Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

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I called my mom before the election with one specific question:

“Mom, when did American politics get mixed up with Christianity?”

I really wanted to know. I didn’t grow up in the United States and throughout my childhood, my parents voted via absentee ballots. I remember political discussions about the U.S. taking place every four years, where my mom and dad would have at least one heated discussion about “their” candidate. 95% of the time, their votes cancelled each other. Never do I remember either one of them talking about which was the better “Christian” choice.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I have read that it was when the Moral Majority became a thing. Jerry Falwell and others connected their politics and their faith.”

This was something I escaped during childhood and beyond into my college years. I was far more concerned about the Iranian revolution and the war in Lebanon than I was about U.S. politics, although I would come to learn that U.S foreign policy was critically important when it came to parts of the world that I loved.

But the point is: I never got caught up in the melding of Christianity with the earthly kingdom of the United States of America.

I think its time to confront the idol. America and American exceptionalism have become idols and when we make anything into an idol we need to confess and repent.

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”*

When rationalizing America as a “nation blessed by God’ the arguments given are generally material and military and use the book of Deuteronomy as a guide.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000? Or the refugee family living in a tent? We’re on shaky ground when we use material goods as our litmus test for blessing.

Military: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize yet again that Jesus again excels at turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing.  Not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I begin to feel uncomfortable. Are we through yet? No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list of blessings is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments are not included.

But the blessings do include peacemaking.

They include seeking righteousness.

They include mourning.

And so I come to this conclusion: America is not blessed. In fact, we are in need of deep, deep healing. 

One of the ways we heal is by confronting the idol of Christian America and American exceptionalism. It has already begun to crumble before us and yet we aren’t paying attention. 

Nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every political system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about politics on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. 

If I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you voted for Hillary. Maybe you found either choice untenable. Regardless, if you believe in a kingdom that is not of this world then I challenge you that your job is to build bridges with those with whom you disagree. Your job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. Your job, your mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all political systems will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal our eyesight. May he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

*First Things – “Is America Blessed by God”

Blogger’s note: You may recognize some of these posts – I took from a couple different blogs that I have done in the past.

Good Quotes to Get you Through Election Day 2016

“Someone is going to win Tuesday and then, if trendlines that have proved reliable in the past continue, the sun will come up on Wednesday.” Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

Yesterday I walked through the leaves at twilight and knew that all would be well

“It’s easy to get pessimistic right now. Lots of powerful forces in early-twenty-first-century America seem to be turning against us. It’s good to remember, therefore, that God takes the way of particularity. Our increasingly secular cultural and political regimes have little in the way of new life in them. Cynicism and careerism disfigure many talented young people today. These are not qualities pregnant with a vital future for the West. It will be those few who are looking upward, those who have a sense of the transcendent possibilities, who will be able to lead us toward something new, something culturally alive.”

– R.R. Reno (First Things, December 2016)

“A closing thought: God is in charge of history. He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better. But he is an actor in history also. He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to.

Twenty sixteen looks to me like a chastisement. He’s trying to get our attention. We have candidates we can’t be proud of. We must choose among the embarrassments. What might we be doing as a nation and a people that would have earned this moment?” Peggy Noonan WSJ

“Toblerone has gotten smaller because of Brexit” NPR Marketplace 

I overheard my nine-year-old daughter scolding her little brother. Her admonition should be a motto for everyone in business, politics, media, entertainment, and the arts: ‘Don’t believe everything you say.'” PJ O’Rourke


“So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not.” C.S.Lewis in Screwtape Letters

Finally – from my friend Jonathan Trotter:

God Bless America!

and Syria!

and Ghana!

and Venezuela!

and Russia!

and China!

and New Zealand!

and Germany!

and Greece!

and Somalia!

and Brazil!

and Panama!

and Afghanistan!

and Cambodia!

and Pakistan!

and Tanzania!

and Canada!

and Iran!

and Israel!

God bless the people we like and the people we don’t!

God bless the people who like us and the people who don’t!

And at the end of the day, may we all remember the astounding truth that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.


The Shallow Identity of Party Affiliation

 

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Last night we had dinner with some new friends. We have been connecting online for about two years, and finally had the opportunity to meet. The conversation turned toward politics. Jenn talked about reading a book where the author surmised that Jesus was more liberal than the liberals and more conservative then the conservatives. I woke up thinking about this. As one who lived in a political system during his time on earth, Jesus never confused politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven. Never. His mission was people and relationships, not politics.

It was several years ago that a Christian friend first said to me: “I’m sorry, I disagree with you! I vote and live my life on [insert political party] values.” The conversation was pleasant, but I remember looking at my friend in surprise. She said it with absolute surety and confidence. This was more than politics, this was her very identity.

Historically, confusing politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven is not new, but I still remember that I was shocked and troubled. I had not lived in the United States much, and this was my first direct encounter with the values of a political party being confused and entangled with the values of someone who followed Jesus. Since then, I have come to realize that almost every politician in the entire country has at some point uttered the words “I am a Christian” for political gain, and we buy into it with our souls. We sigh with relief and think “Okay then. Good! God in the White House! Or in the Governor’s mansion.” We turn a blind eye to characteristics that are the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. We say “Who am I to judge…!” Even as we’ve perfected the art of judging others.

The United States is in an interesting season. In three months we will be electing the next president of the United States of America. Social media and media in general are the only entities profiting from the debacle that is playing out in this election. Everyone else is losing.

Think about it – why are we participating in a game we are losing? A game where we are losing integrity, losing friendships, losing arguments, losing sleep, and slowly losing sanity.

We have bought into politics that reduce our complex humanity into a political identity and with it, a political war.

Here’s the thing: as a Christian, using a political party to describe ourselves is shallow. Using a political party to judge or describe other people is also shallow.  

The idea that I, a complicated human being with all sorts of thoughts going through my head, would be limited to a political party is galling to me. The statement “you can’t be a Christian and a [insert the party]” is reductionist and puts people into unreasonable boxes — boxes that include complex issues affecting human beings.

How and when did Christians in America begin to confuse who they are, as people made in the image of God, with the identity and characteristics of a political party? How did Christians come to see political parties as the way to express their Christian faith? It’s mind boggling that we would think affiliation with a political party is the way to express the kindness of Jesus that leads us to repentance. It is head shaking to think that a political party is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians – they are created and designed by imperfect people who are all about politics on earth, not treasure in Heaven. They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all the politics we fussed over, argued about, and condemned each other for will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until that time, may we do justly, love mercy, vote wisely (and for some, that may mean not at all) and walk humbly with our God. 

Podcast -On Refugees, Fear, and Politics

Good morning!

After an incredible weekend with my people at Families in Global Transition, I am sending you to a podcast that Anita Lustrea did with me last week. We talked about Pakistan, refugees, fear, politics, and how America needs a spanking.

I would love to have you take a listen and let me know what you think!

More reflecting on the weekend will be coming, but today I am still in the glow of connection that happens when you get together with people who have lived across the globe and love the world.

Thank you!

Click here to listen! 

Love, Fear and the Syrian Refugee

The NYTimes Daily Briefing had this to say this morning: Donald J. Trump, called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country.

At an assembly at Liberty University on Friday, Jerry Falwell Jr., under the banner “Training Champions for Christ since 1971”  said this: “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.” Followed by:“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

It seems particularly appropriate to publish this guest post written by a man who lives in Afghanistan. I first read it on a friend’s newsfeed and felt it important enough to reach out to the writer and ask for permission to publish it on Communicating Across Boundaries.

 

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Love, Fear and the Syrian Refugees: My View by C.L.

Every day I live in Afghanistan I have a choice to make. Those Muslim refugees streaming to Europe, they’re friends of mine. That ISIS in far off Paris; an outpost of its caliphate is in the city next to Kabul and its minions circulate silently through my city looking for targets. I’ve lost ten friends to the Taliban extremists. Fear knocks at my door every single day. And I choose love. I would defend my family with my life if a terrorist came after my family. And I choose love. The love I choose is for the literally 99.9% of my Muslim friends who hate the extremists. It’s for the Muslim man who literally put his body between me and danger for no other reason than he cared for me as a human.

I smell fear among Christians in America. Why do I say it’s fear? Because fear breeds irrationality. Fear doesn’t listen to facts. Fear looks to others to justify itself. Fear sees conspiracies in every corner. Fear gets caught up in group-think which, in our saner moments, we would scratch our heads at and wonder how we sold our thoughts in the slave market of sheep herders.

Look, I’m not at all immune to fear myself. I was in the Afghan city of Herat during a crisis when I received a frantic call from a diplomat in the US Consulate that communicated to me that I was in imminent danger of being swept up by an angry mob seeking the blood of an American. At that very moment my entire world narrowed down into a simple, raw, laser focus of survival. That is what fear does, it preempts logic, preempts even strongly-held beliefs for the sake of survival. And that is what I see with the issue of the Syrian refugees.

In our calmer moments, how many of us believe strongly in welcoming strangers and refugees? Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt. The Bible is full of passages that command us to welcome refugees, going so far as questioning our faith if we turn away widows, orphans and refugees. For heaven’s sake, the Pilgrims were refugees and, contrary to the myth we’ve created about them, significant numbers of them were unsavory folks escaping justice, not religious persecution.

So, we hear that 100,000 Syrian refugees are going to invade the US as a Trojan horse for ISIS. We hear that the Paris attackers were all Syrians who surreptitiously joined the hordes of mostly young, military-age men swamping the borders of Europe. It’s inevitable that the same will happen to the US because we have no good system to screen them. Panic! Fear! Does anyone realize that the “facts” that I have just stated are simply not true? But fear ignores the facts. Fear throws out deeply-held beliefs.

Choose love. There are 750,000 legal refugees who have come to our shores since 9/11 and not one of them has perpetrated a terrorist attack. That’s pretty good screening, if you ask me! And what if one terrorist did get through? Do we hate the 749,999 of them because of the one? Do we abandon our principles and beliefs and let the terrorist do exactly what he aims to do, make us lesser humans by reverting to our baser selves?

Where is Jesus in all of this? And think about this: do you realize the rejection of Syrian refugees by Christians in America is bringing shame on the name of Jesus here in Afghanistan?

Choose love. Every single day K and I make a decision to choose love and to act out from that love. If we can do it do it in Afghanistan, surely you can choose love in America too. Welcome the Syrian refugees… in love.

Note: Should you want to reach out to the author, please feel free to contact me through the comments or the about page.

Photo Credit –Edward Brown

When Your Fear Goes Through the Roof

Many people are sincerely afraid when they think on the events of the last few weeks: the twin attacks in Lebanon, suicide bombing in Afghanistan, the plane crash in Egypt, protests for justice and equal treatment on campuses across the US, the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Terrorism and the threat of violence have paralyzed people. What once only happened far away creeps closer with every news broadcast. Our world seems hazardous and our safety in great jeopardy. Fear has taken root and has quickly converted to a deep paranoia that colours every opinion, every conviction, every decision.

Consequently there is a growing number of American States that have emphatically decided to close their doors to Syrian refugees. Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, in a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle wrote with words wreaking of worry, “My first priority as governor is the safety of all Kansans, and in this dangerous environment, we must take prudent and responsible actions to protect our citizens. That is why I signed an executive order directing that no state agency, or organization receiving grant money from the state, will participate in or assist in any way in the relocation of Syrian refugees in Kansas.” (www.kansas.com/opinion)

Fear is universally understood. When I hear fear in another person’s words empathy for them rises up in me. I have felt afraid many times and it’s not a pleasant place to be. Even this past weekend I spent a nearly sleepless night battling my own set of freak-outs. Friday late afternoon, along with thousands of others, I learned of the Paris attacks for the first time. Lowell is scheduled to fly to Paris on November 25th. He along with thousands of delegates and participants is descending on Paris for the COP 21 International Climate Summit. By Saturday night fear had stirred up my soul into an intolerable frenzy. I turned and tossed all night. I’d fall off to sleep only to be awakened by dreams with bad guys and chases and dark corners and Lowell. I lied there and tried to speak reason to my tortured thoughts. But reason was weak when the lights were off. My imaginings wrecked havoc on all rational thought. I was afraid.

When faced with fear we have choices. We can give into it and let it control our behavior—which is what I did Saturday night with less than restful results. We can ignore it, silence it, stuff it down. Or we can bravely name it and bring it to the only place of hope for healing. The antidote for fear is always faith. The only analgesic for anxiety is peace.

Something happened on Sunday. Whereas Saturday night I was convinced that Lowell should cancel his planned travel to Paris, by Sunday afternoon I knew he should go. I had found a place to put my fear. This may seem overly simple. To the unafraid or to the petrified this might sound shallow and silly, perhaps even trivial or trite. But trust me. I have found a safe place to store my fear and you can too.

I’ve written before about the story in the gospels where the four men—hopeless to do anything to solve their lame friend’s problem—load him up on a makeshift stretcher (essentially an old bed) and they bring him to Jesus. Out of complete desperation, and in full awareness of their own weaknesses and limitations, they actually dig a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is staying. There in plain view of a large crowd, the same crowd that kept them from going through the door, they lowered their friend down on his stretcher right in front of Jesus.

In the past I’ve done that for my friends and family members that have suffered. I’ve done that for whole countries. I’ve lowered all of Pakistan down on a large charpai (rope bed) at the feet of Jesus. I’ve prayed “dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers” for whole regions. And now, maybe because I’ve had so much experience in doing this for others, I’m doing this for myself. I’m taking my fear through the roof–from up where it’s crescendoed down to Jesus where he ministers. My fears, my anxieties, my perpetual little panics, my worries, my what-ifs, my worst-case-scenarios—they are all laid out on a bed with a tear stained pillow case and turmoiled linens…and I’m laying them out at the feet of Jesus.

Yesterday a young friend asked me what that looks like to, “lay our worries at the foot of the cross,” or to “give our fears to Jesus”. Author Tim Keller says the imagination connects what we know to be true in our heads with what we long to experience in our hearts. There is great power in our imaginations. I imagine bundling up all my fears and bringing them to Jesus. I imagine his expression as he sees me approach. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I throw all my worries at him…as if he’s somehow to blame for it all. He just gently catches it. Sometimes I picture myself pitching my panic at him. He doesn’t even flinch. I cast my cares on him knowing full well he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Playing Whack-a-Mole with our emotions doesn’t work. We cannot bop these things away. We cannot stuff them down forever. Far better is to recognize what’s going on inside us. Allow our fears to surface—acknowledge their presence. Identify them. Name them. Be gentle with your worries. There is no shame in being afraid. And then lead your fears to the bed, to the stretcher. Help them climb on. Look around inside. “Search me, O God, and know my heart? See if there are any other anxious ways within me.” (Psalm 139:21) Trap the little fear foxes and tie them down on your makeshift stretcher.

I understand the fear that drives a person to curl up into the fetal position. I resonate with the temptation to shut down, to self protect, to hold on to those I love closer, tighter, with shorter reigns. But we are called to external living. We are called to step outside, to love others generously, to welcome strangers warmly. We are called to exit the constricting circle of our fears and to enter into the wide space of faith and grace. This will not happen unless we invite our fears out of the shadows and out into the light. When we openly admit we too are afraid, bravely carrying our strapped down fears to Jesus, even that is an act of trust and surrender. This is where the work of resisting the power of paranoia begins. The Spirit of God softens our souls and leads us courageously into the risky place of love.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Giving our fears to Jesus is not magical. Anxieties aren’t immediately silenced. Fear isn’t –poof!—instantly gone. In fact nothing fundamentally changes. And yet, something noticeable does happen. Jesus does not ignore the cries of those who suffer. With his love, he calms your fears, he separates you from them, he releases you from their power. Remarkably he intentionally stays close to your broken heart. He has a special love and affinity for those who call out to him when they’re hurting. With a tangible presence he surrounds you with unfailing love and comforts you in your troubles. It’s of great consolation to me that there is nothing that can separate us from that love—not even our frenzied fears for today nor our worst-case-scenarios for tomorrow, as hellish as they may seem.

(Psalm 9:12, Zeph 3:17, Psalm 34:4 & 18, Psalm 145:18, Psalm 32:10, 2 Cor 1:3-4, Romans 8:38)

https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2014/10/29/series-on-suffering-8-a-pause/

Short Sunday Thoughts: On Politics and Facebook

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Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.” From On Sharing Bedrooms and Dialogue

As I think about the next year in the United States, I look back on something I wrote in the past, and I pray I will stay true to that conviction.

“We all have strong convictions that could lead to ugly. Human reactions, emotions and interactions are complex. And there are some things that I won’t discuss online, not because I lack conviction but because the potential for misinterpretation is too high…”

And this from my friend Tara:

“…I don’t need to battle over politics because I have a massive fight on my hands as it is. 

The battle to walk closely with Him day-by-day. 
The battle to be salt, to be light. 
The battle against my own sin and depravity. 
The battle to love my neighbor well. 
The battle to act justly; to love mercy. 

The Kingdom isn’t so much about how I vote (or promote my vote on-line) – the Kingdom is more about the way I love and live and act toward the lost and hurting around me.”

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3