Politics & Religion

Much better this whole world would be

If everyone were just like me!

Why can’t the scattered masses see

That I alone possess the key?

It cannot be that there is space

That there is peace, that there is grace

Enough for all just as they are

For everybody, near and far

I must be right, it must be true

If it’s for me, then it’s for you

For if we all can coexist

I can’t on my own way insist

That’s why I can’t let difference go

Truth be told, it scares me so.

Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!

Actually Choosing “Life”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live… — Deuteronomy 30:19, NRSV

I am assuming that many of you know about the recent anti-abortion legislation that has recently  been passed in Georgia, Alabama, and now Missouri. If not, hey, now you do. I’m sure many of you are celebrating it, and I am also sure many of you are furious about it. It’s a polarizing topic in that way (Captain Obvious strikes again!).

Unfortunately, though, the abortion debate is one that has pit us against each other in such a way that civil conversation about it is nearly impossible. I get it that it is an emotional concept, but let’s face it, the loudest voices of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocacy groups have a vested interest in fueling our emotional responses to this problem. After all, if we found a way forward together, things would actually have to change, and that is no good for the powers that be.

As a Christian, this debate is just a headache. Scripture and our tradition exhort us to make life-giving and life-preserving choices. For some people, this means simply voting pro-life (a misnomer) and moving on with their day. But is that really a comprehensive and helpful way to ensure the preservation of life and the improvement of its quality for our people?

Shifting gears, the idea that a woman has absolute autonomy over her body and whether or not she decides to bring life into this world is so strong that for some, morality need not enter into the discussion. It’s a personal, private decision that isn’t anyone’s business. Unfortunately, again, I don’t think this appropriately addresses the problem of why abortions are even necessary, and dropping the conversation altogether for the sake of “freedom” doesn’t seem like a healthy option.

Then there are people like me. Having gotten a girl pregnant in high school whose parents made her get an abortion, I can tell you that it is not a positive experience. No one skips into the abortion clinic and high fives everyone as if they are taking their life back. Part of this is due to the ignorant protesters outside, screaming “murder” at people who could just be getting regular OBGYN care.

To those protesters, thanks for your (non) help. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

The other aspect is that something has begun to take shape in this woman’s body, and removing that is not a light or easy decision, even if her parents aren’t forcing it. Needless to say, even with freedom of choice, most women will not be thrilled to have to make this kind of visit to a clinic, which implies that there is something… “off” about the procedure.

In fact, I would bet that most people (whether they pick the pro-choice or anti-abortion camp) would agree that a world without abortions would be ideal. So if that is the case, why all the screaming? Why not find a way forward that adequately addresses the problem?

From the Christian perspective, yes, the teachings of the faith place an emphasis on valuing life (don’t get me started on the devaluing of criminals and women that has also been a part of “tradition”). But those same teachings also tell us that surface-level action is not enough.

Jesus is furious when he chastises the religious leaders of his day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” and “you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:25, 27). On the surface, the actions of those leaders could be called “righteous,” but the truth is that the actual causes of sin and death were not being addressed, rendering such actions shallow at best.

Jesus exhorts us to “First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23:26). We are to get at the source of our iniquity and do the work of facing our darkness before we can actually hope to improve anything. This is true on a personal level, like treating the cause of addiction rather than just the symptoms. It is also true socially. As a nation, we must find what is causing our problems and deal with those first, rather than blanketing them over with inadequate arguments and decisions.

So what does this mean for those of us trying to find a good way forward with regard to this tricky abortion topic?

Simply passing legislation that just makes abortion illegal doesn’t solve anything. It merely makes some people sleep better at night. The truth is, abortion happens and has happened since humans started having children. When the clinics close, the back-alleys will be back in full swing, costing even more life. The choice isn’t whether the law stops abortion, but what kind of abortion the law is going to allow for: safe and clinical, or the kind of dangerous “procedures” that often end up killing women. That’s the current choice, politically, and simply looking to such useless legislation is not an adequate measure of preserving life.

Also, can fetuses be insured? Can child support be paid as soon as a heartbeat is found? Will a pregnant woman be entitled to all governmental and societal benefits of motherhood from that point on? Odds are the answer is no. So what this amounts to is simply telling women what to do because they are the only ones who actually have bear the consequences of what two people did. Again, this is not life-giving decision making that fully recognizes that humanity of everyone involved.

On the other hand, we don’t want there to be a ton of abortions every year. So how do we trim that down in a manner that will promote a healthier society that honors humanity and the gift of sex?

This would require economic changes, changes to healthcare and adoption protocols, access to birth-control, and evidence-based sexual education made available to all people in all places attending all schools. Ironically, it means taking the church out of sex education, because abstinence-only methods have been proven ineffective. It also means removing the stigma around sex, talking about it and the importance of having it safely, because assuming kids will stop “doing it” is a pipe dream.

For us individuals, this means contacting representatives, attending school board meetings, advocating at our children’s places of learning, and, yes, voting accordingly. We have to talk to our kids realistically and pay attention, suspending judgment. This is a lot more effort than simply voting “pro-choice” or “anti-abortion,” but hey, it takes actual effort to make any kind of a difference.

If everyone got the education, healthcare, and communal help they needed, I guarantee you abortion rates would fall and the legality of the practice would no longer be a major issue. This, in my opinion, is what it would take to truly promote life in this nation. This would be a step forward in recognizing and affirming the humanity and autonomy of women while also eliminating the need for a practice that is a concerning metric of where we are as a society.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for bearing with me and reading this post. The truth is, I belief that most of us have more in common than we do to divide us, even on a topic such as abortion. Like all other controversial topics, the answer is not in what makes us feel better, but what actually makes this situation better. Our shallow political climate, then, isn’t going to cut it. Further, slinging mud at each other and digging in our heels is also no way to be productive or kind.

It’s my prayer is that all of us, no matter what “camp” we may have settled into, will see beyond the lies and trickery of the current times. All of us have a vested interest in preserving the rights and healthcare of women. All of us have a vested interest in reducing the need for abortion. All of us have a vested interest in moving forward together. If we can recognize that and behave accordingly, we will stand a far better chance of actually choosing and promoting life.

Peace be with you!

 

 

“Don’t Talk Religion!”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” — Exodus 3:14, RSV

You know “the rules.” Don’t talk politics. Don’t talk religion. Don’t talk sport (for some of us). For someone like me, though, these rules suck. I am bad at small talk. I don’t care what the weather is like or who won the high school football game on Friday. I want to know what you think about important stuff. I would also like to be able to share how I feel about said important stuff, and introverts like me are crippled by such nonsensical regulation.

GAH!

Anyway, there is a very serious reason I want to discuss these rules, especially the idea of not discussing religion. First of all, I understand. We are passionate about the things we believe, and any perceived criticism can come across as criticism of us if one is not careful. With that said, there is a word for the inability to discuss religion and spirituality.

Idolatry.

God is asked for His name in Exodus 3, and He instead tells Moses, “I am who I am” (3:14). When the Ten Words are offered in Exodus 20, the second word instructs:

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

We all know of the obvious, surface-level implication of this teaching. Don’t carve and worship rocks or pieces of wood and call it “God.” Looking deeper, though, we find why our inability to lovingly and civilly discuss our faith with those who are different might be a violation of God’s instruction.

When discussing religion, we get angry. Why? Because our beliefs about God are being challenged. Notice what I said. Our beliefs about God are being challenged. God is not being challenged, only how we perceive Him.

God is a big Deity. He can take care of Himself.

God can also be a She. God can be whatever God wants to be, and He says as much in Exodus 3, remember? I use a masculine rendering for God because it is what I am used to, but I know I shouldn’t fly off the handle when someone discusses God in feminine terms, because, ultimately, what do I know?

Likewise, when we find ourselves being challenged on the topic of religion, and when we find ourselves interacting on a basis other than love and mutual respect, we are guilty of letting our images of God get in the way of treating our neighbor in the manner God asks of us. For all we know, God could have a powerful lesson waiting for us in the midst of a difficult conversation, and we could be spitting on it by being too enamored with our own ideas to be silent and listen.

This same teaching holds true for any of our “causes for stumbling.” Many can’t talk politics because their ideas have become idols that cannot be challenged, and that is not okay. We have become a society that cannot communicate because our own perceptions have become our gods. We cannot act righteously because we carry our idols with us everywhere we go, and we will do anything to keep them sacred.

My prayer for all of us is that we can set down our idols and turn to the One Who Is. In doing so, our hearts will become open and we can finally talk about the things that really matter. We should be talking about our beliefs, our thoughts, our feelings, and our concerns. We should be listening respectfully and carefully to perceptions of others, and we should all be looking for a way forward together.

Thus Saith the Lord: Quit Yer Bickerin’

How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced? — Numbers 23:8, NRSV

It has been a WHILE since my last post, but I needed some space to adjust to an increase in personal training business. I also don’t write as well without “feeling it,” being inspired to share something that I think really needs to be said. So you know this article should be pretty good!

I have been reading through the oft-neglected book of Numbers, and I have to say, it is growing on me. Talking donkeys, fiery snakes, a bronze snake that undoes the fiery ones, all fascinating parts of a narrative that highlights God’s patient faithfulness with human lack thereof. For today, though, I want to emphasize Numbers 23, which captures part of the story of Balaam, a prophet who was summoned to curse Israel on behalf of a Moabite king named Balak.

As per usual, God has other plans for Balak and Balaam. Balaam warns Balak that he is only going to speak what God gives him to speak (22:38), and this is exactly what happens. Balaam gives four oracles, none of which prove favorable to Balak’s cause. As it turns out, God has no qualms about acting contrary to our desires and expectations.

With that in mind, I LOVE the little snippet that opens our article for today. We are currently living in a world of cursing. I am not talking about mother*bleep*ing cursing, but the kind of curses by which we define and attack one another. Here in the U.S., midterm election season has just passed. In that season, we have witnessed the state of animosity that exists between those of different political values and opinions.

Those who subscribe to the Democratic ticket curse their neighbors who are Republican for being racist, bigoted, and callous. Republicans hurl insults at their Democratic fellow citizens regarding their weakness, softness, and lack of practicality. Family members turn on one another, friendships are strained, and the only way to avoid it seems to be silence on the topic. This is stupid, because failure to talk about what is important actually contributes to the division in our country.

Beyond politics, racial conflict is still a problem. Stereotypes become the “facts” by which entire peoples are judged. Humor is used to mask real prejudice, and whether it’s racial, sexual, religious, or any other social category, victims are blamed, sides are taken, and lives are devalued.

In light of this, I think it is vitally important that we heed Balaam’s words from verse 8. What God has not cursed, we should also not curse. What God has not denounced, we should also refrain from denouncing.

God has not cursed us. Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Wiccan, atheist, liberal, conservative, pro-gun, anti-gun, gay, hetero, somewhere in between, male, female, somewhere in between, soldier, pacifist, immigrant, native, documented, undocumented, rich, poor, middle class, happy, depressed, anxious, and any other conceivable category of person all stand in the “non-cursed” category. How do we know this? Jesus Christ.

While God certainly doesn’t approve of everything we think, say, and do, that doesn’t mean God curses us for our sin. In Jesus Christ, we see that God does the EXACT OPPOSITE. God blesses us and forgives us! As Christ says in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Again, in Romans 5:8, Paul affirms that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

The witness of Scripture is that God does not curse us, but blesses us by taking on flesh and bearing our sinful burdens in the Person of Jesus Christ. This is not so that we may feel guilty or pained, but so that we may understand the love God has for us, which in turn should become the love we embody for each other. Self-sacrificial love is the nature of God, and it is also to be the nature of His people.

Instead of cursing one another over our differences, we ought to listen. We should set aside our opinions and values, no matter how strongly we may feel about them, so that we can live out the love of Christ in even the most difficult conversations and situations. This may be weakness in the eyes of the world, in this culture of ours that prizes the self above all others. But “what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15), and we would do well to remember that reflecting God’s love is a cause far more worthy than any other we may hold dear.

I hope this message comes as a blessing to you. I know it was a wonderful reminder for me, and I trust that the Holy Spirit will bear much fruit in us if we keep our hearts open. God has not cursed us, and so we should not curse one another. As Paul says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

Peace be with you!