My Fellow Exhausted Americans

lightstock_214619_small_john

Today I realized how tired I am. I think we all are.

We’ve all spent the lion’s share of the last few years up to our necks in a swirling storm of arguments and opinions and data and memes and polls and trolls, and we’ve all arrived at this day rightly exhausted. As we stumble to this spot; soundly battered and bruised, many of us are surveying the wreckage of the journey and probably wondering if it’s all worth it.

It is.

These past few months have been costly for most of us. We’ve alienated ourselves from neighbors, reopened scarred over emotional wounds, widened family fault lines, created new tensions where we work, severed ties with friends on social media, and for many of us we’ve seen relationships that really matter to us altered irrevocably—and that’s a fair trade for our fortune.

Friends, this is the cost of speaking your truth. The pushback you receive for being authentic is the tax on the authenticity itself. It is the price of walking fully into the liberty that is America’s calling card. There is no shortcut to it, no life hack to having it. There is no easy way of enjoying the fruits of freedom other than to fight for them.

And yes, that freedom is tangibly fought for by brave men and women across seas and on battle lines and with deadly weapons, but make no mistake it is also fought for in the trenches of the difficult daily lives we live; shoulder to shoulder with our fellow flawed humanity. It is fought for across kitchen tables and in cul de sacs and along church pews and on social media profiles and in awkward gatherings with extended family members you wish you didn’t know so much about and now do.

This battle is waged in difficult conversations you’d rather not have but have anyway, in times you choose to speak when silence would be far easier and fraught with far less collateral damage. It is waged in those moments when you know raising your voice will quite possibly cause every bit of shit to hit the fan—and you hear yourself speaking anyway. 

This fight is the sweet spot of America. This is where the greatness lives.

Our nation’s beauty is in the richness of the palette used to paint us; the breadth of our shared experiences and perspectives and histories. The more diverse we become, the better we become. The more voices we allow, the richer the chorus we raise together. The bigger the table we set, the more we fully share the bounty we have been blessed with.

So this fatigue of the soul that most of us are feeling today is well worth all that we’ve walked through to acquire it. It honors those who came before us; those who endured their own wounds and fault lines and fractures, those who lost lives and family and livelihood, those who paid the price to speak their truth even when that truth was the more painful path.

Regardless of your personal politics, or whether or not we agree on the issues or the solutions to all that ails us, we can all find solidarity in our shared exhaustion today, because we have acquired it together; in the messy, disorienting, violent, glorious tempest that is America’s greatness. Yes we are tired, but it is a good tired; the kind of tired you are when you gave a damn about something so worth giving a damn about.

My fellow exhausted Americans, be encouraged today.

We didn’t fight to make our country great.

We fought because it already is great.

Rest well.

 

 

 

 

 

Progressive Christianity—is Christianity

BlogHeaderEdit

Years ago, I sat on a panel discussion on “Progressive Christianity”.

The host’s first request of the panelists was to describe what Progressive Christianity meant to them. My new friend, the Reverend Vince Anderson took the mic and said, “Let’s be clear: Progressive Christianity is just Christianity. We are Christians—and we are progressing in our knowledge and understanding.”

We could have stopped there.

This is the heart of what it should mean to be a Christian of any designation; the desire to continue to move and grow and learn and change, even if those things place us in opposition to the person we once were or the beliefs we once held firmly or the testimony we once gave. As we move through space and time, our faith should be in continual evolution. We should always look back at the previous version of ourselves and realize how much we didn’t know then. We should be able to see how far we’ve come in matters of spirituality.

Progressive Christianity is about not apologizing for what we become as we live this life and openly engage the faith we grew-up with. There are no sacred cows, only the relentless, sacred search for Truth. Tradition, dogma, and doctrine are all fair game, because all pass through the hands of flawed humanity, and as such are all equally vulnerable to the prejudices, fears, and biases of those it touched.

It’s fashionable for more Conservative folk to dismiss Progressive Christianity as some cheap imitation version of the Christian faith; a watered down religion of convenience practiced by people who found “real Christianity” too difficult or demanding. 

Progressive Christians know the truth of our story, and so these lazy caricatures are of little concern.
We know the authenticity of our faith.
We know the depth of our study.
We know the sincerity of our prayers.
We know the road we’ve traveled—and we don’t need to justify it.

The truth is that Progressive Christianity is so diverse that it simply cannot be neatly defined or summarized, but here are some things that most who claim the label probably agree on:

We believe that a God who is eternal, isn’t land locked to a 6,000 year-old collection of writings, unable to speak in real-time to those who seek. Revelation can come within and independent of the Bible.

We believe that God isn’t threatened or angered by our questions, our doubts, or our vacillation born out of authentic pursuit, even when those things are labeled heretical by other people. God is more secure than they are in who God is.

We believe that Christian tradition is embedded with thousands of years of misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, and that our task as Christians in these days is to remove those cumbersome layers and uncover the very essence of what it meant to follow Jesus.

We believe that in the Scriptural command to “watch one’s life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16), the former is as important as the latter; that faith isn’t only about what you believe, it’s about whether or not your life reflects what you profess to believe.

We believe that social justice is the heart of the Gospel, that it was the central work of Jesus as evidenced in his life and teachings; the checking of power, the healing of wounds, the care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalized, the feeding of the hungry, the making of peace.

But what is as notable as what Progressive Christians agree on—is all that we do not.

We differ widely with regard to the inerrancy of Scripture, the existence of Hell, intercessory prayer, salvation by atonement, abortion, the death penalty, and gun control. 

There is no party line to tow. We don’t all identify as Democrats or pacifists or socialists. We identify simply as followers of Jesus; carefully, thoughtfully, seriously seeking to understand more today than we did yesterday, and to live lives that as best we can discern, resemble Christ’s.

Progressive Christianity is not the path of least resistance, but often the road of greatest turbulence. It places us in the decided minority in the larger Church. It creates conflict in our families and faith communities. It costs us friends and ministries and holidays with loved ones. It brings silence and shunning and separation from those we once were welcomed by. It makes us feel like strangers and orphans in the religion we used to call home.

But these things are the worthy tax on living a fully authentic faith; one where we are confident that all that is not God will fall away as we walk. We are on a continual pilgrimage toward what it looks like to perpetuate Jesus, and we don’t distinguish our road from that of Christians who may be more Conservative or more secure in orthodoxy. It is the same road.

We are all Christians moving.
We are all Christians listening.
We are all Christians learning.
We are all Christians believing.

We are all Christians progressing.

 

Get John’s Email Newsletter

Receive regular updates with speaking dates, media links, book launches, shareable graphics, and regular content regarding stuff that needs to be said.

 

 

When All the Outcasts are Called in

outcasts

We’ve all known what it feels to be an outcast.

The sting of being pushed to the periphery by people we love and expect love from, is unlike any pain we can ever encounter, because it is injury at the exclusion, combined with the grief at what we’ve lost in the process—proximity. We remember what used to be, how we once felt, where we used to belong. We find ourselves alone and holding solitary vigil for what has died too soon.

The Church produces outcasts far too well.

It tends to create distance with those people who are too something; too messy, too loud, too rough-edged, too needy, too conservative, too left-leaning, too outspoken, too political. We force them from our presence, withhold fellowship from them, and deny forgiveness to them—all in the name of a Jesus who we’ve repeatedly told them loves them. The cognitive dissonance this creates in people is enough to level them, and to distort their image of God for good.

For all sorts of reasons, many of us have been made to feel we are misfits in the places where the people of God gather. A doubt we’ve expressed, a decision we’ve made, or a belief we no long hold, all become barriers. Sometimes this is explicitly stated, and other times it is eloquently spoken in silence and separation. Both are equally devastating and equally wrong.

Because I have good news for all of us religious misfits: Despite what we may have been told—we do fit.

All the outcasts are invited in. Jesus says so. That is the heart of the story. That is the Gospel.

The table of Jesus was scandalously open. He dined with priest and prostitute, with the religious elite and the common rabble, with the spiritual teachers and the street people. And this is the Jesus we are all invited to sit with; without condition, without caveat, without any further renovation. 

This elemental truth is so very easy to miss:

Sometimes pastors don’t get it.
Sometimes churches blow it.

Sometimes denominations miss it.
Sometimes it evades the heart of evangelists. 
Sometimes other Christians lose sight of it.
Sometimes we forget it.

But it is still the invitation. It is still the irreducible core of Christianity for those who wish to claim it: the radical hospitality of a perfect love that overcomes it all; our mess, our mistakes, our deepest flaws and most spectacular failures.

When a church or a heart has been fully saturated with the love of Jesus, there can be no outcasts in their midst. There will be no place to banish others to, because they will recognize there is no outside to be defined. When the Church or a Christian gets this kind of love right, the world is radically included. Everyone fits. They become in-casts.

This is what you need to know, friend.

Despite what any person says, or what any pastor’s told you, or what you’ve read online on—you have not been cast out, you have been called in:

to relationship,
to fellowship,
to forgiveness,

to love,
to grace.

The door is wide open and no one gets to keep you from entering in and having the run of the beautiful house; with its rooms packed floor to ceiling with goodness that you don’t have to earn or deserve or win.

The day you realize that is the day you’ll no longer wish you could find a home in your own skin—you’ll already be there.

 

The Church’s Sin Against the LGBTQ Community and the World

lightstock_241439_medium_john

There’s a story Jesus tells, known as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man leaves his property in the hands of three servants to care for. Before departing, he gives each of them a certain amount of money (known as a talent). After a long time away, the man returns to discover that two of his servants have invested the money well, generating even more in his absence. They are greatly rewarded for their efforts, with shares of the property. The third servant, believing he had been wise, had buried his talent in the ground. When he presents it to his employer, the wealthy man is furious at the servant’s wastefulness. He takes the money from him and angrily sends him away.

The heart of the parable, is to use what you have been given by God well; not to squander your blessings or waste your time here. We church leaders teach the heck out of this when we’re looking or Nursery volunteers or we have a building campaign or when we want to get people fired up to evangelize—but it’s tough medicine to take for ourselves.

Seeing organized Christianity’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, it’s clear that we have been the foolish third servant—and we should repent of our reckless wastefulness.

Whether it’s championing anti-LGBTQ legislation, spearheading department store boycotts, aligning ourselves with hateful partisan politicians, rallying around incendiary celebrity preachers, campaigning against same-sex marriage, engaging in denomination-splitting battles, or daily using our pulpits and podcasts to beat the same dead homophobic horse, the result is the same—we bury our blessings in the ground. We waste our talents.

People (whether they identify as LGBTQ or not) are not coming to know Jesus through any of these things. They are rejecting them, condemning them, and using them to justify walking away from a religion they long suspected was fraudulent anyway. The Church isn’t shrinking in these days because people are turning from Jesus, but because they are turning from an institution that they can rightly see no longer represents him.

We have three resources in this life: time, creative energy, and money. We are given in this life, the opportunity to steward these things well, to cultivate them, to multiply them, to use them for goodness. They are finite, precious reserves we are entrusted with to reflect the character of Christ in the world. When I look at how much of these resources the Church has expended silencing, vilifying, eliminating, and persecuting the LGBTQ community, I am certain we are squandering them all and that we are flat-out failing our calling.

Seeing the massive investment Christians have made in recent years trying to keep LGBTQ people from marrying, from using the bathroom, from participating in the life of the Church, from ministering—or from simply living, I can’t help but wonder what far more redemptive things we might have accomplished here:

How many hungry people could have been fed?
How many people trapped in homelessness could have been released?
How many dilapidated inner city neighborhoods could have been cleaned up?
How many ministries to the poor and hurting could have been birthed, staffed, and funded?
How much racial reconciliation might have been engineered?
How many families and marriages could have been repaired?
How many suicides could have been prevented?

This is the sickening waste that the Church will have to account for.
It is the irresponsible frittering away of time that we each will have to personally answer God for.
It is the shared sin that we as the Church have to own, and decide whether or not we want to continue participating in.

I am praying that we will stop grossly misusing our talents to do things that bring God no glory, that do nothing to reflect Jesus, and that actively keep people from the abundant life he promised.

Church, stop wasting daylight. Stop burying your great wealth.

While you still can—pull your blessings from the ground.