On Pentecost the Spirit of God shows up in a big way: wind and fire and foreign languages. The Spirit is moving and is for everybody. St. Peter says, “This promise is for you, your children, and all who are far away.”
Women. Men. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Foreign. Native. And everyone in between.
Some included were wrong. Some were messy. Some scoundrels. Some had terrible theology.
They had differing politics. Annoying habits. Bad habits. Baggage.
And yet the Spirit of God moves and makes room anyway.
It seems to me God is less worried about clean lines and uniformity than much of the modern church is. It seems the church is meant to be united by something more than political views or rigid compliance or even right belief.
What if we had the same approach as God on Pentecost? What if what we offered was truly inclusive of everyone, regardless of where they have come from, done, or believed? What if we truly believed the Spirit of God was at work in the middle of our differences and disagreements? What if we trusted God and let go of our anxious need to control everyone and conform them into our image?
Sure, wielding authority and drawing lines and gate keeping is an easier approach. Uniting around politics or nations or status is a far quicker way to draw a crowd. But there are no short cuts to a better world.
The way of Pentecost is slow and labor intensive. In fact, the rest of the Christian Scriptures are letters to local churches and their leaders trying to figure out how to do this well. It takes intentionality and patience and time and dying to ourselves and grace and peace making. It is work.
But this work, more than the high control and exclusionary approach, makes us holy. Here we learn to really love our neighbor when, despite all the ways they (or we) are wrong, they sit across the table from us. In community united by a hunger for the things of God we learn empathy for our (real or perceived) enemies and drop our weapons. In this work we learn humility and to be slow to speak. In this effort we find pictures of faithfulness and opportunities for growth and the strength we need to keep going. Here we find the God that dwells amongst us.
It may be hard and slow and even scary, but it looks like Jesus.
So may we trust the Spirit of God unleashed into the world. May we let go of our need for control and conformity. May we be moved out into the world. And may the Spirit of God keep showing up in ways that surprise us and make us new.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus enters the city to much fanfare. He precedes to the center of religious and political life and flips over the tables used to exchange foreign currency and purchase animals for sacrifice. He causes quite a scene, this Jesus guy.
None of the tables he tosses are necessarily bad or immoral. In fact, they were needed services for the system at hand. We don’t know for sure if those selling and exchanging were being greedy or deceitful, though it is often understood this way.
What we do know is Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all people.” The passage Jesus quotes (Isaiah 56) says this house will include foreigners, eunuchs, and “still others” who do not yet belong.
We read in Matthew’s account that after the tables are flipped and people scattered, the “blind and lame came to Jesus” and children’s voices filled the temple.
This Holy Week it would do us well to focus on those filling the void Jesus created. To give attention to the small in stature and status, the dependent, the marginalized, the folks who likely couldn’t or didn’t participate in the system.
It would do us well to ask if we ever get so caught up in how things are working for us that we fail to notice how they aren’t working for other folks. Might we fail to realize that crowds and status and affirmation lull us into a false sense of faithfulness? Might even our goals of bigger and better naturally exclude those most in need of community and wholeness and good news?
It might do us well to ask if our structures and systems have become so central that they’ve become the mission itself. So central that we allow them to devour our resources and our neighbors. So central that we will proceed and protect them at any cost. So central that we miss the point entirely.
Have we missed the heart of God while pursuing good things? Have we excluded those who God intends to include? Do we rob ourselves of glimpses of the the world God intends while we chase after comfort, security, and prominence? Have we built barriers that Jesus would rather tear down?
This Holy Week, may we find some tables to flip or wrenches to throw into the machine. May we refuse to get so caught up in the process that we neglect its purpose. And may we discover ourselves smack dab in the middle of God’s dream for creation, surrounded by all the “others” and finding our salvation all wrapped up together.
Some days get lost in the shuffle. Days like the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
While some of us return to work and return unwanted gifts and continue pretending we’ll start resolutions next week, the historic Church has chosen this week (various branches observe it on different days) to remember the innocent lives lost around the nativity of Jesus.
In the story that has led to candlelight worship and caroling and God With Us, there is a tragic chapter. The local puppet king is not thrilled that a rumored new king has been born. New kings and claims to the throne are a threat to his way of life.
So he does what empires do and destroys those who might weaken his image, wealth, and prominence. And he does it without any regard to collateral damage. Herod has all the boys in and around Bethlehem murdered. Anyone 2 years and under is killed.
The complete and utter agony of it all. The pain of mothers who have nursing babies torn from their arms. The grief of fathers who were just helping guide first steps. The lives extinguished. The long hoped for and dearly loved, gone in act of raw evil carried out by petty, powerful men and their complicit followers.
The Church asks us to remember.
And in our remembering, we are brought face to face with the reality that the way of Jesus is a threat to empire. It is a threat to any who hold or achieve power through corruption or violence.
We remember that the birth of Jesus is not just a cute story we tell before exchanging gifts. It is inherently political. It points to a different and better Kingdom. One without backroom deals or borders or bombs and one where the King serves rather than demands, loves rather than fears, dies rather than kills.
The way of Jesus and the way of empire are incompatible. They are opposites.
Our struggle is empires didn’t fade out with Herod or Rome. They operate in our world with impunity, gripping power and trampling others in the name of “the greater good.” The way of empire is seen in our political structure, for certain, but also shows up in our homes and ethics and churches.
Sure, we’d never condone the mass murder of children but the values and motivations of empire appear long before any blood is spilled. Empire quietly shapes our why and our what and quickly deviates from the way of Jesus.
When those unlike us automatically become enemies. When we are willing, as one pastor put it, to leave bodies behind the bus. When we ignore the plight of the desperate. When we believe the myth of scarcity over the abundance of grace. We are on the path of empire.
When the old or young or different or messy are pushed aside. When folks chase power and prestige at nearly any cost. When we are more machine than human. More warrior than healer. We are more like Herod than the baby he feared.
We see threats around every corner. We cling to comfort. We look out for number one. We take short cuts to get to or remain at the top.
But the way of Jesus is down. Is as vulnerable as a newborn. Is as slow as a child learning to walk, then read, then grow into an adult. It washes feet and welcomes children. It is not self-seeking, even when seeking self might lead to more privilege or prowess or influence.
We can pray and evangelize and build cathedrals and sing the songs and still be caught in the web of empire. It is sticky because it is practical. It get results, pads resumes, and keeps us fed. It convinces us we are the chosen ones. We are the rightful leaders, rulers, party, church, or whatever.
Which of course is a lie, a scheme to help us sleep at night. An end to justify any awful means.
Ultimately we have a choice: We can reflect Herod or Jesus. We can follow the slaughterer of toddlers or the Prince of Peace.
In our workplaces and worship centers and politics and boardrooms and around our dinner tables. We have to decide which kind of kingdom we want and which kind of king we follow. We have to decide if we will abandon our claims to the throne. The martyrdom of these children, and the victims of any and all empires from then till now, ask us to pick a side, to choose a way forward.
May we remember the Holy Innocents. May their deaths redirect our minds and hearts from the things of empire to the things of God. May we be repulsed by the way of Herod in all its forms. And may we be captivated by the way of the helpless babe, laid in a manger.
I’ve been radicalized to believe that “good news of great joy that will be for all people” is actually true.
That what God wants to do in the world and for the world is truly good. For everyone.
Too often we hear only good news for me and people like me. Good news for those who toe the party line. Or behave. Or those who believe the right things (read: agree with my narrow theological interpretation).
Which often means bad news for those unlike me. And those who interpret the Bible differently. Or doubt. Or behave in ways I don’t. Or don’t fit my preconceived ideas. Or subscribe to another or no faith.
Those of us who believe the story of the first Christmas should ask ourselves, were the angels lying or being hyperbolic when they said it was good news for everybody?
Or when the prophet Isaiah said God will prepare a feast for “all people” and swallow up death and wipe away tears from “all faces,” do you think he actually meant… all the faces?
Or when God told Abram that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” or when the Psalmist wrote “Every part of the earth will remember” and “every family among all the nations” will praise God, was that accurate? When John the Revelator sees every tribe and tongue or says “All nations will come” to give God praise, is that not real?
There are certainly places in Scripture where God showing up sounds like bad news. Where people experience judgement and get what is coming to them. Even in the Christmas story Mary says God “pulls down the powerful” and “sends the rich away empty handed,” which doesn’t sound all that great for them. I could easily compile other examples to say the exact opposite of what I am trying to say.
The question is, which version of events do I believe? Which do I hope for? Which one do I live toward? And which one looks most like the God revealed in Jesus?
What I believe God wants and who I believe God loves and how I believe God works and where I think this world is heading impacts my attitudes, politics, church, spending, biases, and all the other things. In the (fantastic) book Everything Sad is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri says, “What you believe about the future will change how you live in the present.”
Do I believe in a future that is good for all creation? Do I even want to believe in something like that? Can I trust in the goodness of God and rest in the mystery that with justice and grace everything is being made new?
If I can’t, perhaps I become more prejudiced and circle the wagons and view others with suspicion and look down my nose in judgement at those not like me. Maybe I build bigger walls and drop bigger bombs and draw harder lines. Perhaps I announce, in word or deed, bad news for anyone not on my team or anyone who doesn’t look, act, or believe like me.
However, if I see God’s coming as life giving and redeeming for the whole world, if I’m bent toward “good news of great joy for all people,” I will at least find myself walking the path of Jesus, who models again and again the expansive love of God. For lepers and tax cheats and prostitutes and criminals. For zealots and religious leaders and the demon possessed and the pushed to the margins. For insiders and outsiders, foreigners and skeptics, those making a mess and those on whom the mess has spilled.
Perhaps in walking the way with Jesus and longing for the Kingdom of God to be made real everywhere and for everyone, I find myself experiencing things like hope, peace, joy, and love. Perhaps it allows me to drop my defenses and the need for control and the anxiety inducing habit of trying to convince everyone to do and believe what I do and believe. And, just maybe, it makes it harder and harder to exclude anyone, even my enemies.
Perhaps this is when I am most Christlike. And where I find freedom and transformation and salvation.
Good news. Great joy. All people.
Could it be that simple?
In his book Nayeri also says, “Maybe we get the endings we deserve. Or maybe we get the endings we practice.”
What if that is the truth? And what if we and our neighbors actually deserve good? And what if we practiced wiping the tears from all faces and throwing the most inclusive feasts and inviting all the people and offering extravagant amounts of mercy and grace and then in the end find we have practiced our way right into the world of God’s dreams?
What if what happens at Christmas is an invitation to believe that all will be made right? That God is really, truly with us and for us. That everything sad is untrue and the worst things will not be the last things?
And what if that is the message the angels want the shepherds and townsfolk and pagans and religious elite and screw ups and put together and doubters and weepers and burned out and smug and oppressed and kings to really hear?
May we be captured by the deep and real good news of Christmas. May our dreams for the world align with God’s. May all people, all of em’, find exactly everything they possibly need to belong, flourish, and have abundant life. And may we hope and practice for the day when all things will be made right.
Do you ever wonder where God is? Why God is silent? Do you carry anger at the injustice you see? Or question the goodness of a God who allows these things?
You could be a prophet.
Habakkuk is an oft overlooked portion of Scripture, but this leader & spokesperson for the Divine let’s God have it.
“Lord, how long will I call for help & you not listen? I cry out to you, but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice? The instructions of God are useless. Justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Raw. Honest. Harsh. Prophetic.
Habakkuk is not unfaithful here. He isn’t told to stop or repent. He also doesn’t get easy answers. Or a tangible solution to his problems.
Feeling these things or asking these questions doesn’t make him a heretic or mean he walked away from his beliefs. In fact, I’d argue that by asking them he leaned into faith.
He believed there is a good God & now wants that God to show up. The God he was told about. The God he was promised. The silence & absence of God trouble him. As, perhaps, they should.
What if anger & doubt are not threats to faith, but expressions of it? What if we spent time & created space to hold these feelings, rather than skip to the platitudes & life lessons? What if we made room for “letting God have it” rather than pretend everything is shiny & bright? What if people didn’t feel the need to walk away from faith or community for asking the same questions as a person who has a book of the Bible named after them?
When everything is terrible & falling apart, “How long, oh Lord?” may be the most faithful prayer we can offer.
May we find the courage to name what is wrong. May we have faith enough to be bothered by what seems like silence & absence from God. May we expect a better God. And may we create space for the prophets among us who don’t have all the answers, but are asking all the right questions.
For a while now I’ve been bothered by much of what I’m witnessing in the Christian world.
From where I sit, a large chunk of the Church presents as meaner, colder, less compassionate, and less principled today than it was a handful of years ago.
I watch as people I’ve known to be kind, caring folk resort to name calling, hateful language, and even calls to violence. I watch as people dismiss gentleness or concern for neighbor as weakness. As people who claim to follow Truth spread falsehoods and deny reality even as it gasps for breath right in front of them.
The only explanation I can think of is not a comfortable one – we become like what we worship. I fear too many of us have fixed our eyes on political power and those who wield it rather than Jesus.
“We vote for a president not a pastor” has demonstrated itself a bankrupt idea. For many our conversations, online presence, and the way we treat each other has proven not just our votes are at stake, but also our very hearts and minds and souls.
It turns out that who we vote for and champion and the media we consume and the memes we share all shape us. They form us in their image. The word for this is discipleship.
I wonder whose disciples we have become? Whose message do we spread? Whose language do we adopt? Whose values do we carry? In my view we continue to look and sound less like Jesus (no matter how much lip service we give him) and more like our preferred politicians.
This is problematic. Scripture calls it idolatry.
It happens without us realizing it and I am beyond convinced it is happening throughout our country.
I say this from a place of contrition. I am a guilty party. I must be better. We must be better.
For the sake of Christ. For the sake of our witness to the world. For the sake of the healing we could be offering in these troubled times.
We have much work to do. We must relearn what it means to be Christlike. We must unlearn the stories of any competing narratives. We have much to ask forgiveness for and much realignment of priorities to get after.
It will start with humility and repentance. With taking seriously the call to knock it off and turn from the direction we are going (a direction that is leading to our destruction) and head back the way God intends, whatever the cost.
It will not be easy. It will not be fun. It won’t seat us in power or make us rich, but it is the only way we will find what we are most in need of and the only way the Church can continue to call herself Christian.
This day/this season/this year is heavy. The decisions being made, the polarization of our nation and churches, the pain that plays out in our homes, on the news, and on social media.
As we vote and watch results and wonder about the direction of our nation, I invite you to use this reflection to re-center and remind yourself. While elections are important and have a role to play in the world-as-it-should-be, we ultimately belong to a different kind of Kingdom and a different kind of King. Whatever happens in the coming days does not change our call to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Whatever comes in the coming days our hope, and the hope of the world, is Jesus Christ. Our allegiance lies with him.
Below is Scripture, prayer prompts, and songs reminding us who we are and Who we belong to. Today we cast our anxieties on our God. We turn our faces toward our King in hope, in distress, and in anticipation.
If you can, I’d encourage you to read the Scriptures out loud and join the singing as well. It may take about 30 minutes all together so if breaking it into sections helps, go for it.
May God meet us here. May God give us peace. May God help us be faithful.
Watch – The Apostles’ Creed
Read – Psalm 146 (Common English Bible)
1 Praise the Lord!
Let my whole being praise the Lord! 2 I will praise the Lord with all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
3 Don’t trust leaders; don’t trust any human beings— there’s no saving help with them! 4 Their breath leaves them, then they go back to the ground. On that very same day, their plans die too.
5 The person whose help is the God of Jacob— the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God— is truly happy! 6 God: the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, God: who is faithful forever, 7 who gives justice to people who are oppressed, who gives bread to people who are starving! The Lord: who frees prisoners. 8 The Lord: who makes the blind see. The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low. The Lord: who loves the righteous. 9 The Lord: who protects immigrants, who helps orphans and widows, but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!
10 The Lord will rule forever! Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!
Listen – My Hope is Built/The Solid Rock – Norton Hall Band
Read – 1 Timothy 2:1-6 (CEB)
First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. 2 Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and it pleases God our savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time.
Prayer – Use these prompts from World Vision
Pray for candidates to seek God’s guidance.
Pray that candidates (and all of us!) would have listening ears and soft hearts.
Pray for candidates to address poverty and justice issues.
Pray for strength and encouragement for our leaders and election candidates.
Pray that our leaders would commit to working together (and that we would too).
Pray that we would see each other through Jesus’ eyes.
Read – Psalm 22:25-31 (CEB)
25 I offer praise in the great congregation because of you; I will fulfill my promises in the presence of those who honor God. 26 Let all those who are suffering eat and be full! Let all who seek the Lord praise him! I pray your hearts live forever! 27 Every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord; every family among all the nations will worship you. 28 Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations. 29 Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will worship him; all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him; my being also lives for him. 30 Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. 31 They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done.
Listen – Let Justice Roll – Orlando World Outreach Center
Pause – Spend a minute or two in silence
Listen – Your Peace Will Make Us One – Audrey Assad
Read – Revelation 4:1-5 (CEB)
After this I looked and there was a door that had been opened in heaven. The first voice that I had heard, which sounded like a trumpet, said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in a Spirit-inspired trance and I saw a throne in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne. 3 The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and surrounding the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 4 Twenty-four thrones, with twenty-four elders seated upon them, surrounded the throne. The elders were dressed in white clothing and had gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came lightning, voices, and thunder. In front of the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God.
Read – Revelation 5 (CEB)
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. It had writing on the front and the back, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 I saw a powerful angel, who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. 4 So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. 7 He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They took up a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and by your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will rule on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the sound of many angels surrounding the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They numbered in the millions—thousands upon thousands. 12 They said in a loud voice,
“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might, and honor, glory, and blessing.”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea—I heard everything everywhere say,
“Blessing, honor, glory, and power belong to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb forever and always.”
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Listen – Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson
Read and be reminded.
Hebrews 1:3 – The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty.
Psalm 47:8 – God is king over the nations. God sits on his holy throne.
Psalm 103:19 – The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. God’s faithful love lasts forever!
2 Give thanks to the God of all gods— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of all lords— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 4 Give thanks to the only one who makes great wonders— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 5 Give thanks to the one who made the skies with skill— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 6 Give thanks to the one who shaped the earth on the water— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 7 Give thanks to the one who made the great lights— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 8 The sun to rule the day— God’s faithful love lasts forever. 9 The moon and the stars to rule the night— God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Listen – Doxology – Maverick City Music
Benediction – Hebrews 13:20-21
20 May the God of peace, who brought back the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with every good thing to do his will, by developing in us what pleases him through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory forever and always. Amen.
Thanks for praying and worshiping with me. Below are some more songs to carry you through this day.
Whatever happens Tuesday, you are invited to a meal at my house.
No matter who you vote for or where you come from. No matter the language you speak or your stance on the designated hitter. No matter who you love or who you worship. No matter if you cheer for the Dallas Cowboys or dip chicken nuggets in ketchup or are one of the many who have unfriended me because my political views annoy you.
You are invited.
Because I am hungry for a better world. At times I am starving for it.
I feel an ache in my gut, a gnawing sensation that I cannot shake.
My stomach knots as I watch the way we interact with people that we disagree with. My heart breaks as I watch how we form our opinions and tackle or dodge the unique challenges of our day. As I watch us avoid critical thinking to parrot tired, worn talking points that neglect both reason and truth. As we refuse to listen to information that challenges our preconceived ideas. As we draw lines around “those people” and do violence with our words, attitudes, and actions.
Our nation is suffering under the weight of hate, disease, death, apathy, prejudice, inequity, violence, fear, hypocrisy, deceit, and polarization.
There must be a world better than this.
We can to better. Love better. Think better. Form better conclusions. We can listen better. Vote better. Treat each other better.
So, you are invited over.
Not because our differences don’t matter. Not in some sort of hollow call to unity that avoids addressing hard topics. Not in an effort to ignore the deep pain much of our nation is experiencing or to put a Band-Aid over the yawning chasm that exists these days.
But in order to move towards a better world. In order to use my position (A position I understand not everyone has) to help bring healing amidst so much brokenness.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I imagine if we sit at the table together our walls will come down. If we turn off cable news and spend time listening to each other’s stories we will be much closer to the truth. If we stop forming opinions based on memes and instead based them on real life, flesh and blood people serving us green bean casserole we’d be much less hostile.
It is a lot harder to call a person names when they are sitting at our elbow. It is a lot harder to dismiss a person’s story or hardship as they play with our children on the floor. It is harder to retreat into the echo chamber when we fully see and know who is standing right in front of us.
When you are truly, genuinely, urgently important to me I cannot stick my fingers in my ears and ignore what you have to say. When you are important to me I will realize that my freedom and your freedom and my future and your future are wrapped up together.
I cannot disentangle myself from you when you are sitting at my table. Shedding your tears, sharing your laughs, hoping your hopes. At the table we level the playing field. We are invited into one another’s world and if we are willing to listen, if we are willing to learn, if we are willing to love each other more than we love our long held ideas or our power or our privilege – if we ever get to the place where we tangibly love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves – we might just find ourselves changed.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I am forced to engage them, to hear them, to give them space.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I can no longer hide behind, “I don’t have a racist/sexist/hateful bone in my body” and must be forced to reconcile any ideas, laws, or practices that harm people even when I’m unaffected or unaware.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I cannot escape to my favorite talking head who is paid to enflame the base and must instead build relationship with the people right in front of me.
When I truly know and love my neighbor, I cannot support what is good for me if it ends up being harmful to you.
I am convinced that knowing each other well will fight against the destructive ideas that exist in our landscape. I am convinced that proximity will eventually, slowly perhaps, lead the way to truth and truth will move us toward love. And love will give birth to flourishing.
When we know each other, fully, we will be better. We will be more just, more peaceful, more joyous, more full of grace. More like the world God intends.
So, I offer you Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday. I offer you breakfast for dinner and leftover night. We do driveway s’mores on Fridays and you are invited.
You can come. And sit and listen. I’ll listen too. And I’ll invite my neighbors and ask you to listen to them. The ones from different churches and religions, different skin colors and backgrounds, different relationships and yard signs.
And maybe, just maybe, the better world we are hungry for will slowly take root. Perhaps with each bite of cobbler and each relationship made we will move toward a world where we truly mean “liberty and justice for all.”
I believe one day all that is wrong in the world will be made right. I also believe that we can participate in that reality even now as we build the world of tomorrow.
I believe this world can be built on truth and love. That in the end, truth and love will conquer lies and hate, death and destruction, fear and division.
We need not continue like this *gestures broadly at all the things*.
A better world is possible. I’m hungry for it.
And, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy
On my best days, I believe this. On my worst days, I need this.
So may we have the courage to sit at the table. May we have the awareness to make room at the table for others. May we have the boldness to invite those we don’t yet know and those we assume we do. May our proximity change our hearts, our ideas, our actions, and our world. And may we hunger no more.
Are masks good or bad? Is Bill Gates benevolent or evil? Is there a deep state conspiracy to profit off fear? Is a shadow government pulling the strings? Or is big pharma? Can vaccines be trusted? Can scientists? Or are they intentionally hiding findings that could help us?
These are questions I’ve seen throughout my social media feeds. People, in an attempt to discover what is true, are sharing anything and everything that confirms their suspicions about *gestures widely*.
There is a lot of noise out here. A lot. Some of it is true, some of it has truth amongst opinion, some is flat out lies, and some is intentionally designed to sow discord and make us miserable. And based on my desire to stress eat an entire sleeve of Oreos, I think that part is working.
Social media has elevated every voice. This can be a good and beautiful thing, but can also quickly become problematic. Voices that are dishonest, hateful, and have less than healthy motivations have a chance to be heard and spread widely.
How do we tell the difference? How do we know who to believe? What can be trusted? And how to do we cut back on the constant chatter about what is true? I have some suggestions.
But before that we should know the damage all this noise is doing. Every debunked article we share makes us less trustworthy people. Every false narrative we push is bearing false witness. We hinder our influence in the world when we are quick to jump on each and every claim we come across.
We are becoming suspicious, fearful people who trust no one. We are being shaped by the media we consume. It forms our priorities, our worldview, and the way we love (or hate) our neighbor. This is not a healthy way to live.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t search for truth or ask hard questions. I think there are times when truth is covered up, when the popular opinion is wrong, and the lone voice is the one proclaiming what it is real. On our search for answers, though, we need to be careful, thoughtful, and consistent.
We could probably do without sharing every article or video that confirms our opinion. When we share what we think is true, rather than what we know is true, this adds to the confusion. If we don’t know the veracity of a claim, we shouldn’t share it. Even if we believe it. We shouldn’t say, “I don’t know if this is true, but…” By clicking share we are adding our weight to the argument. We can hold an opinion without proclaiming it as gospel truth to our social networks.
I’d suggest that we not believe everything we see or hear. Simply because someone made a video or podcast doesn’t make it true. Just because a website says it doesn’t make it so. Anyone can make content and upload it. You can find people on the internet who think the country of Finland doesn’t exist, Elvis is alive, and the Dallas Cowboys are a good football team. All these things are demonstrably untrue.
I’d suggest we ask for proof. Facts. Data. People should be able back up their claims, and that goes for the people sharing it as well. Before you share it, Google it. Or Ask Jeeves it. Or whatever the people are using these days. Fact check. This may mean crunching the numbers to see if they are good at math. I had a friend do this for a popular video going around recently and it turns out the math was bad, but it had already been shared by many of my friends as proof of a reality that doesn’t exist.
Look up who a person is and what things they are known for doing. If their claim is valid there should be evidence. Scientific evidence can be reproduced. Behavioral evidence repeats itself. People have histories and resumes that add to or take away from their credibility. If it can’t be verified, perhaps don’t share it?
In our rush to be right we often times share something that is wrong. I am guilty of doing this. Perhaps we should slow down. Take time to think it through and read about it. Ask the opinions of people we respect and trust to be honest. Being slow to speak (or click share) would cut down on a tremendous amount of noise in our world. We could always wait. We don’t need to be the first to champion every cause and, this one is hard for me, everyone doesn’t need to know our opinion about everything.
(I fact checked that last statement with my wife and she confirms its legitimacy)
Another thing we can do is ask questions. The more questions we ask the more we will discover what legs a claim stands on. Where do you get your information? How did you come up with these numbers? What’s your background? Do you think pineapple belongs on pizza? Questions help uncover reality. If someone won’t or can’t answer questions, they probably shouldn’t be trusted.
And we should ask questions of ourselves. Why do I believe this? Why do I want it shared? What are my motivations? Perhaps we aren’t always above board either.
We are living in troubled times. Our politics are polarized, our world is battling a pandemic, and most of us are out of our normal routines. Mix in news articles that contradict each other and we have a recipe for noise, confusion, and anxiety. We can rise above it. We can refuse to turn the volume up and can instead help turn it down.
I think it’s desperately needed for our health, for the good of our world, and for our reputations.
I’m going to try my best to think through my shares, my likes, my retweets. To filter my opinions more. To ensure what I share is real rather than imagined. I won’t get it all right, but I’d invite you to join me. We can do better than this.