With the Time You Have Left Here

“We should do a CAT scan just to rule out some things.” the Urgent Care doctor said.

Before I could ask him, he responded to the question that immediately formed inside my throbbing head.

“—things like aneurysms or tumors.”

A few minutes later I was sitting on a roll of white, onion-skin examining table paper, beneath the raking fluorescent light of an antiseptic, nondescript hospital room—and imagining the worst. My mind rocketed to the dire news he could have for me in a few minutes, just what he might say when he returned, and the terrifying dominoes that would fall afterward. I imagined telling my wife and considering treatment options and explaining it to our kids, and paying bills and changing vacation plans—and a hundred different things that sitting there seemed like a pending reality.

It’s one of those moments when you remember that you’re not permanent, that you aren’t superhuman; that this will all be over some day—and far sooner than we realize or want.

The examining room door flew open and abruptly interrupted my dizzying daymare in progress.

“Everything came back negative,” he said, “so we’re in good shape.”

He kept talking, but I didn’t hear much after that. I was too busy trying to fight back tears.

And just like that, the tidal wave of terror subsided, the color returned to my cheeks, and I exhaled deeper than I had in recent memory. A few minutes later I was outside, watching the sun peeking over the tree line and feeling the breeze against my face, and being relieved.

“So I’m not dying,” I thought to myself and then replied. “—well, not yet, anyway.”

Since that morning I’ve been thinking about the fact that I didn’t get an exemption with that good news—just a temporary reprieve. One day the news won’t be good. One day I won’t get to exhale. One day I might not see the sun.

Some people think it’s morbid to consider your demise, but I think it’s helpful. We should remember that we all have an expiration date; that our days here are finite, and that we all have far less time than we want. We should give ourselves the gift of doing the math of our remaining existence.

If you’re reading this, chances are you have at best, eight or so decades left here (but likely far less than that.) There is a number that exists that you can’t see, and that number represents the sunrises you have remaining.

And the question I asked myself as I left the hospital, is the same one I’ll ask you:

What do you want to do with the time you have left here?

How much of those precious, fleeting, irretrievable-once-they’re-gone seconds, do you want to spend:

postponing a dream you’ve been carrying around?
holding a grudge against someone you can’t seem to forgive?
obsessing about your waistline or hairline or worry lines?
waiting for someone else’s consent to be happy?
being a bystander to injustice?
looking for approval from strangers on social media?
being less than the most authentic version of yourself?
compromising your convictions to keep the peace?
staying in a relationship where the other person doesn’t give what you give?
beating yourself up for the stupid stuff your younger self did?

It isn’t easy to get out of the well-worn ruts our minds make for us. The ordinary days have a way of lulling us into believing there isn’t any urgency to them; that somewhere off in the distance, we’ll actually begin doing the important stuff we need to do. We’ll start living someday.

This is just a reminder that this is the day to do that important stuff. Today is someday.
This a reminder that your days are numbered, and since you don’t know what that number is—you should live the hell out of this day.

Ask anything.
Say everything.
Give yourself a break.
Show mercy.
Have the cake.
Notice how fast your kids are growing.
Treasure the lines on your face as mementos of grief and joy.
Tell someone you love them while they can still hear you.
Stop being your own Kryptonite.

Find a hill worth dying on and take it.
Have a second piece of cake.

This day, as ordinary and uneventful as it seems—is one of the relatively few you have left.

Do something worth of it.

When Death shows up to give you news you didn’t want and didn’t see coming, may it interrupt you in the act of really living.

 

 

 

 

Dear Joel Osteen,

Dear Joel Osteen,

Over the past few days you’ve faced an unrelenting wave of Internet shaming, and you’ve experienced the wrath of millions of people who watched the week unfold and determined they were witnessing in you and your megachurch’s response to the hurricane—everything they believe is wrong about organized Christianity; its self-serving greed, its callousness, its tone-deafness in the face of a hurting multitude, its lack of something that looks like Jesus.

They questioned your initial silence and your closed doors.
They watched with disdain as local Mosques and furniture stores and Jewish temples and Chabad houses rushed to receive newly homeless victims while you seemingly waited.
They shook their heads at the conflicting stories of a flooded church and impassable roads.
They lamented you tweeting out that “God was still on his Throne,” while thousands of your neighbors were literally under water.
They saw your social media expressions of “thoughts and prayers” as hollow and disingenuous, knowing the stockpile of other resources at your disposal.
They witnessed with disgust what they deemed as your late and underwhelming act of kindness performed under duress.
They raged at your excuse that Houston didn’t ask you to receive victims—because (whether Christian or not) they realized that Jesus’ life was marked by an overflow of generosity and compassion and sacrifice that rarely required official invitation.

As a result of the pushback and condemnation you received, I imagine you feel like this has been a rough week. It hasn’t. You’ve had the week you probably should have had, all this considered. You’ve had the week that was coming long before rain ever started falling in Houston.

For quite a while, Pastor, many people have concluded that the kind of opulence you sit nestled in no way resembles the homeless, itinerant street preacher Jesus who relied on the goodness of ordinary people to provide his daily needs. They rightly recognized that mansions are not places that servant leaders emulating this humble, foot-washing Jesus occupy. They correctly saw the massive chasm between the ever-grinning, your ship is coming in, name it and claim it prosperity promise that is your bread and butter—and the difficult, painful, sacrificial “you will have trouble” life that Jesus and those who followed him lived in the Gospels. They expected the most open-handed giving would come from such great overflow.

They also see the great disparity between your coddled, cozy, stock photo existence—and the sleep-deprived, paycheck to paycheck, perpetually behind struggle that is their daily life.

And yet despite their difficulties and their deficits and their lack (the kind you have been well insulated from for a long, long time), these same folks understand that when people around you are in peril—you respond. You don’t wait for an invitation, you don’t wait to be shamed by strangers, and you don’t make excuses.

That’s why many of these ordinary, exhausted, pressed to the edge people, lined up as human chains in filthy, rushing, waist-high water to pull people out of submerged vehicles. It’s why they came from hundreds of miles with boats and at their own expense and using vacation days, to pluck strangers from rooftops. It’s why they gave money and clothing and food and blood (and some of them like Officer Steve Perez)—their very lives acting in the way Jesus said was the tangible fruit of their faith.

Many of the people whose very dollars helped build the massive, tricked out arena you call home every week, showed you how decent people respond to need. I hope you were paying attention. I hope you’re different today than you were a week ago. I really hope something penetrated that seemingly disconnected exterior and found a home in your heart.

Because someday, Pastor, the waters in Houston will recede and homes will be rebuilt and normalcy will eventually return there. And to a large degree the attention and the pressure you’ve received this week will find other places to reside, and you will return to the work and the life you’ve had before, relatively unaffected.

It’s then that I hope you’ll remember this week. It’s then I hope you’ll recall the parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan, who though a despised pariah in the place he found myself, responded to a stranger’s need with immediacy and vigor while the religious people walked right by. This Samaritan showed mercy, not because he was guilted into it or because he was asked—but simply because he knew that we are one another’s keepers; that we each have resources we are entrusted with, and the way we share or hoard those resources reflect our hearts. 

I hope you’ll remember Jesus on the hillside feeding the multitude, not because they petitioned him and not because it was in his job description—but because they were hungry and he wasn’t okay with that.

I don’t know you and I don’t believe you’re a bad person. You’re quite likely a good, loving, and decent man—but good, loving, and decent people lose the plot, they get distracted, they get it wrong, they need to recover their why. If none of that has happened, then I apologize for misreading things, but that’s what it looks like. I’m trying to help you understand how many people feel so you can understand their anger this week.

Scripture says we can’t judge another person’s heart, and I won’t at all suggest I know yours. Jesus says that we should not make moral judgments from a distance and I won’t make ones about you. He does say, however, that we can look at the tangible things we see and evaluate them—the visible fruit of one’s faith. Many people have questioned that fruit in the past few days and that’s especially necessary when someone has the platform and influence you have. 

You had a difficult week, but you are safe and dry, and despite the criticism and pushback, blessed with more abundance than most people will ever know. That’s good news for you. I don’t hold any of that against you. I don’t wish you any kind of ill will.

The even better news than that, Pastor Osteen, is that you are alive. You are still here and you have a chance now to show people that Christianity is far more than their greatest fears about it, much better than the worst they’ve seen of Christians, and more beautiful than the ugliness they’ve experienced in the Church.

You have the chance to leverage your incredible resources and your platform and your influence to show a watching world something that truly resembles Jesus.

Don’t wait for an invitation.

Jesus already gave us one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation)

This week over 150 Evangelical pastors and Conservative Christian leaders released a joint manifesto on sexuality and marriage entitled the Nashville Statement. The Tennessee city’s name was attached to the document, due to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s annual conference in Nashville where the document was ratified.

The statement is steeped in churchy language and dusty religious-speak regarding marriage, creation, gender identity, and sexual orientation, which may be difficult for the average ear to decipher, especially if not raised to crack the code of such theological buzzwords.

Below is a Plain Language Translation so you can hear what’s actually being said here beneath the sanctified verbiage:

Evangelical Christians are at the precipice of extinction—and we know it. We are a profoundly endangered species coming to grips with the urgency of the moment, of our impending disappearance, of the whole thing going sideways here in the Bible Belt—and we’re in a bit of a panic. 

We are leaking people from our churches, watching multitudes walk away in disgust, and losing market share in the religious landscape, as well as the vice-like stranglehold we’ve had on American politics for the past 241 years—and we are rightly terrified.

Yes, we made our bed with this President, which a few months ago seemed like a victory, but we now realize we are inextricably tethered to an absolute monster, and have no choice but to deny Jesus daily and double down on him, lest we lose every ally. However, we forgot that people aren’t stupid, and they see the disconnect between the President and the Jesus we’re trying to simultaneously claiming allegiance to—and we desperately need a distraction to muddy the waters; we need an easy battle to regain the credibility we’ve forfeited as we’ve sold off our souls and built our personal empires.

We know that the only hope we have in regaining a foothold in the culture (as onion skin thin as that hope is), is to stoke the passion fires of our remaining base, who are rapidly dwindling to now include only those most susceptible to fear of the other; those who are most easily aroused by talk of other people’s bedrooms and body parts and marriages. We’re preaching hard to what’s left of our hateful choir.

And so right now, in the middle of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, in one of the most divisive years in our nation’s history, in a time when we are terribly fractured—we’ve chosen to gather as Christian leaders:
not to condemn the White Supremacy and racism our President has refused to,
or to decry this Administration’s ties to Russia,

or to state unequivocally that Black Lives Matter,
or to offer support for Muslim-Americans,

or to stand in solidarity with the tens of millions who may lose the ability to be cared for,
or to leverage our influence to rescue people under water in Houston.

No, we’ve chosen this moment to launch an unprovoked attack on an easy target.
We’ve chosen to perpetuate and sanction discrimination, violence, and bullying against an already marginalized community.
We’ve chosen to do damage and create conflict, in a time when the world is so starved for healing and so immersed in discord.
We’ve chosen to use our sacred text; not to bring comfort or create unity or engender hope—but to beat the hell out of people who spend much of their days already walking through hell because of the cruelty of our disciples.
We’ve chosen to wage cheap war on innocent and vulnerable people in order to feel mighty again.

We’ve done this because regardless of all our lip service about love and Grace and compassion—we really just like to pick fights that give us that intoxicating rush of superiority and a small dose of the control that we’ve grown addicted to. We really want to hold the kind of power that we’ve become accustomed to (and are rapidly losing.)

And so we’ve once more trotted out every dangerous, Science-denying stereotype, every tired religious platitude about Adam and Eve, “God’s design”, and “ordained differences between men and women”—because that’s all we have left.

We’ve tossed out all but a handful of quite debatable verses from the expansive library of Scripture, and once again chosen to go back to the well of injecting ourselves in someone else’s personal business one more time—in the hopes that maybe it will be like it was in the old days, when people didn’t realize how twisted we’d gotten it and just how little Jesus we were actually emulating, and believing this kind of harassment is redemptive.

We’ve made this “statement”, because those still listening to our message, aren’t interested in loving their neighbors as themselves, or caring for the least, or being the merciful Samaritan, or welcoming the outsider or washing people’s feet (or any of that annoying Jesus stuff). They just want an enemy to wage war with.

And so despite him never once condemning or criticizing anyone for their gender identity or sexual orientation in the totality of his life and ministry—we’ve put these words in his mouth and stood on a social media mountaintop and in our bully pulpits and shouted them to the world in one last gasp for survival.

And we hope that no one sees just how terrified we are of our own extinction.

This is a dissenting opinion, from those of us without fear, who want to lead with love.

 

 

 

Rescuing Jesus from American Evangelicals

This American Evangelical Christian Church wasn’t the plan.

Well, it wasn’t Jesus’ plan. It may have been Constantine’s plan—but not Jesus’.

Evangelists with a political leader’s ear; publicly shilling for him from the pulpit, influencing a nation’s legislation, wielding power from massive, opulent megachurches, imposing their will and religious preferences on the citizenry—it was the very thing Jesus opposed while his feet were on the planet. 

This bastard love child of the Church and the State currently calling itself Conservative American Evangelicalism, would have been unthinkable and abhorrent to Jesus. It is the full antithesis of his life and ministry, and of the grassroots, counterintuitive community he curated in the rural roads, rugged hillsides, rough neighborhoods, and dusty temples where he spent his days.

Christian tradition holds that Jesus rose from the dead, which is a good thing—because the sickness presently being perpetuated in his name in America would have him spinning in his grave, were he in one.

Mission drift happens in all movements and organizations, as time creates distance from its origins and people gradually lose sight of the reason it existed in the first place. In two thousand years, the American Bible Belt’s version of the Church has found itself so far afield of its benevolent genesis, that it would be unrecognizable to its namesake.

Christianity was a movement from the street. It was an organic yeast in the dough, formed in the gathering of the rejected and the marginalized and the poor—led by a homeless, itinerant street preacher and the motley assortment of fisherman, prostitutes, and ex-tax collectors who found affinity in his invitation to love radically and to shun power relentlessly. Without buildings or lobbyists or national boycotts or political position, it became exactly what it was designed to be: an interdependent community that resembled Jesus. It was the visibly different people who tangibly altered the places they traveled in life-giving ways.

Birthed in the heart of the Roman Empire in all its might, greed, and coercive power, Christianity was the humble, compassionate, generous resistance to all of it—and this is the problem we have right now in America if we profess Christianity.

This Trumped-up, whitewashed, Republicanized, politicized, upsized religion currently trying to eat up market share and mandate compliance here is Rome. It is the hypocritical Pharisees. It is the wide road that Jesus said leads to destruction. It is the love of money at the root of evil. It is the very thing Jesus rejected with every fiber of his being—and if we’re to resurrect the heart of this Jesus in this place and time, this toxic religion needs to die.

Christianity was never meant to hold power. It was never supposed to be dominant. It was never about control or brute force or dictating the laws of the land or imposing itself on people’s lives. It was certainly never about cozying up to national leaders with no evidence of regard for humanity.

Someone needs to remind the American Evangelical Church (and the Catholic Church too).
Someone needs to tell the Republican Party.
Someone needs to preach it to the Bible Belt, and to the celebrity pastors, and to the MAGA Christians who don’t realize just how much they’ve lost the plot and just how they’ve become the opposition to the author.
Someone needs to inconvenience these comfortable Christians with the actual words of Jesus.

This week my friend Christopher Stroop, a former-Evangelical launched #EmptyThePews;  a social media movement to help rid the American Evangelical Church of toxic Christianity, and I’m with him. I’m with him and the disparate collection of religious and irreligious who share a similar burden for people’s well-being. I’m with them because I know this would be where Jesus would be. When witnessing the greed polluting the religion he loved, Jesus turned over the tables and drove the charlatans out. He openly condemned the power-hungry frauds leveraging God’s name to fleece the faithful.

These are such days for us, whether we claim Christianity or see Jesus as worth emulating, or simply want a religion that does no harm, defends the inherent value of all people, and doesn’t get to make the rules.

American Evangelical Christianity in all its bloated, greedy, ambition—is the temple table that needs to be overturned and these political bed-making preachers are the Pharisees Jesus called to repentance.

And these days, the Evangelical Church here in this country, in all its supremacy and bigotry and bullying—needs to be reminded where it came from.