Category Archives: Theology and Ethics

A Crisis Reveals What Is In Our Hearts

Pope Francis has published a moving editorial about the pandemic in the New York Times. He writes of how moments of crisis like these reveal what is in our hearts. The best line: “If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.”

It’s not brief, it’s not entertaining, but I encourage you to take the time time to read it.

Link: https://nyti.ms/39jfRoy

A More Christian Love Of Country

Note: 2019-2020 has been a difficult year for the United States, but I still love America as an adult child loves a parent. For that reason I’m reposting these thoughts from 2015.

Warning: what follows is a post in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. You may want to skip it and for that I do not blame you, but I feel compelled to write it.

I have heard our love of country compared to our love of our parents. When we are children, we love our parents as only children can. We love them without being aware of their flaws and shortcomings.* As adults, we recognize that our parents are fallen human beings, and yet we love them still. (This is Christ-like in that it is also the nature of God’s love for us.) I believe that the love we have for our country should be like the love of an adult child for his or her parents. This means that we have to acknowledge that our country, however much we love it, is not perfect.

To that end, I want to share two links. The first is a historic address by Frederick Douglas titled The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. The following passage is considered one of Douglas’ most moving:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

The second is a contemporary blog post by a Native American titled The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. It’s author, Mark Charles, highlights the reference to Native Americans as savages in The Declaration of Independence and then writes:

“This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.”

My hope is that by confessing the sins of our nation’s past, we might move forward to a better, holier future.** Like the hymn America the Beautiful, I want to extol our nation’s virtues and ask God to “mend [our] every flaw.” Mark Charles feels the same way, writing:

“You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ, but please remember God’s incredible mercy upon our violent and unjust nation. And at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer.

‘May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory.'”

I understand “common memory” to mean an accurate understanding of our past that is shared by enough people that it helps to shape a more just future. I will pray that prayer.

Links:
The Meaning of the Fourth for the Negroto.pbs.org/1M1bUQv
The Dilemma of the Fourth of Julybit.ly/1C9J93Q

*My apologies to my own parents for the use of this comparison. I should note that my mother has very few shortcomings, and I share all my father’s flaws.
**Credit where credit is due: In 2009 Sam Brownback helped lead a successful effort to get a formal apology to Native Americans approved by Congress and signed by the President. Sadly, he could not get it passed as a stand-alone bill and it had to be slipped into an appropriations measure.

A Devotion from Rev. Rick Saylor

A few days ago in the Great Plains Conference daily email there was a devotion from your former pastor, Rick Saylor. With his permission I’m sharing it here.

Being troubled has taken on a life of its own in these pandemic times. It creates various intense emotions and disturbances. Mental preoccupations and confusion as well as a general sense of unsettledness. Everyone is living with being troubled in one way or another. It’s a new global normal! And we struggle with managing our “troubles” and our inner reactions to them like never before.
 
Our Judeao-Christian Biblical tradition often addresses human troubles, fears and anxieties with realism yet hope. A familiar verse of the Gospels addressing human difficulty records Jesus saying “let not your hearts be troubled.” Note he addresses our hearts not our minds. Troubles will always create stress and conflict in our thinking. It’s the way of things. But Jesus points to our hearts – the core of our being and the essence of who we are. He seems to be saying do not let your God given self, your identity, your spirit be “troubled” – Greek word “tapassestho” – which translated may mean don’t let the essence of who you are (your heart) be “stirred up, disturbed, unsettled or thrown into confusion.”
 
Jesus is appealing to our higher nature – our better angels if you will – to rise above being troubled – by being “trustful.” “Believe in God, believe in me” are the next words of the verse. Jesus says believe in me, believe beyond you, in times of overwhelming difficulties that a power of love and benevolence holds me, holds you, holds the world. Even now in this global COVID-19 pandemic. So, choose trust not troubles as your inner default. A trust that affirms who you are and who’s you are, that is a reality beyond any troubles and any experience of “being troubled.”

The Stockdale Paradox

Recently, I learned that Kansas State University Research and Extension has extended its ban on face-to-face 4-H meetings and events through July 4, 2020. [1] This more than any other bit of news has brought home to me the fact that we are in this for the long haul.

Because we’re in it for the long haul (whether we want to be or not), I would recommend an article by Jim Collins (no relation) on what he calls the Stockdale Paradox. Said paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest-ranking military officer held at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Go read it here. I’ll wait.

Boiled down to it’s essentials (just in case you didn’t go read the article), the Stockdale paradox is that we have to have faith that we will prevail, and even that we will come out stronger on the other side, without denying the hard fact that we are in for a long, difficult time of it. [2]

Those of us who claim Christ as our Risen Savior know that one way or another, we will come out of this crisis stronger than we went in. Our faith tells us that in Jesus Christ—who conquered evil, sin, and death in his suffering, death, and resurrection—we will prevail. While we can do this, we must also acknowledge that this is going to be hard, and it’s going to take longer than any of us want it to. Jesus, the most faithful, fully-human being to ever walk the face of the earth, suffered. There is no reason to believe we can avoid doing likewise. But the Christ’s suffering and death were not the end of the story. This difficult time need not be the end of our story, either.


[1] “K-State Research and Extension Has Extended Its Ban on All Face-to-Face Extension Programs, Meetings and Events through July 4, 2020.,” K-State Research and Extension, accessed April 19, 2020, https://bit.ly/3eLkvMu.

[2] Jim Collins, “The Stockdale Paradox,” JimCollins.com, accessed April 19, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Y1Ouda.

Christ Is Risen

To be honest, I didn’t know how I would feel this Easter morning without the prospect of gathering together in the sanctuary to celebrate. But as I woke up and realized what day I was waking up to the words that came to mind were from the hymn “Christ is Risen” by Brian Wren:

“Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days.” [1]

That’s the way I’m feeling. Thank God for Jesus Christ, thank God for Easter, thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.


[1] The full text of the hymn can be found as number 307 in The United Methodist Hymnal.

The Full Weight of Evil, Sin, and Death

As a Christian, I believe that, on the cross, Jesus Christ, the word made flesh, took upon himself the full weight of all the evil, sin and death in the world. This year, it seems to me, that burden is even weightier than ever. But I still believe that Christ was, is, and will be triumphant. My wish for each of you this Good Friday is that you may know the presence of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of your sins, and the hope of the resurrection.

Closed to Better Love Our Neighbor

This morning, I went down to the church, refilled the little free pantry, and posted the signs pictured below. I know that not all churches are following the same course of action, but I believe that this is the best way for our congregation to love our neighbors as ourselves during this time of crisis. If I were a medical professional, I would want folks to isolate themselves to “flatten the curve.” If I were a member of a vulnerable population, I would want people to stay home to reduce the chance that I would contract COVID-19. We’re working from home, broadcasting and streaming our worship services, and meeting by Zoom video conference to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

COVID-19 Signs

We’re Not Snake Handlers

Yesterday on twitter, I read a tweet that said, “I believe in prayer. I also believe in hand-washing.” I don’t remember who posted that (and I can’t find it now), but it’s a nice way of putting it. More directly, Beth Moore tweeted:

“It would be a mistake for us in Christian circles to disregard the warnings about large gatherings. If the thought is, “We’re the church. We’ll do whatever we please & God will protect us,” He does not protect the proud. He opposes them. We are not snake handlers. We’re servants.” [1]

I think both points are important. The Bible does not teach that Christians will not suffer. God’s beloved, only begotten Son, the most faithful person who ever walked the face of the earth, suffered crucifixion and death. We are called to be faithful; we are even called to be bold. But we know that being faithful and bold may come at a cost, and thus we also exercise wisdom and prudence.

Pray and wash your hands. Better yet, pray while washing your hands. [2]


[1] Beth Moore, Twitter post, March 13, 2020, 8:10 a.m., twitter.com/BethMooreLPM.
[2] One possibility: I just timed myself saying the Lord’s Prayer and it took 28 seconds.

In Case the Covid-19 Coronavirus Gets Ugly

I’m writing this because I fear there will be an ugly development in any possible Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic. That  ugliness will be a fear that abandons rather than helps the afflicted. We’re already seeing this as cities go to court to block victims from being quarantined within their boundaries. I fear that this type of unchristian response will become even more contagious than the disease.

One of the things the ancient Christians were known for was their care of the sick. Indeed, Christians have done this throughout the ages, whenever and wherever we have been at our best. At our best, we have overcome our fear of sickness and death through our faith in the one who went through death and came out triumphant on the other side. The outbreak of Covid-19 is a chance for us to be at our best. That doesn’t mean we won’t take recommended precautions when visiting and caring for the sick, it will mean that we treat everyone who is afflicted as if they were a beloved member of our biological family. It means we will not fear monger—and that means we double-check that anything we share on facebook or other social networks comes from a reliable source. [1] It means we won’t stereotype and single out a particular group of people for having the disease. It means we won’t engage in NIMBYism [2] as some municipalities already have. 

I would ask you to remember that, like the seasonal flu, not everyone who contracts Covid-19 dies. Also, I would remind you, that unless Jesus comes back sooner rather than later, we’re all going to die of something. (I’m hoping I’ll die of pneumonia, “the old man’s friend.”) I urge you to take heart in the knowledge that our Lord and Savior conquered death and we need not fear it. I urge you to hold fast to the faith. I urge you not to shun the afflicted. I urge you to visit and care for the sick if and when that is called for. In short I urge you to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to demonstrate your love for God by displaying your love for your neighbor in real and concrete ways. I urge you to hold me to the same standard.

Amen.


[1] Dr. Brian Holmes recommends using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website: https://www.cdc.gov

[2] NIMBY means Not-in-my-back-yard.

Hymn for the 81%

In Seminary, I was the president of the Evangelical Society at Saint Paul School of Theology. (Evangelism was, and in some places still is, a broad category.) In the last two decades, I have grown increasingly dismayed with the choices and behavior of many evangelicals. A new song called “Hymn for the 81%” captures my pathos and dismay. The lyrics are below in case you can’t stream the video.

Lyrics:

I grew up in your churches
Sunday morning and evening service
knelt in tears at the foot of the rugged cross
you taught me every life is sacred
feed the hungry, clothe the naked
I learned from you the highest law is Love
and I believed you when you said
that I should trust the words in red
to guide my steps through a wicked world
I assumed you’d do the same
so imagine my dismay
when I watched you lead the sheep to the wolves

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
so I’m loving you now
you said to speak the truth
I’m calling you out
why don’t you live the words
that you put in my mouth
may love overcome and justice roll down

they started putting kids in cages
ripping mothers from their babies
and I looked to you to speak on their behalf
but all I heard was silence
or worse you justified it
singing glory hallelujah raise the flag

your fear had turned to hatred
but you baptized it with language
torn from the pages of the Good Book
you weaponized religion
and you wonder why I’m leaving
to find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
so I’m loving you now
you said to speak the truth
so I’m calling you out
why don’t you live the words
that you put in my mouth
may love overcome and justice roll down

come home
come home
you’re better
you taught me better than this

come home
come home
you’re better than this
you taught me better than this

come home
come home
you’re better than this
you taught me better than this

come home
come home

[Refrain] you said to love the lost
I’m trying to love you now
you said to speak the truth
so I’m calling you out
I wish you’s live the words
that you put in my mouth

may love overcome and justice roll down
may love overcome and justice roll down
may love overcome and justice roll down

may love overcome and justice roll down

 

 

The Triumph of Love

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace, by Henry H. Knight, is one of the best summaries of John Wesley’s theology that I have ever read (and it is, by far, the shortest). Here are a few excerpts:

Wesley’s vision of a new creation filled with the love of God is a fitting outcome of his theology. From 1725 on he was committed to holiness of heart and life as the content and goal of salvation; now, near the end of his life, he extended renewal in love from the hearts of humans to the entirety of creation. [Which means that all of creation will be redeemed/saved.] This was one of the last of the many insights Wesley gained throughout his life and ministry.

His fundamental insight, that governed all the rest, was that salvation is all about our renewal in love, our being restored to the image of God. Without this holiness of heart and life we are neither truly happy nor truly Christian. [1]

… Commenting on 1 John 4:19 (“We love him, because he first loved us”) Wesley wrote, “This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one say less . . .”332 Wesley believed that this love of God will triumph in the end, and it is this same love that seeks to triumph even now, in every human heart. [2]

I’ve been thinking about restarting The Breakfast Club with this book. Let me know if you’re interested.


[1] Henry H. Knight III, John Wesley: Optimist of Grace (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2018), 141.
2] Ibid., 145