Armor Up?

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.Ephesians 6:11, NRSV

The “Armor of God” is a fashionable teaching in today’s Christianity. As a nation, we like war. We romanticize it and the notion of fighting and dying (killing?) for what we believe in. It’s deep in our American DNA.

With that in mind, how could we not LOVE the idea of “armoring up” for Jesus?!

The problem is that the Christians in Paul’s time weren’t the guys in the armor. The Romans wore the armor, and it bears mentioning that the Romans did not behave favorably toward Christians. They mocked, tortured, arrested, and killed them.

One of the main reasons for such disdain was the pacifist attitudes of early Christians. They wouldn’t serve in the military, nor would they commit idolatry by sacrificing for the good of the emperor. As such, they were considered unpatriotic atheists, two qualities now berated by (irony incoming) many who profess to be hardcore Christians in the U.S.

It seems the old empire is never far.

The interesting thing is that Paul is clear that this armor metaphor is just that: an illustration to make a point, not a literal depiction to slap on a t-shirt promoting militant Christianity.

Paul says the “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is why the “armor” is actually composed of a list of virtues for Christians to practice in the face of their struggles. The Romans fight with earthly armor, but the faithful are to fight back only with their steadfast faith rooted in the love of God.

After all, you can’t fight problems of the heart with a sword (or gun).

This may seem like a small point, but it’s too often the case that we try to make the Divine more palatable by crafting Jesus in our own image. It’s unnerving to imagine that faithfully following in the footsteps of Christ might result in our crucifixion instead of our own heroic triumph.

We’d rather make God’s armor into something more worldly than recognize that we are being asked to actually lay down our arms and face the world in faith.

If, however, we give this some thought, it makes perfect sense. Violence is something we’ve always had. It’s how we humans have most often handled things, and the results are… rather underwhelming.

Our world isn’t more peaceful for all our “well-intentioned” wars and conflicts. All the guns in existence haven’t made the U.S. a safer place. The Church’s history of forced conversions, conquest, racism, and now shameless advertising hasn’t proved successful.

It’s time to relearn Paul’s point that followers of Christ should imitate their Lord in doing something altogether different. Instead of living into the world’s darkness, walk with light. Where there is violence, live peace. Where there is hate, live love. Where there is fear, live with courage. Where there is want, live with generosity (Prayer of St. Francis, anyone?).

Doing this will not be comfortable. It can get us taken advantage of, hurt, or even killed. Yet Jesus shows us that this is worthwhile if it means bringing hope and substantive change to the world around us.

Until we are willing to actually do something different, no matter the cost to us, things will (duh) remain the same. For those of us who still believe that things can and should be better than they are, it is essential that we stop making difficult lessons more bearable by reducing the amount of risk involved. Living in faith was never meant to be comfortable, and change has never been easy.

The trick is looking beyond ourselves, knowing that something bigger and better is potentially at hand. It is with this hope we must arm ourselves, ready to do battle for the fate of the world at home, at work, wherever we may be.

Peace be with you!

“Stand Your Ground” Law: Why I Stopped Killing Spiders

I used to kill spiders, often on command. Spiders or insects of various kinds would enter our dwelling and someone would yell, “Kill it!” I’d do it, usually with no thought at all.

After all, people I love are scared of those things. I have been scared of them. Therefore, I am justified in taking life from them, right?

Our country even defends this behavior with humans. The Zimmerman and Martin case in Florida is a good example. It turns out you can pick a fight with someone, lose that fight, and shoot that someone because you made a stupid decision.

Totally makes sense, yes?

In pre-historic times, sure. Killing things that seemed threatening kept our species alive. The problem is that civilization doesn’t function well under those parameters. That’s A LOT of death when you take into account how often we tend to fear or hate difference. Yet many states are totally fine with validating our fears to the point of violence.

I get the idea. We want people to legally be able to defend themselves, which is great until you factor in prejudice (in the form of unequal threat association based on race or appearance) and a set of lawyers out to manipulate juries for a win. Also, humans get scared of a lot of things, and that fear is subjective, which is not a sound basis for law. Juries are supposed to consider evidence precisely because empathy can interfere with justice because of shared prejudice.

After all, if we legally excuse people based on their mindset at the time, NO ONE would pay for their crimes. There is ALWAYS justification available. We humans can rationalize anything.

When we justify violence based on fear, we set ourselves up for more violence, not less. This works against what I would say is the goal of laws against murder, manslaughter, assault, etc.

But what is the alternative?

Well.

What if we cared more about life (all life) than possessions or our own illusion of safety? What if we as individuals decided ahead of time to act with love and kindness toward others, no matter how others might act toward us? What if we as a society recognized the inherent value of all living creatures as part of this interconnected natural world?

There is inherent risk to this idea. It’s a scary, idealistic approach to complex, dark, and real issues. However, things can’t change if we keep responding “in kind.” You can’t kill your way to peace. It takes an entirely different response to affect change, and I think we can all agree that change is something we need.

So I stopped killing wasps, spiders, roaches, all of it. I catch them, and I move them. I take precautions, but those precautions are selected with love and appreciation in mind, not fear. It’s a small thing, but perhaps we as a society would benefit from finding such a “third way” for how we deal with each other.

Peace be with you!

Try

It’s been hard to find writing inspiration lately! I hate it, but I think I’ve figured out the source. Frankly, I’ve just been really bummed.

I try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. I read the news, check social media, and generally just pay attention. The downside to being informed is the content of that information.

My country is forgetting its roots and trying to base eligibility for citizenship on whether or not the person in question is rich enough to deserve it. Our president has a cult following that will follow him to hell and back because he validates their frustrations and gives them a common enemy to blame.

My fellow citizens seem content to harrass and malign each other based on their political leanings, not caring to acknowledge the fact that the party they’re fighting for couldn’t care less about them.

We are so worried about “rights” that we refuse to temper freedom with duty, endangering one another for the sake of guns, greed, or “god.”

It all makes me sick. I know I participate in these things in my own way, but I can still say I am tired of it all. So what do we do when all of this crap gets so overwhelming?

We try.

Yep. That’s it. No convoluted arguments or attempts to sound wise. Just try, dammit.

Disagree with someone politically? Not a fan of someone’s personal choices? Want a cleaner planet or fewer hungry people in the world? Hoping for more peace and less violence?

Neat.

Get started.

I was recently reminded that we are all responsible for our little corner of the world, and if everyone got on board with the notion of putting effort into what we want to see materialize, this life would look quite different. Call it idealistic, but you have to start somewhere, and having an ideal to strive for doesn’t hurt.

Now, will giving a homeless guy a buck change the nature of poverty in America? No.

Will inviting your liberal/conservative friend to safely vent their frustrations and reasoning behind their ideals lead to a sudden conversion? Nope.

Are you going to end world hunger by collecting canned goods once a month? Or will recycling save us from impending disaster? Nah.

But.

That stuff matters. Kindness, love, and light, in any context, matter. You can positively affect your surroundings every day, as God has given you everything you could possibly need to do so. The trick is consciously making the choice to utilize your gifts as means of service. It won’t happen by accident.

So there it is. Overwhelmed by the bad? Wonder how things could possibly get better? Look in the mirror. There’s your answer. Recognize the Divine in you, that of God in others, and walk your path accordingly.

Just try.

Peace be with you!

Crafting A Kingdom

“… For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17:21, JB

I hope someday we all will see
A much improved reality

Where together every soul abides
Not bullied into choosing sides

Where with each other we sojourn on
Not tripping over lines we’ve drawn

Where words are said in kindest sense
Not wielded just to cause offense

Where all are loved and feel at home
Not judged because of where they’re from

Where people are the point and cause
Not religious texts or backward laws

Where we begin with what’s within
Not with the color of one’s skin

May we all help today to be
A much improved reality.

Self-Repair

Random piece I wrote as my son fed and I scrolled Facebook:

The answer’s not in stars so bright
In hallowed halls or that house of white
No piece of paper can atone
No leader, party, or faith alone
For every evil has it’s start
In the hardness of our heart
So look not to the ones above
But ask how you can better love
Your friend, a stranger or enemy
For only that can set us free.

Peace be with you!

Taking Stock

Abraham answered, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will pay no heed even if someone should rise from the dead.” — Luke 16:31, REB

In Luke 16, Jesus offers us a parable encouraging generosity, hope, and repentance. At the end of this parable, there is also a truth about the nature of change. So let’s take a look!

In the parable, the rich man wants Lazarus to rise from the grave to warn his brothers not to live as selfishly as he did (16:27). Ironically, this is selfish, as the rich man wants to make a servant of Lazarus even in the afterlife! It’s at this point that Abraham drops the bomb of free will on the poor fella.

Free will dictates that life is made up of choices. Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” (16:29). All the tools are available in life for us to seek out and embrace the will of God, to change and grow as people. We just have to choose to make use of those resources. No one, not even God, will do this for us.

It’s important that we take stock of our lives and listen for what God is saying to us here and now. We can’t sit around waiting for God to wave His wand and make us into more faithful people. Doing so would violate the very agency He gifted to us from the beginning.

I used to pray and pray that God would just fix all that was “off” in my life. What I failed to realize is that the burden was on me to actively seek and embrace God’s transformative presence. God has done His job by leaving a part of the Divine Self in all of creation, like a spiritual hand extended toward us. But we are tasked with taking hold of it.

So let’s all take a moment to assess our lives and whether or not our practices align us with the will of God. If not, let’s make time to listen for what God is calling us to in this life, and let’s get after it!

Peace be with you!

The Cost of Change

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.Hebrews 9:22, NRSV

Yeesh, this is a verse that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. The Letter to the Hebrews itself is often a bit… shaky to those uncomfortable with “bloody sacrifice” language who assume Jesus’ life and teachings remove the need for such things. I find, however, that if we look beyond the means of expression we will find a wise and necessary teaching.

If you have ever tried to change… anything, you know that it isn’t easy. Whether it’s a move, a job switch, or *shudders* personal growth, the process of transitioning from one state of being to another can be uncomfortable, if not painful. Imagine, then, the difficulty involved in seeking to live a Godly life, a life beyond our own needs and desires, a life like that of Christ. To change from an inherently selfish way of being (taught and encouraged by the world) to one that is more selfless isn’t easy.

It costs something.

The sacrificial culture of ancient Judaism wasn’t about a disdain for animals or the need to see gallons of blood every day. To sacrifice a living creature to God for purification, for one’s sins and those of the community, sent a clear message about the gravity of our choices. Sin costs life. Holiness requires giving up sin.

While we may not need to spill a poor goat’s blood to bear this in mind (yaaay), it’s a message that is worth repeating. We see movies, read books, and hear stories about people who seem to gracefully and inspiringly turn their lives around. We know we have aspects of our lives that deny who God created us to be, and I believe many of us want to make the changes necessary to be a more faithful, compassionate, kind, and positively productive version of ourselves. There’s just one hiccup.

It’s hard as hell.

We humans fear uncertainty. We love familiarity, and we are creatures of habit. To change, even when we know it to be necessary, is a frightening prospect because the roots of who we are, the habits that define us, will need to shift, and that is not an easy ask.

But it is entirely worth it.

Jesus’ life highlights how painful it can be to seek to do the will of God in every situation. Indeed, persecution and the inevitability of walking the road to the cross make for quite the challenge. Yet the power of transformation, of the healing and resurrection that come with such a life overshadow that difficulty.

The freedom to live a life unhindered by addiction is worth the withdrawals and shadow-work needed to address one’s unhealthy coping habits.

A love life unstained by one’s relationally catastrophic past is worth the facing and acceptance of uncomfortable truths about what happened “back then.”

Leaving work knowing you positively affected the lives of others is worth the horrifying step of leaving a comfortable yet unfulfilling employment situation in search of meaning.

The peace of mind that you and/or those who depend on you are safe because you made that petrifying phone call to end an abusive situation is worth it.

Whatever the specifics, it is true that it is difficult and scary to transform your life according to God’s will for you. It means giving things up that we think we need. It means sometimes accepting unpleasant truths about ourselves or others, and it means surrendering those things that keep us from acknowledging “that of God” in everyone.

It’s also true, however, that what we give still pales in comparison to the effects of that change. To align ourselves with Christ, to walk in the way of selfless love and action, is worth the cost. His way is one of unity with the Divine and each other, and that’s something this world is in desperate need of.

Sure, we don’t have to use blood-soaked Levitical language to describe the difficulty of change. It may be enough to say that transforming into more Christ-like people is exceedingly difficult and requires that we give up certain things. But I think the severity of the author’s words in the Letter to the Hebrews is a great acknowledgment and reminder of what’s at stake in our choices.

After all, to walk in the way of Christ will cost our life as we know it, and I for one am so glad.

Peace be with you!