The First 100 Days of This Glorious Resistance

Lots of beautiful things grow in manure. 

It is often in the absolute worst conditions that life springs up in surprisingly defiant ways, pushing back against the most dire circumstances and rewriting the story with hope when hope seems counterintuitive. 

101 days ago, I stood in the streets of downtown Raleigh, shoulder to shoulder with tens of thousands of my neighbors, making a loud, plot-twisting declaration together. We marched in solidarity with millions of like-hearted hopemongers, similarly gathered in hundreds of cities throughout our nation; a fierce though grieving army choosing not to allow fear to rule the day—but to preemptively declare love the winner.

Before Day 1 of this fraudulent, illegitimate, malignant Presidency, we marked Day 1 of our shared resistance to it—

And it has been glorious to behold.

For the first 100 days of this Administration, we have sustained our fury and our focus; speaking truth into every lie, challenging every legislative assault on Humanity, opposing every ugly bastardization of Democracy, pulling into the light every hidden misdeed. From the most disparate corners of this country we have knit ourselves together and become a singular, invincible presence—transcending race, orientation, faith tradition, and political affiliation in ways that are uniquely American. 

And we, together with a persistent Free Press and a steadfast Judiciary, have resisted continually, powerfully, magnificently. We have held one another together. We have held this country together. This is beyond debate. History is recording it for us. and our children.

Over the past 100 days people have become activated in their communities, given to charities, engaged the political process, launched nonprofits, come together with their neighbors, reached across lines of faith, become vocal on social media, braved family conflict—all in ways they never would have, if not for the harrowing moment we were thrust into. Necessity is the mother of the Resistance.

And in this way, oddly even this tragic point in our history is cause for gratitude—because it has been the genesis of our kinship, the fuel for our urgency, the occasion of our waking up. In other words, we are the beautiful thing now growing out of this horrible manure of a man, and we are altering the landscape.

And yet, none of us wanted to be this necessary. We’d all have preferred our nation had never faltered so terribly, and that we’d have spent these past 100 days continuing to partner with a President and Administration who were fully for its people—for all of them. We’d much rather not have been called on to protect Americans from their Government (or their own apathy), but since this is where our nation has found itself, this is also where we’ve found our voice. And now that we have—silence is no longer an option and neither is going backwards. So we move forward together, for as many days as it takes.

This President will do what this President always does on this day: he will try to commandeer the moment and redirect the attention, and make all manner of wild, reality-denying proclamations to steer the narrative in his favor—and like every day for the past 100 days, we will be there once again to remind the world what the truth is, what goodness looks like, and what America’s greatness is really made of. 

These past 100 days have certainly not been the days we’d have wished for, but during this time, we together have been the nation our forbears dreamed of and died for. We the people, united and indivisible, have been the unwavering opposition to injustice, the pushback against inequality, the resistance to tyranny.

And we’re just getting started.

Happy 100th Day to the unified, undeterred majority—keeping America great.

May you continue to resist in glory.

 

 

I’m a Christian—and I’m Already Tired of “Winning”

From the moment Donald Trump began his Presidential campaign last year, he promised to “Make America Great Again”. I was never all that sure what he meant (and 100 days later it’s increasingly clear that neither did he), but it now apparently involves bluster, bullying, toughness, Tweeting, bombing, golfing, platitudes, wall building, and winning—lots and lots of tiresome winning.

This grand winner’s march toward “national greatness” has been noticeably accompanied by a startling lack of decency, compassion, dignity, or class, which all underscores the painful truth:

Goodness isn’t part of the plan. It’s never been part of the plan. Goodness is not coming.

Sadder still, is that many of Trump’s professed Christians supporters want all of this, while still claiming Christ. They want to steamroll the nation into this supposed greatness—and they want Jesus to endorse it.

The only problem, is Jesus. He apparently had very little interest in such aspirations of winning.

He talked of the last being first,
of becoming servant of all,
of laying down one’s life for one’s friends,
of denying oneself,
of healing the hurting,
of caring for the poor,
of elevating the marginalized,
of freeing the oppressed,
of seeing the overlooked,
of being the peacemakers,
the foot washers,
the cheek turners,
the mercy givers,
the least-lovers.

He was a refugee, he was homeless, and he allowed himself to be captured and killed. Using Donald Trump’s own criteria, Jesus was a loser—which is why you can’t emulate both of them simultaneously.

In fact, Jesus was openly looking for losers; people who would love sacrificially and live others-centered. His life as described in the Gospels, was and is a beautifully subversive manifesto of smallness and kindness and goodness; continually affirming the sacredness of sacrifice, the dignity in humility, the redemptive nature of forgiveness.

But smallness, kindness, goodness, sacrifice, humility, and forgiveness don’t make for effective campaign slogans do they? They don’t merit boxy red hats. 

More importantly:
They don’t leverage the hidden fear in people’s hearts.

They don’t poke the tender places of anxiety and hatred.
They don’t stoke the fires of latent racism and homophobia.
They don’t manufacture easy urgency.
They don’t resonate when screamed from behind a podium.
They don’t fire up the anxious, terrified everyman.
They don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator.

And sadly, they don’t rally the Bible Belt, garner the support of popular Evangelists, or reach into the souls of many Christians anymore either—which for a person of faith is the bigger story; the growing irrelevance of Jesus in the faith tradition that bears his name.

Apparently these days it’s simply not politically sound or theologically necessary to elevate character, champion dignity, or celebrate integrity. We’ve grown pretty lousy as a society of lifting up such goodness as something for our children to strive for and as a result, less and less of them seem to have any desire for it.

This is perhaps America’s gravest shared error: whether we’re religious or not, we have all conspired together to sacrifice goodness on the altar of greatness. We have often defined the win as our own prosperity and comfort at any cost to others, which is perhaps why Donald Trump is the perfect President to represent us right now. Maybe he really is the best reflection of what our nation values, desires, and seeks to be anymore. Maybe he is what we want for our children. I’m praying he isn’t. I hoping more matters to us. I’m still betting on Love to pull out an overtime victory.

As a person of faith, I can only strain to keep my eyes fixed on the example of Jesus and allow that to be the measurement of my success; to endeavor as best I can to emulate his life, one lived with an open hand and not a closed fist, one where the true winning is found in wanting for my neighbor all that I desire for myself—and fighting like hell for them to have it.

And this is what America has always been at its very best anyway: a safe harbor for disparate souls who believe they are made better by their differences and stronger in their solidarity. It is in the shared declaration of our interdependence that the great goodness blossoms—in unity, equality, and diversity. 

While speaking to a large crowd mixed with the curious, the devoted, and the skeptical, Jesus asked this question:

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

I’m going to keep asking this question of myself, of the global Church I belong to, and of the nation I gratefully call home—because how we answer it will define us.

Our answer will show our children what we value.
It will mark out the life they should seek and the people they should aspire to become.
It will shape our future.
It will be the shared legacy we leave the world.
It will redefine the win for our nation.

I’m not at all interested in making America great. I’d rather see us make Americans good, and hold on to our souls.

Donald Trump said that if he were elected, we would all get really tired of winning. He was surely prophetic, because I am fully exhausted with his brand of winning and that it yields. Give me the givers and the forgivers any day of the week.

If this is what winning looks like—I’d much rather cast my lot with the losers.

 

 

Why God Might Not Be Causing Your Suffering

As a pastor, you begin to see patterns in people that reveal a great deal about the problematic ways in which we tend to think about God and religion.

One of these patterns, is the great temptation people of faith often feel to over-spiritualize life.

This may sound like a good thing, and in theory it is. When we come to believe in the existence of God, it’s understandable and even admirable that we would begin to filter everything through the lens of this conviction; that we would look to see God’s hand in it all—our families, marriages, careers, relationships, etc. But practically speaking, this can easily become a paralyzing process, as we parse out every single painful experience, every second of adversity, the smallest minutia of suffering—and try to ascribe specific religious meaning to it.

In other words, if we’re honest, it’s nearly impossible at any given moment to reliably determine the difference between:
cause and effect—and God,
bad luck—and God,
poor choices—and God,
terrible people—and God,
the simple collateral damage of living—and God.

We can drive ourselves half mad, and other people as well in the process.

And unfortunately, the Bible itself often feeds this tendency to microscopically inspect every event in an effort to interpret what God is saying. It is, after all a theological library; a series of books intending to testify to the existence, presence, and participation of God—written thousands of years ago by people who were trying (as we are today) to make sense of a loving Creator, and the living Hell (or even mild discomfort) we can find ourselves experiencing here on earth.

For example, the writers of the Scriptures didn’t have the benefit of three thousand years of medical research as they documented their spiritual journeys. As a result, when someone became physically sick, they naturally believed the afflicted person must be morally flawed; that God must be punishing them for their visible or hidden wickedness. Sin was the cause of sickness, not cancerous cells.

And without the meteorological tools we now have at our disposal, a severe weather event wasn’t the result of low and high pressure systems colliding violently, or the fact that a village was built in a flood plain—it was God’s simply clear wrath against the people. (Sadly some religious folks still blame immorality for natural disasters instead of the Jet Stream.)

When we read the Bible today, we’re spoiled because God seems to be intimately orchestrating every movement and speaking clearly into the process while doing so: allowing people to have their lives ripped apart, testing their faith with terrifying requests, punishing the disobedient with 40 years of wandering, blinding people to prove a point. Elsewhere God is bringing locusts and parting seas and destroying jails in order to deliver the righteous.

Given these documented precedents that we’re raised reading about every week as Christians, it’s natural that we’d now sift every difficult or painful experience of our lives to try and figure out what God is trying to individually tell us. But maybe that’s now how God works, at least not usually.

One of the other factors feeding this over-spiritualized existence—is good, old-fashioned ego. For most Christians, our modern understanding of faith is that it is me-centered:

God created me.
God loves me.
Jesus died for me.
God wants a personal relationship with me.
God is decidedly in the me business.

If this is how I see my journey of faith, then it’s natural to believe that God is always manufacturing my adversity to teach, punish, or stop me. In fact, it will make sense to me that God is affecting thousands of other people, just to make sure I get the point.

This self-centeredness slips in without us even thinking about it, even with perceived blessings. One Saturday this past winter I was completely worn out and I did not want to go to work the next morning. (Yes, pastors feel that way too.) When the promised inclement weather arrived and news came down that we would have a snow day, I instinctively thanked God (as if God inconvenienced the entire Tri-State area, crippling the airports along the entire East Coast—simply so I could sleep in on Sunday.)

Friend, ultimately, God may be speaking directly to you by causing you to find yourself in certain circumstances at certain times—or maybe you’ve found yourself in (or created) those circumstances, and you need to ask God where you go from here. Perhaps the better spent time, isn’t assigning culpability to God for adversity, but looking to God in that adversity.

You didn’t get that job you really wanted. Was it “God telling you it wasn’t the job for you,” as Christians often like to hypothesize?

Maybe.

Or maybe you didn’t have the right experience, interviewed poorly, or the guy asking the questions didn’t like the way your nose wheezed when you breathed. That’s far less “spiritual” and not loaded necessarily loaded with deep theological meaning, but the result is the same: you need to keep looking for a job.

Ultimately, it’s a good thing to reflect and pray and to wonder whether the difficulties we experience are indeed some personal message from God—but we need to realize that knowing for certain is a near impossibility, and we should be careful not to become frozen in the places of self-centeredness, forever asking what God is doing to me.

Far more attainable, is looking at the painful circumstances we find ourselves in at a given moment, and determining what part we played in arriving there, what role others had, and how we can and should respond in a way that affirms what we believe about God.

God may indeed be causing this suffering—or just sitting with you in it.

 

 

 

 

Hateful People Are Exhausting

I think most people in America are exhausted right now. I know I am.

Hateful people will do that to you.

You see, it’s difficult enough on our best days, to get out of bed knowing that there will be all sorts of adversity out there; unexpected challenges and unanticipated conflicts that we could never foresee or predict. It’s a Herculean undertaking just to be willing to brave that likelihood. It’s another thing entirely, to know for certain that you will experience spectacular hatred simply by choosing to participate in this current version of America. It is a given now.

When hateful people have power (as they now do), they embolden other hateful people, giving them license to unleash the God-awful things that they’d otherwise keep concealed and subjecting the rest of us to a regular cavalcade of horrors. This is what our country is experiencing in these days: a Renaissance of open bigotry—and it will level you if you have a working heart.

The other morning I saw a picture of a middle-aged man at a convenience store with a t-shirt that said, GRAB AMERICA BY THE PUSSY. My first thought was, “What on earth is wrong with him?” My immediate follow-up questions were about his wife or children if he had them; about his parents, friends, boss, pastor or church. I wondered how someone becomes the kind of man who would see a GRAB AMERICA BY THE PUSSY t-shirt and think, “This is just what my wardrobe is lacking!”

And I grew weary.

Then, I happened upon some Twitter trolls with MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hashtags, harassing a Muslim-American woman with vicious, vile messages about “going back where she came from” and taunting her with images of bombed out Syrian villages. I started to engage them, and they quickly commented that being a “filthy Jew libtard,” I should leave as well. I considered breaking the news to them that I’m not Jewish, but would feel no shame if I were—

But I just became tired.

Later I read our President’s Twitter feed; a seemingly endless parade of angry, nonsensical ramblings, wild accusations, unhinged conspiracy theories, and mischaracterizations of the Press, women, immigrants, Democrats, protestors—most of America. I began responding to him.

But I grew exasperated.

I surveyed the latest monstrosities manufactured by Jeff Sessions, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Steve Bannon, and Mike Pence; all their racism and bigotry and misogyny and warmongering. I considered an opposing response, but soon gave up.

I felt drained.

I happened upon a Facebook post from a former church friend back in Charlotte; a bitter, racially charged tirade about “lazy people living off the Government, finally having to be responsible.” Knowing he was a Christian, I started to reply with some quotes from Jesus that I wish he’d consider.

But I quickly became fatigued.

I overheard a conversation at a local coffee shop, with a woman going on and on about how much Donald Trump, “clearly loved his wife,” and how she had “zero respect” for Barack Obama as a husband and father.

I nearly went into a coma.

It was barely 11 AM.

I strongly considered going back to bed.

Lately, many Americans are enduring such days with stunning regularity, and coming to terms with this irrefutable truth: Hateful people who are bent on being hateful will wear you the heck out.

They are thoroughly frustrating because they do not respond to facts, data, honest questions, personal stories, heartfelt pleas, civil discussion, or any of the things many of us grew-up believing people wanted when engaging in disagreement. They are fully entrenched in their heavily fortified position of contempt and they are not budging. And so, even if your instinct and intention is to build a bridge or have a conversation or find common ground with them, they have little interest, if such things mean having to relinquish any of the hatred their hearts have become so set on harboring. They seemingly would rather retain rightness than entertain reality—and this is fully tiring to encounter every day.

Now three months into perhaps the most openly hateful Presidency in our nation’s history, I confess that I am profoundly exhausted these days; of lazy racial stereotypes, of alternative Fox News facts, of hackneyed narratives about Muslims and gay and Jewish and brown-skinned people, and of a President who is mortally allergic to decency. 

The Scriptures of my religious tradition often mention Jesus withdrawing to the solitary places to pray (Lk 5:16, Mt 12:15, Mt 14:13, Lk 22:41.) I imagine this is how he was able to sustain himself while encountering hateful people while not becoming hateful himself—how he was able to keep being the voice of love surrounded by so many bitterly opposing voices. I am trying to find this healthy rhythm of withdrawing and engaging, but it is hard to come by.

Like the vast majority of this country, I want it to be the place where equality, diversity, and decency find sanctuary, and though I am fully committed to the aspiration, I am feeling the cumulative weariness sustained from a small but fierce portion of the population (including far too much of its leadership) whose narrative about the world depends upon acrimony for so much of it.  I know that I’m not alone in this emotional depletion and physical fatigue. 

But it will not consume me and it will not change my heart toward the world. It will not derail my path or alter my convictions.

I will be a person of love here or I will die trying.

If you find that you are similarly weary today, be encouraged. Rest and resist and fight to remain loving.

Hateful people are exhausting—so refuse to become one of them.