’t hate a brother” he actually means, don’t wish him ill harm or trouble. Love is a choice that includes looking out for someone else’s best interest, at all times. But what about hating my parents? Well, Jesus is using the word translated “hate” in the sense of the first two cases. He still assumes we will continue loving our family and looking out for their best interest, but Jesus wants us to be willing to put God first, to love Him more. In this case, picking God first doesn’t mean loving our family any less, in fact, it means we love them more, and fiercely as we learn what it means to love others like God loves us.

When God picks someone, he doesn’t pick them to separate them out, he picks them to go into the world and be His image, His messenger. The Israelites were given land smack dab in the middle of a bunch of empires that could have used God’s wisdom and direction. The prophets were sent into the cities to call the people and their rulers to task for their injustice. Christians were told not to pull out, but to “go and make disciples.” Being chosen means being sent. Being loved means loving more. God’s love isn’t exclusionary, it’s big enough for everyone.

How do your priorities show who or what you love? What does your schedule say about what’s important in your life?

This post was inspired and directed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s recent book Not In God’s Name as well as his essays in Covenant and Conversation: Genesis: the Book of Beginnings. Check them out if this post interested or helped you.

Photo Credit: Love Hate Logo.png via Wikimedia Commons

Pre-Christmas Mu”Seuss”ings

Ah, the crisp autumn air is beginning to creep into our fair valley as the leave’s colors turn deep. As I wander the stores I am puzzled and floored as the Christmas decorations on the shelves have been stored.

“I know what this means,” said I feeling poor, “the time now is coming for the ‘Holidays’ war.”

It comes every year with a bang and a clash, and vanishes by new year in hardly a flash. The moaning and shouting comes from the Christmas crowd, making every Facebook page seem a little too loud. Of course, we could let it go, some may say, but those foolish souls won’t live past the day. The rage and the froth produced by the hoards silence and cover up those faint wisdom chords.

Be jolly and merry, be giving and kind, don’t let this fine season leave you behind. Live out the Christmas spirit of joy, instead of bitterness causing you to annoy. The reason is Jesus, we can certainly attest, and showing that with your own life would be best.

In other words, if greetings and cups and decor grind your gears, be sensitive, please, to your friends’ gentle ears. Don’t shout or fight, or repost that meme, instead act out with pride your dear Christmas dream.

 

Words You Can’t Take Back

There has been so much bile and venom spit during this election, I’m kind of hoping that everyone has run out for the next decade. That’s probably a lot to hope for, but I did want to say a few words on Election Day.

Remember, once everything is over, we will all have one president. We’re called to be a people who pray for the leaders of this country. And, honestly, I’m not sure most Christians have taken that to heart the past 8 years. Either way, a little under half of the country will have to eat their words with some roast crow and humble pie for dessert.

Once the election is over, we’ll need to reconcile. We’ll need to apologize. We’ll need to work all the harder to make sure that we stay “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Let’s work for justice, let’s protect liberty – all of it, yours and the other persons you don’t agree with.

Pray for this country, its leaders, and its people. Pray for peace, for justice, for unity. And then, most importantly, be a peacemaker, a seeker of righteousness, and a force for unity.

(And remember, your kids will hear what you shout at the TV tonight.)

Photo Credit: Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey Election 2016 | by DonkeyHotey vi Flickr

Anxiously Awaiting the End of the World… I Mean, Week.

I got some wise advice when I was younger from a man who went through the school of hard knocks, got his doctorate, and wanted to pass on a little of that wisdom. He said, “Enjoy right now.” And, for the most part, I do. But there’s always temptation to worry about the future.

I don’t get anxious enough to not sleep often. Last night was one of those. I tossed, turned, fidgeted, got too hot, too cold, and everything in between. I had something on my mind. It was driving me crazy not having an answer, and there was so little I could do about it.

Some of you are thinking I was concerned about the election. You’d be wrong. I voted a week or so ago to get that out of the way. I’ve been listening and researching that train for the past year and a half.

No, I was having trip anxiety. This is a trait I received genetically from my mother. Leading up to and until the moment we arrive at our destination, neither of us are comfortable. Airports and sea ports are rough, as we’re checking and rechecking our preparations to get through security. We’re double checking that we have all, and I mean all, of the documents, copies, and duplicates of everything. So far this year, I had not suffered from this bizarre case of acute trip anxiety, until last night.

And in a way, that in and of itself is a blessing. “How does lack of sleep and constant worry constitute a blessing?” It’s a blessing because my worry is so inconsequential. It’s not life or death. I’m not concerned about whether or not a border guard will let me and my family cross into sanctuary from violence and death. I’m not concerned about whether or not my country will devolve into civil war again if peace talks don’t go well. I’m not even concerned about whether or not I can afford to purchase toilet paper. (Which I should do today…)

It reminds me about what Jesus said: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow has enough worry of its own.” He encouraged us to trust God, who supplies the needs of birds, flowers, and the smallest creatures. How much more will God take care of what He has made in His own image.

So whatever your worry is: “Cast your cares on Christ, for he cares for you.” “Let It Go,” as Elsa would say. “Always look on the bright side of life,” said… well, maybe we shouldn’t go there, ’tis a silly place.

Rest easy knowing the God of the Universe cares enough to restore, recreate, and transform this world, and still have time to care for sparrows and flowers… and you.

Photo credit: SLeep via pixabay.com

Seeing God’s Back

Moses had a very strange request for God. Remember, this is the same man who saw the burning bush, the terrible plagues, the parted sea, the pillar of smoke and flame, and the Presence descend on the Tent of Meeting. He asked God to become visible to him. And despite all of the evidence he had seen, we understand his question. God’s answer is odd, though, “Yes, I’ll pass by, but I will only show you my back.” His back?

God gives the same response to others. Joseph was locked in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, thrown in a hole by jealous brothers, and forgotten for two years. Each time it is said that God was with Joseph. Later in his life, Joseph will remark to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God has used for good.” It’s easy to think Joseph had some supernatural glimpse into the future to keep him going. But did he? It’s easy to see God working in the lives of the great biblical figures, but I have to wonder if they saw it, too, especially when God’s work was more subtle and less marvelous.

Look back through your life. You have moments that you can view from your current perspective and say, “God was definitely working there, and there, and there.” But did you know it at the time? I know I didn’t. I hoped during the moment, but I’m sure I was much to focused on the problem to see God’s hands working. So, in a way, when I look into the past, I see God’s back as he was constantly working in my life.

We also hear the challenge from Jesus: “Follow me.” What else would we be seeing but God’s back as we follow Him into the world as he continually renews and brings all things into His Kingdom?

Where do you see God’s back? Do you see it in your past? Do you see where he has worked? Are you watching it right now, leading into some unknown territory?