Fear is a Really Lousy Religion

It’s must be awful to go through life terrified; to believe that you are perpetually in danger, to always be threatened by encroaching predators lurking in the shadows and around the corners and beneath the bed. What a drag it has to be to walk through every day looking over your shoulder, certain that attack is inevitable and you are soon to be overtaken. 

And yet this is the experience of far too many Christians in this country; people who have been a people weaned since birth on a faith of fear:

Fear of Hell from a loving God.
Fear of immigrants stealing their jobs.

Fear of refugees bringing terrorism in a Trojan Horse.
Fear of Transgender people lurking in bathrooms.
Fear of Atheists assailing their freedoms.
Fear of brown people brandishing violence.
Fear of Hollywood perverting their children.
Fear of Non Christians converting their children.

Fear of the Government coming for their guns.
Fear of the Media distorting their reality.
Fear of the Devil coming in the form of Muslims, Gays, and Liberals.

It all helps create a monstrous, Frankensteined faith that has turned on them. Somehow, what should be a hope-giving, life-breathing, joy-inducing gift, has been reduced to a sanctified burglar alarm, forever forecasting doom, forever inciting panic, forever triggering outrage.

And as a Christian, this makes me so very sad because it’s a million miles from the heart of the story—that story is one of a Maker who says: Do Not Fear.

It is the most common command in the Bible. It is the continuous golden tether running throughout the Scriptures; the assurance that faith is the antidote to all that terrifies us. It is the steady declaration that if God is indeed God, we are safe and loved and that all will be well.

The poet of the Psalms writes in his 27th song of praise: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Apparently no one’s read that over at the White House or FoxNews or in a large portion of Evangelical pulpits in America, because they’re all shaking like dogs before a coming storm and trying to convoke us all to tremble too.)

That so many who claim this same religious tradition and profess adherence to this same text spend so much of their days as if the sky is imminently falling, is something that as a pastor I grieve deeply. I don’t know how to process people who can simultaneously say they trust a God who supposedly spoke the Universe into being—and yet can’t handle a Starbucks cup, an Evolution class, a gay couple in their church or some distraught refugee families. It’s the very pinnacle of cognitive dissonance to say In God We Trust while proving with every frantic, desperate move that they trust no one.

In the Old Testament, Joshua is chosen to succeed Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. The Scripture says he is encouraged by the voice of God saying: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I don’t believe many Christians have heard that voice. I don’t believe they truly rest in this truth. Because those who’ve heard that voice and rest in that truth wouldn’t be so damn terrified all the time. They wouldn’t be so obsessed with protection and insulation and damnation, they wouldn’t have so much contempt for the diversity around them—and they wouldn’t be so angry.

The Gospel biographer Mark tells the story of Jesus in a boat with his disciples, when a furious storm engulfs them. Panic-stricken, they rush to find Jesus in the back of the boat sleeping on a cushion and questioning his concern for them. Just before calming the wind and the waves, he asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I wonder how those who profess faith in Jesus, yet preach a Gospel of terror would honestly respond to such an inquiry? I wonder how their hearts might be renovated if their religion became a source of security rather than fuel for generating fear. I wonder how differently they might respond to the real pain and despair around them.

I keep waiting for the people of God to act as if they believe that God is God. 

Fear is a powerful drug.
It’s a fantastic political tactic.
It’s a wonderful manipulator.

It’s an effective motivator.
But it’s a really lousy religion.

May more Christians in America come to believe that the sky is not falling, because they know the One who holds up the sky.

And may they stop being so very afraid—for their sake and the sake of those they fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Did Compassion Become Partisan Politics?

Credit: New York Times / Redux / eyevine

A professed Christian Tweeted the following at me last night:

Bro, I respect you, but serious question: are you on the DNC payroll?

After I let him know that if he indeed respected me he probably wouldn’t have asked that “serious” question to begin with, he replied that he was concerned that I was just repeating “Democratic talking points.”

I asked him to think about why he felt that way, realizing that he’d fully exposed the problem in his initial 140 characters.

His comments were telling, because they illustrate exactly what has happened in America over the course of the Presidential campaign, the election, and the first weeks of Trump’s Administration: Republicans have so lost the plot, that affirming anything remotely compassionate or decent now feels like a political stance against them. Empathy seems like an act of defiant resistance—and in many ways, it now is.

Advocating for sanctuary for refugees,
Protecting immigrants from Government harassment,
Marching for full equality for women,
Demanding affordable healthcare for every human being,
Affirming religious freedom for all traditions,
Fighting the degradation of our planet and the gutting of our public schools,
Defending our Press so that it remains free,
Championing the vulnerable, the sick, the poor—
These have somehow become partisan politics. And the simple reason is because the leaders of the Republican party have sold their souls and no longer care to be burdened by the heart of Jesus, or the basic goodness he preached.

And so his values now seem offensive,
his words are convicting,
his very life feels confrontational.
The extravagant love, overflowing compassion, and sacrificial generosity that marked him are foreign to their ears and threatening to their sensibilities.

My online critic further lamented my use of “partisan hashtags,” which again is revelatory:

Echoing #StillShePersisted, born on a night when white Republican men silenced a female Senator for attempting to the read the words of a black woman, in opposition to the Cabinet appointment of a white supremacist—became just partisan politics.

Boosting #TheResistance, a massive, worldwide movement against racism, bigotry, discrimination, abuse of power, and neglect of the vulnerable—was dismissed something out of the “DNC playbook,” (even as my very usage underscored its transcendence of such small things.)  

That either of these terms or the values behind them now feel like partisan politics to Republicans instead of a defense of the inherent value of all people, should be a red flag to those who are paying attention. It should be an alarm, warning them that things have gone sideways—especially to those folks who claim faith.

I’ve been a registered Independent since the first day I could vote. I’ve always seen the validity of both parties, and up until this year I’ve never written about a candidate or political party or called out a politician by name.

But these days everything has changed. Now, the faith I grew up with has been fully commandeered and bastardized, to the point where silence is simply not an option. And if speaking the very words of Jesus, if reiterating his life and ministry seem like partisan politics to those of you reading who identify as Republicans, well maybe that’s a you problem. If someone aspiring to be a loving, empathetic human being, causes you discomfort—that should give you great pause. 

Maybe the truth is that equality, diversity, justice, and compassion are indeed now solely “Democratic talking points” because you have gone all-in with someone and something that Jesus would rightly be horrified by. Maybe you really no longer aspire to loving your neighbor as yourself. Maybe your expression of faith is lacking something essential—like the love of Christ. Perhaps the absence of decency and mercy in your midst have left him no choice but to head elsewhere, joining the religious of every tradition and the non-religious who together are affirming these things.

I really don’t concern myself with my beliefs being interpreted as a political statement. Jesus’ life was exactly that. It was a bold, relentless defense of the vulnerable, the poor, the hurting—the least. Non Christians understand this. They recognize that it was an unapologetic affirmation of the value of all people; not just the wealthy or the powerful or those of a single pigmentation or homeland. Honestly, how anyone labels it or who gets credit are too small of considerations. They’re a waste of my time.

Borders? Walls? Bans? Home raids? America first? Just where on earth or in Heaven or Hell is your Jesus in these things friend, because I believe practically speaking, he’s invisible. I don’t recognize him there. And I wonder just how speaking for anyone who is not white, Christian, and American, became a threat to the GOP and a challenge to the professed party of Jesus? 

So yes, my dear Republican Christian friends, maybe homeless refugees and sick children and the working poor and black lives and fewer guns and universal healthcare are indeed now “Democratic talking points”.

And if they are, then you should take a long look in the mirror, let your knees hit the floor, and ask Jesus just why that is. Maybe some repentance is in order.

As for me: I know where my heart is, I know where my loyalties lay, and I know that I can sleep at night because I know that love is a nonpartisan decision and I am choosing it.

You can call it political all you want, but I know it’s the most spiritual declaration I’ve ever made. It is a declaration of Life.

#StillShePersisted
#TheResistance

 

 

 

Letter To A Young Donald

Dear Donald,

I was watching my son playing in the yard yesterday, and I suddenly thought about you when you were his age. I wondered what you were like then; the friends you had, the memories you made, the dreams that filled your head. I imagined you there among his friends; running and laughing and tumbling wildly into the grass. I began wishing I could go back and tell you something. I wished I could step into your story then, and say the words that someone else may not have told you.

I’d tell you what I tell my son: that you are worthy of love, not because of the things you do or the successes you have or the achievements you pile up. I’d tell you that you don’t have to earn or deserve or win this worth. It is your only real birthright.

I’d tell you that you are not defined by your outward greatness, but by your inner goodness; by the way you treat the people in your path, the compassion you show, the kindness you extend, the love you give, the sacrifices you make. You are not the person who exists in the glare of the spotlight but the one residing in the deepest hidden recesses of your heart. 

I’d tell you that you do not matter less than anyone else, nor more than anyone else; that you are not in competition with the world, you are connected to it. I’d tell you that another’s prosperity doesn’t have to come at the expense of your own. I’d tell you that this life isn’t about you—it’s about you and those you get to share this planet with for a brief space and time.

I’d tell you not to chase the applause of fickle strangers, which though intoxicating in the moment is Fool’s Gold. It will lead you to do and say and become things that right now you’d never dream you’d do, and that once that applause fades (and it always does), you will be altered by all that you did to receive it.

I’d tell you that your life will move by more quickly than you can ever imagine, and that at the end of it, yours will be measured by whether or not the world was made more or less good, decent, and benevolent by your presence. Your real legacy will not be made of steel and stone and glass, but by the choices you make, the words you speak, the lives you renovate. And I’d tell you to choose wisely, because the older you become the less chance you have to rewrite that legacy. Eventually you will lose the ability to manage perception of your truth. You will simply be left with what is true—and that will be your epitaph.

When you were my son’s age, I don’t know how frequently you laughed or how often you felt loved or what words were spoken over you when you were just figuring out who you could be. I don’t know whether you often heard words of encouragement or received gestures of affection. I don’t know how you became the person you’ve become.

We all have our stories and we are the product of those stories. We are the sum total of every beautiful memory, every painful defeat, every warm embrace, every harsh word. And I can’t help feeling like somewhere along the way your story let you down, that at some moment or maybe in a million smaller moments, those entrusted with showing you how to live—failed you.

I feel like the young boy you were, missed something; because for all the wealth you’ve now acquired, for every accolade you’ve accrued, for all the measurable achievements you’ve recorded—you still seem a miserable, sad, bitter man who doesn’t believe he has done enough. You still seem like a desperate young boy, trying to feel worthy, trying to prove deserving, trying to purchase belovedness.

Maybe none of this would have made a difference to you then. Maybe it wouldn’t have altered your path in the slightest. Maybe it would come to bear little fruit in your adult heart. But I’m going to keep speaking these words over my son, in the hopes that he is made a better human being by them; because I don’t want him to end up being an old man who has gained the world but lost his soul.

I want the boy playing in my yard today to know that he is loved and valued and made for goodness. I want generosity to come easy for him. I want compassion to be his default response. I want fear to be a stranger. I want him to be wealthy in friends.

I want him to be the kind of person the world needs.

I hope these words change his story. 

 

 

White American Christians, You Let the Wolves in

The wolves have breached the door.

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of humanity as sheep; innocent, vulnerable to the violence of encroaching predators, and in need of protection. Speaking of himself as the sacrificial, caring Good Shepherd, he warns against those who would seek to destroy the sheep.

Later the biographer Matthew says that when Jesus looked the crowd before him, he was moved with compassion, because he saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” and he pleads for advocates.

Elsewhere, Jesus cautions against the wolves who would come disguised in goodness to gain proximity to the sheep, only to devour them. “Be careful of those who appear to be one of you,” he in essence warns, “they are the real threat.” He tells his hearers that the ones most claiming righteousness will indeed be the height of wickedness. 

And the saddest part about Jesus’ warnings is that they have now come to pass; the predators are here and they didn’t come from somewhere outside.
They weren’t the Muslims or the gays or the Atheists, as we’ve been told by the Church they would be.
They didn’t come from Hollywood or North Korea or some ISIS offshoot as FoxNews or Breitbart forecast.
These wolves weren’t watching from a distance and they didn’t have to travel far to infiltrate the flock.
This slaughter has been an inside job.
It’s happened at campaign rallies and in voting booths and on partisan news networks.
It’s come through the evangelists and the pastors and the politicians and from proclaimed Christians, all out of blood while wearing Jesus like a sheepskin.

For all their sanctimonious preaching about morality and family values, and for all their endless warnings to the “sinners” around them, white Christians elected the worst human being to ever reside in the White House; a man completely devoid of goodness and decency—and dared to call him Christian. They rubber stamped every vulgar word, every hateful diatribe, every open falsehood, every piece of predatory legislation and sold it as being of God. And worst of all, in these days they’ve doubled down on defending every reprehensible bit of it and joined in the feeding frenzy. 

For all their talk about following the Good Shepherd, white Evangelicals let the wolves in and they’re tearing the sheep to pieces. The predators have the run of the pen and we’re seeing the carnage happen in real-time, in party-line Congressional votes, in unconstitutional Executive Orders, in ill-conceived ICE raids, and in bizarre, ranting press conferences. It’s a brutal and wasteful destruction of many of the most at risk. 

And the sad part about it all is that Jesus ends up with the blood on his hands that really belongs to them. His name is dragged through the filth by a religious-political movement systematically running through the powerless and the vulnerable—all in the name of a Jesus who they can’t be bothered with, in the name of a faith that they haven’t the slightest interest in honoring. Like an abuser who claims affection for another while inflicting injury, these professed Christians are preaching a God of love to people while simultaneously going for their throats—and wondering why they’re running away.

The disconnect is profound, the cognitive dissonance alarming, the absurdity spectacular—that professed Christians are the very violent, vicious, bloodthirsty predators Jesus spent his days here telling people to look out for. He was warning humanity against his own. He was prophesying against the American Conservative Church in America in 2017.

For many people, Evangelical Christianity here hasn’t been about Jesus in a few decades. It long ago sold its soul to the Republican Party for a few pieces of silver and some Supreme Court seats. But over the past year and particularly in recent weeks, politicians on the Right have almost literally said, “To Hell with Jesus. We have a blank check now. We’re God now.” And in the short-term it probably feels like they’re winning, as they butcher lamb after lamb, gorging themselves on every morsel of power they can grab. We all see the overreach; the feeding frenzy that honors no laws, respects no life, and affirms nothing resembling Jesus. They think this is victory.

But there is a price for this terror and it is the future of the very faith they profess and profit from. They are the loudest and most convincing deterrent against their religion to a watching world who know wolves when they see them. They are making Jesus synonymous with the massacre we’re witnessing and making Christianity irrelevant in the process.

Not long from now, these same supposed men and women of God will lament why the Church has died. The exodus from organized religion will continue until the only ones left are those now exploiting the people. They will condemn the immoral culture who have rejected God, failing to realize that they have been the ones who’ve made Jesus so objectionable. The Church will shrivel until it become a tiny sanctified gated community of self-righteous hypocrites. And eventually they will do what starving animals do when prey is scarce: they will turn on each other until they are extinct.

And so in these days, people are moving outside of the Church to do the work of Jesus. The faithful and the faithless and those most vilified by the Christians doing this damage, are together becoming the true shepherds of the sheep. They are moving with compassion for the vulnerable, they are “laying down their lives” to defend those most in danger, they are doing the difficult work of keeping the wolves away.  

And make no mistake friend, we will not let the wolves win the day.

Compassion will win the day.

Goodness will.

Mercy will.

Love will.