Thursday, August 25, 2016

White Supremacy

Disillusionment is under-rated. It is good to have one’s illusions exposed. Many of our illusions about life stem from the lenses through which we see the world around us. From childhood we learn how to interpret the people and events we encounter. We notice how our parents and family respond to various situations. We note the way others treat us. We see how people receive our good and bad behavior. We shape our lenses accordingly, to help us know what to see and what to expect in our world.

With my set of lenses, I saw the world as a place of opportunity. The systems of society have always seemed neutral to me. I don’t expect to be treated with favor or resistance at the DMV, a department store, or a restaurant. I expect the workers at these places to do their jobs normally for all patrons—because that has generally been my experience.

My lenses are shaped by my experiences. It’s how I see the world.

But no two people have the same experiences. Our lenses are all shaped differently. For those who have experienced rejection or poor treatment in public places, the world feels potentially hostile. They don’t fit seamlessly into the system because of sex, skin color, hair color, accent, size, or shape. Those outward characteristics shape the way others perceive us, and probably how they treat us.

Those experiences shape our lenses. We expect a certain kind of response from others, and usually we see what we are looking for. I expect and find a neutral business environment. Others expect and find a biased environment. What I now realize is that the world is not nearly as neutral as I had believed.

It took the writings of Richard Rohr, another white male, to pull back the curtain and let me see my illusion. This has rocked my world.

When the horrific stories of racial tension increased recently, I could not sit idly by. I texted a black friend to invite him to lunch. Over the meal, I acknowledged that I now see that the world’s systems are designed by and for people like me: white men. I had never noticed that bias, because it had never stopped me. I fit perfectly through the system’s filter, so much so that I never knew it was there.

As I described for my friend my realization that there is a biased system, he said, “We call that white supremacy.” Oh wow.

Many call it “white privilege,” which seems much less harsh. But the term “white privilege” also fails to strike deeply enough in my soul. I can deny white privilege all day. “People don’t treat me that way because I’m white.” (How can I really know?) But white supremacy says, “Whites make the rules, set up the systems, and if you will just follow the (white) system, you will get along just fine. What is your problem?”

Forgive me for failing to propose sweeping systemic solutions here. I’m still reeling from my new corrected lenses. I’m trying to find my balance. I’m trying to see reality more from God’s perspective. Disillusionment may be good, but it’s not easy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Olympic Identity

Two American Olympians who won a silver medal for synchronized diving both acknowledged the Lord after competing. See the video here.

Many athletes thank God, along with coaches and parents. But David Boudia and Steele Johnson independently downplayed the significance of the Olympic medal. Each man said "my identity is in Christ." The medal is a great honor, but not necessary for their self-esteem.

With identities secure in Christ, the men were free to perform their best. They had nothing to prove. They could dive in peace.

So what is this "identity in Christ" stuff?

When we have right standing before God, nothing else really matters. Through a relationship with Jesus believers receive, as a gift, the righteousness of Jesus. It is not earned but received. We don't have to work for it.

Paul puts it this way in Romans 3:21-22: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known...This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe."

The believer's "identity in Christ," then, is that of perfect righteousness, given as a gift. It is "apart from the law," not earned by being good. It is received by faith.

I find it very hard to live from this identity in Christ. I am constantly striving to prove myself, trying to be good, trying to be productive. But when I experience deep in my soul the security of Jesus and his righteousness, I am at peace. I don't look for any silver medals or perfect dives, but I can truly do my best when I remember that I have nothing to prove. Jesus proved it all on the cross.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Overcoming Division

What in the world is happening? As I drive past flags flying at half-staff, I try to remember why. Was it the massacre in Orlando? Since then, we have cringed as story after story reminds us of the brokenness of this world: Minneapolis, Baton Rouge, Nice, Dallas, Baton Rouge. When is the flag ever flying high any more?

Pundits and politicians seize on every new story to advance some political agenda. They try to manipulate public opinion for the sake of votes and power. They sow seeds of division to advance their side. The more one side fights, the more the other side responds in kind. People are labeled, defamed, ambushed, and murdered.

The masses want to fight fire with fire. Rhetoric ratchets up. People stop listening and dismiss everything they hear from those people in that camp. They stop thinking for themselves and listen to the loudest voices on their "side." These voices stir up hate and suspicion, calling out the worst in human nature. Clearly this pattern makes our problems worse.

This is an opportunity for the church to stand up and call people to conversation on a higher plane. We are all broken. My perspective is not the only perspective. It's not even the right perspective. No one but God has the right perspective.

Christ calls us to this kind of humility at the cross. We are broken. We need redemption from our
sinful natures. Jesus paid the price for this redemption on the cross, giving his life as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. This is good news, but it can only be received with humility, admitting that we need a Savior.

Everyone around us is broken, too. No wonder we don't trust people. No wonder people hurt others. No wonder people find groups of others to hate. No wonder crime escalates.

There is no law, no politician, no policy that can diffuse the hate and fear of the human heart. Only Jesus can do this.

That's why the church needs to stand up and stand together, across those barriers that divide us. Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility between people who are different. (Ephesians 2:11-22) Only Jesus can change the heart. He does that every day as people surrender to him.

We can't put our hope in politics. We need good government, but government can't give me the right perspective. Only God can do that.

Let's rise above the name calling and division. Jesus calls us together. He calls us to repent. He calls us to love. And he changes our hearts so that we can.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Independence

Today we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the independence of the United States. We have much to celebrate.

Here's what I value about our country.

We are founded on timeless principles, as described in the Declaration of Independence.
  • All persons are created equal, and therefore equally valuable.
  • Our inalienable rights are given to us by our Creator.
  • We have the right to create that government which can best preserve our freedom.

Further, in the Constitution, we have specific rights enumerated, including the following.
  • We have freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and redress.
  • We have the right to have guns, to protect freedom.
  • We have the right to due process and equal protection under the law.
  • We have a government limited in its ability to search and seize.
  • We can be creative and reap the benefits of our new ideas.
  • Leaders are subject to the consent of the governed.

Our country's principles declare that people matter, regardless of who they are. In a state of freedom, all people are allowed to pursue whatever endeavors they wish.

We have, unfortunately, found that living out these principles is quite difficult.

Europeans who claimed this continent failed to treat Native Americans fairly in many cases. The issues were certainly complex, and many whites tried to deal honorably with the Indians, but too often, brute force outweighed justice.

As the Constitution was hammered out, wording was included to allow slavery, at least for 20 years. Without these provisions, many states would have rejected the document. The most costly war in our country's history was fought to settle the issue. Even so, fallout from the institution of slavery remains to this day.

Government has grown far beyond the scope anticipated by the Founders. There are tens of thousands of federal laws, and hundreds of thousands of binding regulations. Someone has asserted that the average person breaks three federal laws every day.

The American system of justice seems to favor the powerful, the rich, the connected, and white people.

Our country's foreign policy mettles in the affairs of almost every other country in the world. In every war, every conflict, we take sides. We often try to manipulate the outcome in issues that are none of our business.

We create policies that lead to dependence on government. As a result, personal effort is too often replaced by a sense of entitlement. Rather than relying on God, we have come to rely on government.

In spite of these issues, our country has brought much good to this world. We can and should celebrate our country, coupling national pride with healthy humility. May we reclaim our founding principles and seek liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Would You Protest?

I don't think I've ever waved a picket sign. I see the protesters on television and wonder why they
don't get a life. Some things are not worth protesting.

Right now I'm reading Richard Rohr's book, Simplicity: The Art of Letting Go. He speaks of his work organizing peace protests years ago. Shortly afterward, the Soviet Union began shaking up.

I had no idea that he was one of them.

Here's what I want to say to protesters: Why don't you stop complaining and do something? Live your life following the rules, work hard to make a living, and everything will work out fine. The world is what it is, and you just have to quit complaining and adapt. Yes, it's unfair. Get over it.

Here's what I need to hear from protesters: You don't see the problems, because it all works for you. There is a problem with the way society is structured. If you were not so privileged, you would see it. There is hunger, disease, poverty, abuse of power, injustice. The power brokers of the world ignore the situation and often make it worse. The truth needs to be told.

I'm so busy living my life that I can't take time to notice injustice. I wonder what matters to me enough to make me carry a picket sign. Surely there's something. I need to wake up.

What about you?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On Being Hated

Jesus said that the world would hate his disciples.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. --Jesus in John 15:18-19

The world hated Jesus so much that they crucified him. He challenged people's assumptions, exposed their abuse of power, and criticized their desire for wealth. The downtrodden and outcast really liked him; people in power despised him. Those for whom the system was not working flocked to his teaching. Those who benefited from the system resented his reckless disregard for a time-tested system of honor and reward.

This teaching about being hated really bothers me. I don't want to be hated. I go out of my way to avoid offending people. If the world recognizes Christians by their love for each other, who could hate that? If we forgive and give to the poor and love our neighbors, how could that offend?

That's my disconnect. Jesus says that we will be hated, and he gives us the ministry of reconciliation and love. If we follow him with abandon, why would anyone hate us?

Obviously Jesus followed his own teaching. He loved the unlovely. He gave himself willingly. He lived with humility.

But Jesus also pointed out the flaws in systems and individuals. He called out the abuse of power. He pointed out the hypocrisy of religious elites. He refused to buy into the system of his day. He exposed selfish motives. He debated theology, and challenged dogma. His pushback against the system made people hate him.

And in the modern, Western world, the followers of Jesus don't seem to be hated too much. We try to live out the love component, but don't want to rock the boat. We don't push back against the system. To a large degree, churches and Christians work quite well, thank you, within this system.

We market our causes, leverage social media, and show the world that there is no reason to hate Christians. Yes, I know that elsewhere in the world, believers are tortured and executed. They are experiencing the hate of the world. I also know that in America Christians are overlooked for promotions and marginalized in the media. Christians are often made the scapegoats for all the ills in our society.

But I don't feel hated. Being hated is not my goal. That would be foolish. But Jesus did say that his disciples would be hated by the world. Is that no longer true? Or am I failing to challenge the system like Jesus did?

I think I know the answer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enemy Love

A Vietnam veteran spoke to me on Sunday after I had preached about loving one's enemy. He had seen real enemies who wanted to take his life. This "love your enemy" talk seemed to require the impossible. How can one love a person who would kill them?

As I spoke on Sunday about that passage in Matthew 5, I failed to make an important clarification.

When we think of loving someone, we think of having a warm spirit of affection for them. Because of that spirit of affection, we express love through action.

Jesus is calling us to express love through action toward our enemies, but not calling us to generate warm feelings of affection toward them. Because of love, we should cooperate with the person making unreasonable requests, Jesus says. We refuse to retaliate when harmed. We freely lend to those who want to borrow.

Rather than treating people with hatred, we treat them with love. Clearly Jesus is not expecting us to love enemies as we love our own families.  While we may not have affection for our enemies, we can behave toward them in a loving way. This is love through action without a spirit of cursing toward them.

In Luke 6:28, Jesus puts it like this: "Bless those who curse you." Loving enemies is never easy. Jesus calls us to live and love through his power. Only through his power can we experience the kind of life he wants for us.