Hush the Noise, Cease the Strife

img_6060It’s a busy time of year. We run. We shop. We bake. We visit. We wrap. We wait in line. And in traffic. We decorate. We host. We travel. We carol. We volunteer. And that’s just Tuesday.

Our stress goes up as our calendars grow full and our receipts pile high, as we juggle in-laws and office parties. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, we say, but I can’t help wondering if we rush and fret right past the most wonderful parts of it.

There is a version of an old Christmas carol that sings, “O hush the noise and cease the strife and hear the angels sing.” I can’t get that line out of my head.

It has me thinking about about the noise and strife in my life. There is a lot of it. It all has an impact on me. Some of it exhausts me. Some distracts me. All of it influences me in some way or another.

Maybe silencing it for a short time would be beneficial to me. Maybe I’d hear more angels singing. Or children laughing. Or friends sharing their lives with me.

Maybe hushing and ceasing would allow me to be more present with those that matter most. Perhaps I’d be healthier for it. Maybe I’d eat and sleep better. And be less angry. Or at least shake my head in disgust a few less times a day. Maybe I’d eventually discover that “peace on earth and goodwill to men” thing.

I’m certain there are times to make noise. And there are good reasons to wade into strife, especially as peacemakers and justice seekers. But there are times when we need rest and reset. When we need to withdraw for our well-being and the good of those we are tasked with loving. The journey is long and if we aren’t careful it can eat us alive, making us cynical or apathetic and leaving us empty inside.

As this is the most wonderfully busy time of the year, perhaps its a good time to practice hushing the noise and ceasing the strife. As we run from event to event and drown ourselves in around the clock media coverage, perhaps it is a good time to hit pause and take a deep breath or two.

The Christian calendar starts with a season called Advent. In Advent we wait in anticipation and prepare for the coming of Jesus (both his birth, which we celebrate anew each year, and his eventual return to make all things new). Each year we remember our need for saving and the hope that is found in a God who shows up in our world. This year Advent runs from December 2 to 24.

I’m planning on adopting some practices during these weeks to help me make the most of my time. For me it is important that my heart is ready for Jesus’ arrival. I don’t want to miss it while I’m busying crafting clever tweets about how wrong someone is. I don’t want to miss it by filling my world with obligations and shopping and non-stop running.

I don’t want to be so busy celebrating what we call Christmas that I miss Christ.

I don’t want to be surrounded by such incessant noise that I miss the call to come and celebrate the birth of Christ the King.

So I’ve come up with a list of practices I believe would make a difference in my life. Not so I can end up on the Nice List or get some heavenly reward. But to ensure I’m ready. To ensure I’m present. To ensure I’m listening to what and who matters most.

To hush the noise and cease the strife.

I share them here just in case you’d want to practice one or two of them with me from now until Christmas Day.

Whether you try these or something else or nothing else, may we be ready to meet the child who is coming. May we hear his voice and call. May we find his hope. May we rise above the noise and strife that distracts or disrupts. May we find peace and rest. And may we find this season as wonderful as all our songs proclaim.


A sampling of practices for a more peaceable Advent

Turn off cable news. I’m convinced we are not meant to listen to people telling us what we should be angry about night after night. Turn it off for an extended time. Watch the local news if you need some connection to the outside world. I promise if anything earth shattering happens you’ll hear about it. Cable news isn’t inherently bad, but if its adding to our distrust of neighbors or elevated doses of anxiety to our lives, maybe we could do with a break.

Abstain from social media. Shut it down for a while. Block out the noise. You probably don’t need to know everyone’s opinions. And you (read: I) certainly don’t need to enter into anymore unproductive Facebook debates. Or, if that isn’t an option…

Uninstall your Facebook and Twitter apps. You’ll be less likely to mindlessly check in on what your former neighbor’s daughter ate for lunch and what conspiracy that one person is peddling on your news feed again. You can still check in from your browser, it will simply be more intentional. Of if that is too much to ask…

Commit to one month of no potentially divisive social media posts. Stop sharing everything you think slam dunks on the people you disagree with. Even if you know just how right it it is. Instead share pictures of your grandkids or puppies or stories that enlarge even the smallest of hearts three sizes. Don’t contribute to the strife in others’ lives. You can do it and we need you to.

Have dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Preferably out at a restaurant so no one has to do dishes. And tip well. Friendship is a gift to the soul. We need reminded we are not alone and there are people who love us.

Say no. Find a way to resist filling every moment of every day. Make sure you have an evening at home at least once or twice a week. Ensure you have time to get the laundry done so that the mounds of clothes don’t taunt you every time you drag yourself in from the latest obligation. Create space for yourself.

Play board games. Gather friends or family and spend time laughing over Scrabble or Ticket to Ride. Be together and have fun.

Go to bed earlier than you normally would. Rest is important. I’m terrible at this. There is always something to do. Or those few moments of quiet in the house are too enjoyable to waste on sleep. But we need it. It makes a difference in physical and emotional health. An extra hour of sleep over four weeks sounds pretty beautiful and is likely needed if you are anything like me.

Shut out distractions. Maybe its a phone game or a person who is no good for you. Maybe its not something bad, just something unproductive. Can you set it aside until Christmas? Would your life be better for it?

Spend less. Credit card debt is not healthy. Not knowing how we will pay the rent next month is not helpful. Don’t buy into the idea that we have to spend a lot to show we love a lot.

Hand make a gift or two. Hello Pinterest. Or maybe you aren’t crafty. Hand write a letter. Take time to think of a person or persons who matter to you and instead of throwing money at them, give them a gift with meaning.

Be generous. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “Being generous is the most fun you you can have.” I believe it. Share with others. Open your home. Give cookies. Give grace. Generosity changes us. Its why Scrooge and the Grinch are the villains this time of year. Don’t believe the lie of scarcity. Share what you have and watch your joy grow.

Less television. Especially Hallmark movies (just kidding). Perhaps just sit by the fire or Christmas lights. And talk. Or read a book. Or just rest in the quiet. Embrace silence. Especially if the idea of silence bothers you.

Go slow. Don’t speed. Don’t honk when the light turns green. Don’t eat fast food. Make yourself slow down. Slowing down means we have to plan better. It keeps us from the chaotic stress of constantly running. Maybe we will notice something we would have missed otherwise.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for all you aren’t doing or the ways this year didn’t turn out how you’d hoped. Don’t compare yourself to that person who looks like they have it all together (they don’t). Give yourself permission to mess up. We all have room to grow, but we won’t get there by dragging ourselves down.

Be kind to others. Cashiers are extra busy. Wait staff have kids at home with babysitters. Teachers are herding over-tired and sugared up children. Some folks are hurting. Some are missing loved ones. Some are struggling in heavy ways. Take the time to be kind. Make it a discipline. Speak life. Hold your tongue. Give compliments. Be a blessing.

Study your way to Christmas. Join an Advent reading plan. Read the Scriptures in a posture of listening. Hear the good news again and again. Some options here, here, and here.

Perhaps you can think of other things we could start or stop in the coming weeks. Let’s be intentional about how we get to Christmas this year. Together lets hush the noise and cease the strife.

 

 

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Surviving Thanksgiving with *Those* People

12I have a friend who lives a long distance from family and is considering not making the trek home for Thanksgiving. They are anxious about the conversations that will surround the table and fill the hours around the meal.

They don’t vote the way their extended family votes and they dread the offhand comments, the arguments, and the judgement that will come their way this week. The mental energy needed to absorb it all without overturning the table or damaging relationships is more than they feel they can handle right now.

This is who we are in 2018: it is wholly exhausting to share a meal or weekend with people we disagree with politically.

This reveals a deep problem within our culture, where we love our political agendas more than the people who share our blood. Where we assume everyone must think like us, or at least all the smart, loving, faithful people. Where we assign moral value to things that are morally ambivalent and justify things that are immoral as long as it’s our side doing it. Where we are more loyal to pundits and politicians than to those sharing our last name.

It’s ugly. Its unfortunate. It’s real. And many of us will spend time this week navigating these circumstances.

So how do we survive?

We can avoid any and all political talk, but that doesn’t seem likely, or helpful. We should be able to discuss these things. Politics matter and in a world where we infrequently leave our echo chambers, its important to have respectful conversations with those who think differently. Even those who are wrong.

So while we can’t control other people’s behavior and language, we can control ours. And perhaps we can set the tone and keep ourselves from becoming *those* people to folks who disagree with us.

For starters, let’s avoid blanket statements or assumptions. Don’t speak for or label entire groups of people.

“Republicans hate poor people” is not helpful, no matter how strongly you believe it. Same with “Democrats hate baby Jesus.” These things shut down conversation and put up defenses. Don’t do it. Use specific examples, not broad brushes.

Let’s ask good questions. Not, “How could you?” or “Didn’t I raise you better?” But questions that come from a place of humility and assume a posture of learning.

  • Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion?
  • Can you show me a source for that information?
  • What do you think about this?

Curiosity demonstrates that these people matter to us. We may learn something. Or perhaps they will. Good questions dig deeper and require thoughtfulness. Good questions lead to understanding.

Let’s also listen well. Hear what people are saying. Don’t formulate your argument while they are talking. Care enough about them to value their concerns.

Listening is a lost art in the age of social media and late night news. Let’s take the time to take in what is being said. At a minimum we will understand each other better. Perhaps we will hear things that aren’t all that different than what we want as well.

And for those who like me claim to follow Jesus, everything we do should be marked by love. If we can’t share a meal with our family without making hateful or bigoted or dismissive comments about *those* people, I’m not sure we are living the way we have been tasked. Disagreeing is okay. Standing up for what is right is necessary. But how we do it, how we respond, is essential to Christians.

In a handwritten sermon outline Dr. Martin Luther King Jr answered the question of why we should love our enemies. He wrote: “Because the process of hate for hate brings disaster to all involved. Because hate distorts the whole personality. Because love has within in a redemptive power.”

I’m not convinced that everyone who disagrees with me on taxes or healthcare or immigration is my enemy, but sometimes we act like they are. And for the Christian we have a clear mandate on how to respond to *those* people: love them.

Hate brings disaster but love is redemptive.

If we can’t be right and loving at the same time, we are wrong.

If we can’t hold both our political values and the people we gather with around the table, lets let go of the politics.

If we can’t speak truth in love, than our truth doesn’t matter.

If we can’t see past bad positions to care for the person in front of us, we have our priorities out of sync.

If we call people to a better way, but that way isn’t marked by love, we are lost.

This Thanksgiving, lets do better. Let’s make room. Lets be kind and loving and patient. Lets laugh and share memories and tell what we are thankful for. And lets disagree well.

Oh, and we should eat lots of pie too. That helps.

Happy Thanksgiving people. And good luck.

(It should be noted that there are indeed times to avoid people who are toxic to us. Use discretion and be aware of what is healthy for you. If some place or person is not safe for you, the advice here won’t make it any better.)

On Bad Eggs and Good Fruit.

Julie Dawn Cole as Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971

In Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory he has fancy geese that lay golden eggs. He also has an “educated eggdicator” that can differentiate between good and bad eggs. Good eggs get shipped out. Bad eggs go down the chute.

Spoiled little Veruca Salt is found to be a bad egg and ends up down the chute as well. I’m afraid there are a whole lot of us like Veruca who would fail the eggdicator’s inspection.

We are a mess. We struggle with simple things like truth and kindness. We continually lower the bar on what is acceptable behavior and language for a civilized society. We are less and less reasonable while more and more bombastic and hostile.

We see it on the news, in the White House, on the streets, around our tables.

We not only disagree, we degrade and bite and devour each other. We’ve lost mutual respect and we’ve stopped searching for common ground or decency.

Bad eggs.

While this troubles me a great deal, what is most alarming is that the church has jumped headfirst into this mess.

We claim that every person is made in the image of God and in the next breath curse them for disagreeing with us.

We gather on Sunday hoping our neighbors will come to Jesus, then spend the week calling them names on the internet.

We teach our children that words matter and then unflinchingly applaud people who have no control over their tongue.

We are quick to excuse and condone ugly behavior as long as the person doing it agrees with our politics or worldview. “We aren’t electing a pastor,” we say. “No one is perfect.”

“They just say like it is,” we repeat, appreciating their bluntness. We laugh when they insult or cut someone down. We pretend this is leadership. We think this is just.

But the eggdicator doesn’t lie. Bad eggs. This is not who we are intended to be.

We are the ones who are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We are those who claim to follow Jesus and his “love God and love people” message. We are people who proclaim grace and mercy and forgiveness.

Yet it feels like we are disregarding all this at a time when the world desperately needs us to embody these very things. I’m convinced the world is starving for something better. Something more than a continuous supply of bad eggs.

And the solution to bad eggs is, of course, good fruit.

Kindness and gentleness are dismissed by many as political correctness. Silly things that slow us down and show our weakness. But kindness and gentleness are neither silly nor weak, they are Fruit of the Spirit.

They are the result of the Spirit of God at work in us. They show up when we’ve allowed God to show up and have authority in our lives.

The same with self-control. And patience. And goodness. And faithfulness And love. And peace. And joy.

When God leads us, these things sprout up. We move from bad eggs to good fruit.

And they aren’t optional. We don’t get to turn them on or off depending on who we are talking to or about.

Sure, we won’t do this perfectly and every one of us has room for improvement, but lately I’ve been wondering if we even desire these traits anymore. Do we hunger for God to do this work in us? Or do other things have our attention?

Do I want peace or power?

Power corrupts while peace leads to life. Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers, not blessed are the power holders.

Is gentleness needed when we can just say it like it is?

Friends, if “saying it like it is” means being rude and callous in how we talk about other people than Christians are not permitted to say it like it is.

Is goodness going to help us win when the world is so bad and broken?

Church, goodness is the solution to the brokenness. It is the only way to truly win.

Patience? Do we have to?

I’d rather skip it myself but here I am, a recipient of God’s patience. I’ve been given chance after chance and time after time. In my best moments I’m eager to give others the same opportunities.

There is no joy in shaming others. No love either. There is no faithfulness without these other things. This is what we signed up for.

I do believe there are times for causing a scene and getting loud. Particularly in cases where we are being a voice for the voiceless and confronting injustice. But even then our motives must be pure. Are we motivated by the work of God in our lives or are we hungry for things like position and control and acclaim?

Do we have the stench of a bad egg or the sweet aroma of fresh fruit?

“You will know them by their fruit,” Jesus says. The things we bear in our life, from our words to our actions, will demonstrate who we will really are. That should cause us to pause. Who are we known as? When someone disagrees with our positions who do we act most like? When you bump up against us who spills out? Who is leading us? Who is at work in our hearts?

May it be the God who is love. May it be the God who is slow to anger and full of mercy. May it be the God who turns grief into joy and who is faithful from generation to generation. May we be people under the influence of the Prince of Peace. May we desire the gentleness of the Lamb who was slain. And may we be so full of this God’s goodness that it can’t help but show up in all we say and do.

May we bear good fruit in a world full of bad eggs. And may we show that there is something purer and higher and worth pursuing when we are tempted to follow others down the chute and up the ladder. May we have the courage and faithfulness to choose a better way.

Amen.

Do We Need More Churches?

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Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

On her first day of school, in a new town, in a new state, far away from friends she made in kindergarten and first grade, my daughter was playing a get-to-know-you game with her classmates. Their job was to introduce themselves to someone and share an interesting fact about their life.

My seven year old walked up to an adult (presumably a school employee) and gave her name followed by, “My family just moved here to start a new church.” The adult responded with a scrunched up face, “Ugh, don’t we have enough churches already?”

I’d like to set aside the rudeness this adult showed my child and address the question at hand: Don’t we have enough churches already?

As our family has begun a church planting adventure, we’ve heard this suggestion more than a few times. From friends, from pastors, from family, from strangers. From religious and non-religious people alike.

The consensus seems to be that we have enough churches in our community, and perhaps country, and there is no use for any more. While I disagree, I think there are some things we can find common ground on.

Do we have enough buildings that largely sit empty during the week? Yes.

Do we have enough inward facing groups only concerned about what’s in it for them? I’d say so.

Do we have enough congregations shuffling around the same members every few years? Definitely.

Do we have enough people whose only relationship with the world at large is to condemn it? Sadly, yes.

But do we have enough churches?

Can you ever have enough groups who actually (like seriously, for real) love their neighbors as much as they love themselves?

Can you ever have too many people who generously give their resources to help those in need?

Can you have too many groups who decide to set aside their differences to work together for the good of the entire community?

This is who the church is. We are not a building. We are not a franchise business competing for clientele. We are not a country club that exists only for the benefit of our members.

We are those charged with bringing light to dark places.

We make room for people who are messy and different and who don’t have all the answers.

We are people walking a journey together.

We are burden bearers, peacemakers, redemption seekers.

If we define church as a building where lots of dollars go to keeping the lights on, or as a group of grumpy people who gather out of fear that God will smite them otherwise, then I agree, we don’t need any more of those.

If we are intent on beating people with our bibles or becoming the mouthpieces for particular political parties, I agree again, no more of that. Add in no more legalism and no more generic, surface level self-help yuck and we have a deal.

We don’t need organizations that make people miserable and we don’t need groups that are seeking to be big and cool for the sake of being big and cool (and highly paid). We don’t need systems and structures that cover up (or cause) abuse or turn a blind eye to injustice.

But if we define church as people known for their love, well then, no we can’t have enough churches. If we are people who live purposely present in our workplaces and schools and grocery stores, seeking to bring goodness and mercy and kindness wherever we go, then no, we can’t have enough of that either.

If we are the people who will show up when no one else will, if we are those you feel safe with even when you are completely vulnerable, if we are those with whom you can finally find the ability to take a deep breath, then no, we can’t have too much of that.

The church feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger and cares for the sick. The church carries grace and truth. The church stands in the gap. The church lifts up. The church embodies hope.

The church is not a place, but a gathered people. People who are shaped and formed, then sent to bless the world. At our best the church is not a burden, but a gift.

When we forget who we are and our posture to the world, people will assume there are more than enough of us already. We will lose our children and our neighbors and maybe even consider throwing in the towel ourselves. We will become unnecessary and people will scrunch up their nose at the very thought of us. To borrow an idea from Jesus, we will have lost our usefulness and end up trampled underfoot.

I believe with all my heart that for the good of the world, we need local churches. Not necessarily churches of a particular type or style or size or even denomination, but of a humble faithfulness.

We need churches dedicated to the way of Jesus and the power of community and the reality of God’s desire for creation. We need churches who will be good news. Who will serve and bless their communities over and over again, not as a means to grow in numbers but as a way to grow in love.

And we need not shut down all our old churches and start again. We begin right where we are at with those imperfect people we’ve been surrounded by. Old churches, new churches, small churches, big churches, your church and my church. Christ’s Church.

May we remember who we are and to what we have been called. May we never lose our usefulness. And may we live in such a way that even those who don’t believe the same things we do get excited when we move into their neighborhood.

The Law is the Law

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“The law is the law.”

That is what I keep hearing.

The law is the law and there is nothing we can do about it. If the law is bad, well don’t break it, ’cause the law is the law.

Good or bad doesn’t matter. Just or unjust don’t factor in. Cruel or unusual are not the issue at hand.

Because the law is the law.

Which is why Christians don’t celebrate or study the person of Moses and his family’s blatant law breaking by hiding him from the army as a child.

And why we don’t mention the magi, commonly known as the wisemen, at Christmas time, who explicitly broke the king’s orders so that they could spare the life of the boy Jesus.

Because the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t read or study or preach from the letters of that scoundrel the Apostle Paul, who wrote from prison. The guy just couldn’t follow the rules and, hey, the law is the law.

It’s why we don’t mind Jesus being crucified, his disciples being martyred, or the Roman persecution of the early church.

The law is the law. Our hands are tied.

Which is why you’ll never hear of Christians working to change abortion policy. We have laws in place already. And laws are laws.

It’s why we shrug at slavery and Jim Crow.

It’s why we condemn all who harbored Jewish people against direct orders in Nazi occupied Europe.

Law breaking is law breaking is law breaking.

It’s why we don’t lament when folks are arrested or killed for sharing their Christian faith in countries where such an act is illegal.

The law is the law folks, sorry. Shouldn’t have broken it.

And it’s why we apparently shouldn’t speak out to ask our government to stop separating children from their parents at the border.

Because the law is the law.

Regardless of the hurt and hardship. Regardless of the long term consequences. Regardless of the shattered hearts of real life human people desperately searching for a new life.

The law is the law, apparently.

That’s what many of my friends keep saying in defense of this policy. That’s what my friends say who are unable to criticize anything associated with people they voted into office.

But, there is a better way, a better law.

In Romans 13, the text often used to excuse our passivity and the country’s ugliness, the Apostle Paul (who would later be executed for breaking the law) also says:

“…whatever other commands there may be are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.

Love fulfills the law.

This is the law we should be living by. This is the law we should be defending. Particularly if we say we are Jesus people.

I’m not suggesting we have open borders. I’m not suggesting anarchy or doing away with any and all laws. I’m not suggesting that previous administrations haven’t had a hand in unjust practices.

I’m suggesting that this particular policy (which isn’t actually even a law) be stopped. Simple as that.

It does harm. More harm than good.

It is not restorative. It is not just. It is not loving. It is not necessary.

We already have family detention centers. We have ways to make this right while still ensuring people come to our country legally.

We have ways to impact the laws of the land and, even if we didn’t, there are times and places and reasons to oppose laws on the books.

Spare me “the law is the law” and give me “love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Give me concern for our neighbors. Even the ones from across the border. Even the ones we like to dismiss as illegal. Even the ones we think don’t belong.

Because this is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. The entire law is summed up in this one word:

Love. Your. Neighbor.

He gave no qualifications. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Just one law to sum up all the others.

And hey, the law is the law.

Jesus Is Just Too Impractical

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We like to invoke his name and wear his cross around our necks, but if we are honest Jesus is a little over the top. We want him to bless us and forgive us, but when it comes to ordering our lives we do just fine ourselves, thank you very much.

Jesus is just too impractical.

I mean, turn the other cheek? Are you kidding me Jesus? Someone hits me I’m hitting them back. In fact, I’m hitting them first if they disrespect me, my mother, or my country. That’ll teach them.

You might have said not to resist an evil person, but I can probably skip that one. I’m sure it was a metaphor.

Don’t charge interest? Lend without expecting something back? Jesus. You were a carpenter, not a banker.

Love your enemies? Don’t even get me started. How can I love a person who wants to hurt me? Our enemies are bad people and they should be blown to hell. Do you expect me to just stand there, and what, get crucified?

Bless those who persecute me? Maybe if they sneeze, but that’s about it. People who persecute me should be persecuted themselves.

Love my neighbor? Have you met my neighbors?

Blessed are the merciful? Jesus you can’t become the CEO or the president or prom king by being merciful. It’s a long way to the top and I have a car payment.

Blessed are the poor? Not in this economy.

Don’t call people names? BUT THEY VOTE THE WRONG WAY.

Seek the kingdom first? No, I gotta do me first. God helps those who help themselves (I read that somewhere in the Bible, didn’t I?).

Tell the truth? Okay, but this meme confirms all my worst suspicions about people who disagree with me, so who cares if it literally bears false witness?

Don’t lust after people? Come on, I’m not hurting anyone. Plus times are different. Liberate yourself Jesus.

Wash feet? Gross. Sell my stuff and give to the poor? I could donate this can of lima beans to a food drive.

Be cautious with my words? Sounds like some snowflakey PC nonsense.

Visit prisoners? I’m busy, they’re sketchy. Feed the hungry? They should get jobs. Welcome strangers? They don’t even speak my language. And what if they are dangerous/make me uncomfortable?

Forgive? Please. I’m not a doormat. Save the sappy sentimentality for those who deserve it.

I mean, all this stuff sounds good spiritually speaking, but Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant for us to live this way, right? Its way too impractical. This is not how the world works.

This is America. We have rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have the right to defend my house and my family and my stuff. I have the right free speech and the right to vote and the right to compartmentalize my faith as much as I want. I have rights Jesus!

You expect me to deny myself? Take up my cross? No thanks. That’s your territory.

I’ll go to a worship service on Sundays (when I have time and a full 9.5 hours of sleep and it’s not the playoffs). I’ll drop some cash in the offering plate. I’ll even consider volunteering in the nursery. I’ll try to stop lying (in person that is, social media doesn’t count) and I’ll post a verse of the day once in a while. I’ll work on being a decent person.

That should be enough. I’m only human after all.

I’m not actually interested in following you because following you looks nothing like the life I want for myself. It doesn’t look like the American Dream. It doesn’t look easy. It is the opposite of what I would choose to do if left to my own devices.

Which is exactly why I should go ahead and do it anyway.

Because left to my own devices I make a mess. Because the American Dream isn’t as fulfilling as we think. Because idols dress themselves up in things we admire. Because calling something Christian doesn’t make it Christ-like. Because the stuff that works in this broken, unjust world doesn’t work when it comes to what matters most.

Because somewhere deep down inside of me I know that those who cling to their life will lose it and those who can give up their life will find it. Because in my best moments I know that the redemption of all things includes the redemption of me. Because I believe in resurrection and know that evil does not get the last word.

I need to follow Jesus. Not just in words, but in action, in practice, in reality.

Following Jesus and implementing these teachings might get us killed, might cost us a promotion, might mean we have to give up something we really want. It might mean we put ourselves or our families in less than perfect situations. It might mean foregoing my own pleasure or my own rights. It might even mean we have to, ugh, be nice to people who annoy us.

It is all completely, perfectly impractical. And it’s just what we need to set things right. To find the freedom we desire. To find our find purpose. To discover hope and peace. To bring about justice and restoration. To defeat darkness. To see his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May we be foolish enough to set aside practicality in order to follow Jesus. Amen. May it be so.

Can We Talk About Guns For A Moment?

rationaldiscourse

Credit: Ryan Sommen, ideonexus.com

Can we talk about guns for a moment?

And by that I mean, can we talk about guns without being unreasonable? Without calling each other names? Without making stuff up? Without distorting the opposing arguments?

If you scroll through your social media feed you may doubt this is possible, but I assure you it is. During the March for Our Lives a woman who lost her son in the Parkland shooting and describes herself as a liberal shared about having a 45 minute, healthy conversation with Senator Marco Rubio. If they can do it, we can do it.

So come, let us reason together. Turn down the volume and shut off the memes for just a moment and let’s chat. Not only will we find we can do this, but that we have more in common than we think.

Let’s start with the fact that no sane person wants children to die in school. We are looking for ways to help prevent these tragedies from happening. Prevent being the operative word. Nothing we do will guarantee our children’s safety, but we can work to make our schools and the world a safer place.

Now how do we get there? Arm the teachers? Ban guns? Body scanners at the door? Clear backpacks? Police presence? Like you, I favor some of these and others I don’t. But let’s figure out where we agree.

We probably agree that there are limits to the types of weapons that a person should possess. I don’t know of anyone who claims that a private citizen should own a nuclear bomb. I also don’t know anyone who claims that a person shouldn’t be allowed to own a knife, a potentially lethal weapon.

We are okay with owning knives and we are not okay with owning nukes, which means somewhere there is a line. Somewhere we say, “this type of weapon is acceptable for personal use and this other type of weapon is not.” If we can agree there is a line, we can move toward figuring out where that line lies.

I personally do not know where the line is. I have opinions. You have opinions. But we have agreed there is a line. So perhaps we can work our way in from there. Bazookas okay? How about hunting rifles? Can folks own a slingshot? A grenade launcher?

Even if we can’t agree on everything we can move closer together.

Another step toward reasonableness is putting aside unreasonable arguments. A popular meme I see frequently says, “Cain killed Abel with a rock. It’s a heart problem not a gun problem.” While I’m happy that folks want to look to Scripture for their direction, this is a bad argument. There is not one of us who would rather a person intent on murdering students be armed with a gun over a rock. We would take the rock every single time and the loss of life would be severely mitigated.

Yes, murdering people is a heart issue. And a mental health issue. And it has reaches to pretty much every area of a person. But we address heart issues with legislation intended to help prevent the heart issue from spilling onto innocent lives. Alcohol limits for driving and public intoxication do exactly this.

Those making claims from the opposite position have faulty arguments as well. One of the common ones is to inflate statistics to support the cause. For example, the number of gun incidents at schools so far this year (which has been shared far and wide) almost always includes a suicide in the parking lot of a school that had been closed seven months prior and a few other incidents that are a stretch. Suicide is tragic and should be grieved and addressed, but it was not a “school shooting,” as popularly understood, and claiming it as such is unfair.

There are reasons to support stricter gun control and there are reasons to oppose it. When we resort to these less than thoughtful methods of persuasion we actually weaken our position and give others just cause to dismiss us.

We can’t share something simply because we agree with the intent behind it. We need to put in the time (usually about 45 seconds on Google.com) and effort to figure out a fuller picture. The world is full of trolls who don’t think twice about making up lies to create chaos or gather more people to their side. If you have to lie or skew information your position is weak to begin with. And those of us who click like and share without first thinking it through, are just as guilty.

So, we agree there is a line. And we should agree that a lot of us use some bad arguments to try and convince others. What else can we agree on?

How about this: laws are not the solution and yet are still tools that help us. Can we land there, together? We’ve already mentioned we are working to prevent and limit tragedy, not guarantee its eradication. Can a law help? We mentioned our current laws that do just that in other areas. Why couldn’t they apply to guns as well?

Is it possible that there is some type of law we could all agree on that will help us? Absolutely possible. Here is an example: When a school bus stops and lets a child off the red lights flash on top. In order to protect children the law says you cannot pass the bus. Reasonable. Efficient. Useful. Doesn’t mean someone won’t break the law and endanger children, but here regulation is helpful.

Certainly not every law is fair or useful. Laws can be too restrictive or selectively enforced. Laws can be deemed unconstitutional. But they can be good with the right amount of thought and purpose. If we are being reasonable, we can agree on this.

To help us agree that laws are not the solution but can be helpful, let’s also agree that enforcement of the laws already on the books is necessary. If we don’t follow through on what we already say is a risk, more laws won’t do us any good. A law is only useful when it is used the right way.

Now if you are tracking with me so far we have agreed that children shouldn’t be murdered in school, that there is a line somewhere for weapon ownership, that we shouldn’t make ridiculous arguments, and that laws are not the solution but can be helpful.

We can work from here. From here we can begin to look up and out at the proposed solutions and the challenges we face in this nation. This is a complex problem therefore the solution is likely complex too.

We’ve not touched on theological reasons for or against owning weapons (if you want to have that conversation, I’ll buy the coffee). We’ve not yet addressed whether more guns in public is safer than less guns. We’ve not talked about the role of parenting or discipline or extremism or video games or the news media or any of that.

If we are going to have these conversations (and we must) the best way forward is to find where we agree on something. Common ground is where we can make the most difference. Where we can sit eye to eye and talk. Where we can listen and hear from each other as humans, not angry anonymous people from the internet.

When we can find common ground there is less to fear. There is less to threaten. There is less to hate.

We are in this together. So let’s be reasonable. Let’s talk. Let’s listen. Let’s learn. Let’s think. Let’s be honest. Let’s do better. Our kids are depending on us. We can do it. Let’s agree on that.