Monday, November 28, 2016

Hope: You Keep Using That Word

I hope it doesn't rain this weekend.

I hope the party next week is fun.

I hope this head cold doesn't ruin our plans.

I hope my kids are safe.

I hope I get that raise.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Dread Pirate Roberts, The Princess Bride 


If you're unfamiliar with Advent, it is the four-ish weeks leading up to Christmas, and it began this last Sunday. It is reminiscent of the waiting of Israel, as they longed for the coming of their Messiah - the Christ. The One. He would be their Deliverer. He would defeat their enemies. The first week is marked by Hope, so I've been thinking a lot on this word - Hope.

Israel had waited for untold generations.  They had been through seasons of victory and peace, of defeat and slavery, of glory and humiliation. There were times that many gave up, began to look for other ways to get what they wanted. They gave up on God, they looked to man. Yet, man did not come through...still never does.

Others held out. They believed. They longed for His appearing. Yet, they still waited. They were weary, oppressed, lonely. When it seemed all hope was lost, they still hoped. What did that look like? To hope when all seemed hopeless? 

For us now, it is also a time of waiting, groaning, longing, missing that which we desperately want and believe will one day be. We relive the groaning of those who waited for His first appearing. We long for His second appearing - when He will, finally, once and for all time, set all things right. We long in other ways as well, in our individual lives.

This has been a tough year. A difficult one to keep hope held high. Many just want to see it in the rear view mirror and pray 2017 brings better things. Sometimes it feels all hope is lost. What does that look like today? To hope when all seems hopeless...

I think we first need to know what hope actually means. Depending on what translation you use, "Hope" is used some 130 times in the Bible. In most of those instances, it is used much differently than we generally understand and use the word hope today. My opening is a list of some of our more common uses... we tend to use it passively, right? What can I do about the weather? Or whether someone else's party will be fun, or how bad my head cold is? Basically, we're just sitting, fingers-crossed that things go our way. That's not what is meant in scripture with this word. In scripture, hope has an anchor that is strongly connected both to God (His ability and desire to keep His promises) and our action.

When I hope for His soon return, it is a sure belief that God promises and is faithful. He WILL one day make all things new. That's His part. What's my part? I live like it's true. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, He tells us what He's expecting to see when He comes - am I living like I believe that day is coming? Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoner... am I? If I am not, then I'm not living in hope.

We see it in Hebrews 11 in each of the 'Hall of Faith" members mentioned. They lived through hopeless situations, with hope. They lived like it was true, even when it didn't feel true. They worked toward that truth, even when it seemed ludicrous to keep going. Look at the father in Jesus' story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus said he saw his son returning from far off and ran to him. How did he know? He hoped. He believed. He watched ... actively. And when he saw him, he ran. My gosh, I love that story.

As I've lived through much pain this year, I've meditated on this - what it means to have hope in the midst of the seemingly hopeless. This is what I'm coming to... I live like I believe it. 

If I have hope that Jesus is returning to make all things right, then I will act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with my God. I will do what He has called me to be here. Now.

If I have hope that a Prodigal will return, I'm going to work towards reconciliation, I'm going to watch, expectantly, I'm going to have my running shoes on!

If I have hope that God's will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven, then I will work to see justice and mercy lived out in our world - no matter who's sitting in the political power seats.

Hope is active. And it is anchored in a big, big God.

He came once. 

He is coming again.

So, this Advent, sit in the waiting for a bit. Imagine what it was like to wait for the coming of the Christ Child. 

Then groan, long for, wait, for the Second Coming of the Christ. 

Acknowledge your longing for things to be different. But, also?


Monday, November 14, 2016

In the Wake of Election 2016

Donald Trump has  become the face of Christian Evangelicals.

Maybe you cheered loud and long in support of him before, during and after you cast your vote.

Maybe  you held your breath and threw up a little in your mouth while you cast your vote for him.

Maybe you weighed your options, prayed, and chose to vote for Clinton.

Maybe you, as I did, cast your vote for a third party candidate, knowing you would be on the losing team, rather than one of the two "winnable" options.

Whether you like it or you don't...

We, the evangelical Church, (in the eyes of the world), are the reason he won. A few of us can say we weren't a part, but if we identify as evangelical, we are lumped into this group. 

And now, here's where we sit -  so what do we do?

The refugee down the block, the immigrant that you work with, the young black man you go to school with, the abused young woman thinking of coming to your church for help and solace, the LGBT friend you have coffee with, the Muslim you do volunteer work with... Many of them, when they think of Evangelical Christians, for longer than any of us want to consider, will remember.

They will remember that American Christianity chose power over integrity. They chose a platform over character. They chose the promise of a conservative Supreme Court over standing arm in arm with the hurting and dying and marginalized. You do not have to believe these things to be true to recognize it as looking/feeling like the truth to a lot of people in this country. You may be ministering into the margins as an individual (and that is as it should be), but this vote, as a whole, spoke an entirely different narrative than what was perhaps intended.

You may not see it that way and I guess I get that. I've heard your arguments. I understand why they make sense to you, but I am saying, that's not how the wounded see it. They are not considering the "but Hillary" that is freely cast about. We went far beyond single issue voting this time around. If we are going to heal, as a nation, and be, as the Church, a city on a hill, a sweet aroma to God, we must face what electing a man like Donald Trump has meant to many, many people in our nation.

I've stayed off Facebook since the election. I'm not reading the feed at all - I just can't hear it right now. But even without Facebook, here's some of what I've heard --

We need to put our differences aside and support our new President. The negative talk and protests will only harm our country. Really? Eight years ago, after President Obama won his first Presidential election, I heard some of the worst name-calling and protesting and out-right lies I have ever heard in my life cast at this man... by conservatives (and this has continued throughout his eight years in office).  I do not personally know of a single strongly conservative person that seems to have given five minutes of their time to "giving him a chance to prove himself". I am horrified at what respectable, "Christian" people will say about another person made in the image and likeness of God.  But those hurt by Mr. Trump are not allowed the same now? They have immediately been lectured with the need to accept the democratic process and give Trump time. I don't blame them for being angry or afraid. A few of the stories may border on what we consider silly, but their feelings are real - their fear is legitimate. He has said, and done, some awful, horrible things. It's real. Asking them to sweep it all under a rug, to pretend his actions and words have no affect on his leadership, for the sake of unity is hypocritical and unloving.

God used horrible, vile leaders in this world's history to bring about His will - He can use Trump. We must trust that God is in control. Please just stop saying this. Yes - He did and yes, He is. But Christ-followers did not vote them into office. They quietly and simply followed God and continued to live out the Kingdom and love as Christ loves, in difficult circumstances, under evil rulers. There is a big difference. The fact that Daniel served graciously and honorably under Nebuchadnezzar, that Christ fulfilled his mission here on earth under Roman oppression, that Christianity grew under Nero, does not make it okay to elect someone seriously deficient in moral character and integrity. 

Most of the people that voted for Trump are not racists, or bullies, or sexists. I think I believe this. I know many people that I love and respect who voted for him - because they feared Clinton more than they disliked Trump. But... and here's the truth - many are racists, bullies and sexists. And those people have now been emboldened by this election - by this man that will now be our next President. We need to face that as well. 

We need to admit that we, by a vote, have given a voice to the worst parts of ourselves. We've allowed people to shout in the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, (and it's not just media hype - I KNOW teachers, right here in the buckle of the Bible belt, that are having to deal with horrible, racist, things being said by our children. Where do you suppose they heard such things?) -- words that were only said in dark corners and privately in homes until recently.

The day after the election I had to travel out of town and ended up eating lunch alone. At a table near me, four upper-middle-age men sat, discussing the election. I could not hear specifics of their conversation - could not make out complete sentences, but one phrase I heard with great clarity was "those knuckle-draggers". This problem is REAL and it's part of where we live. Our future President made it feel okay for them to say these things out loud. It is not. And I believe most of you believe it is not okay. But we've elected someone that apparently does think it's okay to hate and spew hate at others - or at a minimum, believes that saying such things was justified because it got him elected (and this is no better).

I realize most of us have despised every second of this election season. We have hated the choices we were left with. We are fearful for the future of our country. But we need to face the fact that the stakes are much higher for those in the margins. A huge segment of our society has been deeply wounded in this process. As the Church, we should be reaching out to these people right now, not dismissing them. And we need to realize that, like it or not, casting a vote for Trump spoke something to them that we likely did not intend for it to speak and has consequences that will reverberate for years to come.

I have always considered myself an Evangelical Christian. Today, I am not proud of that label. In the strictest definition of the words, I still am. But as America has made it to be - I no longer want to be identified in this way.

Years ago, the conservative religious community railed about Bill Clinton and his horrible example as a leader, without character or integrity - we said that our personal choices matter - that what we choose in private affects how we lead in public. He was very nearly crucified.

But he was a political liberal. 

We now have someone who not only makes many of the same abhorrent choices, but he has stacked on a few more and proudly flaunts it, writes about it in books, as well as stirring up hatred and racism in his speeches.
But he "says" he is a political conservative, that he will give us conservative Justices. 

Now we say "he's just a flawed man - and aren't we all?"  Pastors and teachers that, up until this election cycle, I have respected for my entire life, went public to speak in favor of him - encouraged us to vote for him, tried to make the things he's said, done and written seem less despicable than they are...outright dismissed his treatment of women as "locker room talk" rather than what it truly is: the words are bad enough, but those aren't just words - they are words rooted in real actions - against real women. 

Liberal is the new unpardonable sin. Adultery, bigotry, bullying, violence against women, slander...these are not nearly as offensive.

The conservative right can no longer take the "high, moral ground". It was voted away in 2016.

How do we stand in our pulpits, sit around our dinner tables, sit in our Sunday School classes, and teach our kids that integrity is more important than winning, that character is more important than power? That blessed are the poor, the meek, the hungry?...  I'm afraid the right to say this with any sort of authority was voted away too.

We can try - but who's gonna listen now?

I will pray for Donald Trump. That he will learn humility and kindness. That he will learn to truly respect women. That he will see his need for forgiveness. That he will admit and turn from his racism, bullying and slander. That he will be surrounded by, and actually listen to, wise counsel. That he will admit the anger, racism and hate he has stirred up and seek to reconcile with those hurt in this process. (And this is going to take a lot more than words. A quick, "Hey, let's all come together now" isn't going to convince anyone.) That he will learn to deal with people and countries with maturity and true leadership, rather than how we've seen him deal with conflict so far.

I will pray for those who are frightened today. Because whether we want to admit it or not, we have elected a man whose very character and campaign tactics have stirred up hate and anger like we haven't seen in decades. Hatred is fashionable again. As a white, middle class, straight, Christian woman, I am pretty safe from the likes of the hate this has stirred up. But many people are not... and they are afraid today. They believe - and I think I believe with them, that "Make America Great Again" means getting rid of them. We should care about that.

I will pray for us as a Church - that we will find unity and healing somewhere at the end of this national nightmare. We have ripped one another to shreds over things of this world. We have forgotten that our battles are against principalities, against world forces - not against people. Our battles are spiritual and we've forgotten why we're here. We are so overwhelmed, so fearful of losing our "rights", and so full of distrust that we've forgotten love. I understand those feelings, but they do not ever negate our responsibility to be the Church, first and foremost. I understand that many feel dismissed, ignored and stripped of their rights over the last eight years. And whether this is true or not, the answer is not to retaliate in kind.

We follow a different kind of King.

  • "Turn to him the other cheek also." -- This does not sound like He is all about winning. 
  • Our Kingdom is not of this world. -- No earthly government is the answer.
  • They will know us by our love. -- Not our ability to win a fight.

THESE are the words of Jesus.

I will pray that we will become loud, clear voices that will speak up when we see injustice, when we see hate, when we see racism and abuse. And that we will demand the same of our leaders. If we choose to sit quietly, waiting for "unity" to just happen, we've forgotten who we follow. If we look the other way while people, individually and as whole people groups, are torn apart and kicked to the side, what good is our faith, really? No platform, no Supreme Court Justice, no law, is as important as the One Law we've been commissioned with. We've been called to love people, to love God, to do good.

I will strive to spend the next four years,  and I hope you will too, doing what God calls us to do - no matter who is in power. Honestly listen to people in the margins. Help the widow and the orphan. Feed the poor. Minister to the prisoner. Heal the sick. Love all. TRY to show the people that have been wounded in this horrific season, with my life and service, that this man does not represent me or Christ or His Church. (No man, and no government does, actually.) No person, no government, no law, can stop us from living this out.

I will pray that God will help me to respect the office of President and our government, even as I am losing hope for our country. I will pray that I, that all of us, can show respect while, at the same time, continuing to speak up against prejudice, hate and injustice - at every level. We must not be silent.

I am afraid that in our thirst to protect ourselves and our rights, we have destroyed our testimony.

I will pray that I am wrong.


Why we did or did not vote for Trump does not matter at this point. What matters now, is what are we going to do from here. What kind of people are we going to be? Any comments stirring up an argument will be deleted. I enjoy vigorous, healthy debate and discussion, but I rarely see it handled that way on Facebook. If you'd like to debate or discuss something with me, call or message - we can do so privately, and face-to-face if at all possible. I believe that's how important conversations should be held.