Riot in a padded cell…

There were (are) riots in Baltimore.

In an press conference on April 28, the Mayor of Baltimore – Stephanie Rawlings-Blake – said,

It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that [the police] were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. We worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate

Her statement about giving those who wished to destroy “space to do that as well” raised many eyebrows.

In my view, her statement was important – but not for the reason many think. Many were shocked by the notion that a containment strategy might actually include letting people destroy things. That, I actually get.What shocked me was that she admitted it.

Here’s the point: A riot that is sanctioned by the powers isn’t a riot. It is an impotent expression of social outrage, anger, and so on. It may be cathartic, but it will not change anything. It gives the appearance of substantive resistance, but in reality, the powers are just waiting near-by until the people tire of it all. Then they go right back to the way it was before.

What people know, that they don’t want to admit that they know, is that if riots really did start to change things substantially, the people would be crushed.

Put differently, a riot that is allowed to happen by the powers that be is like the violence that police allow inmates to exercise within a padded cell. Beat yourself up. Have at it. When you are good and tired, they will escort you to your regular cell.

Insurrection only happens when the measures used by those subjugated are actually able to challenge the powers that be. You will know it when that happens…

Choose who you listen to…

In my experience as a pastor for over two decades, I’ve learned many lessons. Here’s the one on my mind today.

A strong, strong, strong, majority of people are people of good will. They will receive you and your story – both the negative and positive aspects – and respond in honest, truthful, loving, supportive and helpful ways. It is important to listen to these people. They can help you understand how the story of your life is being heard by others.

Some people simply don’t give a rip about you. After all, you’re not the center of the world. It’s ok. It’s a gift, really. You do your thing. They will do their thing. It is all good.

Other people are not people of good will. They will receive you and your story – both the negative and positive aspects – and respond in ways that conform to their agenda. They will do this without a second thought.  Even if that agenda is hurtful to you. It is important not to listen to these people. You can bend over backwards to correct the false version of your story they are telling. It won’t matter. Why? Because it isn’t about you. You’re story is about them. It’s always about them.

The best you can do is live the story God has called you to live. Live it with integrity. Live it with honesty and transparency.  Live it humbly — with a sense that it is God who has called you to live it.

As you live it, however, beware of three equally disruptive mistakes.  One is ignoring the people you should be listening to. The second is listening to the people you should be ignoring. The third is chasing after the people that just don’t care. Jesus didn’t even do that….



Live long and prosper | The death of Leonard Nimoy and my imagination

A while back I was listening to local talk radio. The question they were discussing was, “Is there a famous person, that you don’t know personally, that – if they died – you would cry?” I’ve had some interesting conversations with people around that question.  At the time, I couldn’t think of anyone in particular.

Then Leonard Nimoy died.

While I didn’t exactly cry, I have found myself grieving over the death of Leonard Nimoy.  I have been a huge Star Trek fan as long as I can remember. I was born in 1968, right at the end of Star Trek’s three-year run on TV.  I watched Star Trek after school when it was in syndication. My favorite character was, of course, Spock.  I had Star Trek toys. Spock action figures (that we’re really dolls).  I had a Spock uniform. I’ve seen every Star Trek movie multiple times (even the first one which was long and a bit overblown).  I’ve watched Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn more than I can count.  I’ve loved the new reboots with Zachary Q as a young Spock.  Spin off series, too. When it comes to Star Trek I’m all in (although I’ve never been to a convention).

My older brother, who was a little more sports minded then me, still complains that when we were kids he could never get me to put down my Star Trek and Star Wars toys long enough to get me to come outside and play basketball.

With all of that, however, I still did not know Leonard Nimoy the man. And it’s pretty clear that someone else can play Spock, so I won’t lose on that front either. So, what am I grieving when I grieve the death of Leonard Nimoy?

My hunch is I’m grieving the loss of my own youth, my own childhood, a more simple time when I could kick my imagination into overdrive and escape to distant planets and far off places and spaces and people and aliens…   It seems to me that when we are young the world is wide open and full of possibility.  But choice by choice what was once wide open becomes a bit more constrained.

Seems like the art of living is learning to find joy and meaning and purpose as life becomes more constrained. Or, perhaps, cultivating spaces where we can still kick that old imagination into overdrive again.

According to the Mars One website, over 200,000 applied to join a mars colonization program. They literally applied to embark on a one-way mission to Mars for the purpose of setting up human colonies.  Why?  I think it’s because there are so few places for grown ups to take their imaginations out of neutral.

So perhaps, instead of grief over the death of a man I really didn’t know at all, the death of Leonard Nimoy can be an encouragement to dust off my imagination.

Something to think about (I’m sure my therapist – if I had one – would find all this fascinating)

Live long and prosper!

God compels us to try

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

– President Obama, 2015  National Prayer Breakfast

Do my ears itch? | An exploration of the use of 2 Timothy 4:3

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

– 2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)

2 Timothy 4:3 is often pulled out in the church in discussions over contentious social issues.  The charge is often leveled that, “you are just doing what the culture wants instead of standing for sound doctrine.”  No doubt, if you’ve been around churches when things like the inclusion of gay people, or women’s role in ministry, or the age of the earth, you’ve likely heard one side, or the other or, perhaps, both sides say this.

In my experience, the usual direction of this comment is from those who occupy positions of power within the status quo towards those that are suggesting some change, or loosening, of current understandings and practices.   For example, it is more common for a straight Christian who opposes LGBT inclusion or gay marriage to say to those who don’t, “You’re just going with the culture.”  I’m not judging that in any way, just using it as an example from my experience.

It’s meant to be the ultimate insult.  In effect the comment says, “You don’t care about sound doctrine, the Bible, Jesus or God…you can’t possibly have a well reasoned theological basis for your decision…of course you haven’t discerned the Spirit correctly because I doubt you’re even really a Christian…you are just doing what YOU want to do and caving to popular pressures from the world.”

That’s pretty heavy…”judgey”….stuff when you get down to it.

Here’s my question, which springs from an online discussion about a Nashville Evangelical Church (GracePointe Church) that came out as fully inclusive of LGBTQ people. Not too far down in the comments, someone pulled out 2 Timothy 4:3. This person accused the church – of which he’s not a part – of “simply tickling itching ears…”   Having recently, over the past year, spent some time – not a lot, but some – in Nashville, I found this comment odd.  To me, when it comes to Nashville, GracePointe Church is doing the exact opposite. Most of the ears I met in Nashville have no affinity for gay inclusion in the church.  So, who’s ears are being tickled? Where’s the upside to full gay inclusion in Nashville? Seems to me like near universal scorn would be the result in that community.

So it brings me back to the text.  Who are the ones that won’t put up with sound doctrine in the text?  Is it the people outside of the church (i.e. teachers are tempted to play to the world over and against sound doctrine?)  or is it the people inside the church (i.e. teachers are tempted to play to the church over and against sound doctrine?)?  According to the text, it’s the latter. It’s people within the church that no longer suffer sound teaching. They just want to hear what makes them feel good, or “in”, or certain that they are right.  The want teachers who will speak from a position of authority and echo what they already believe to be true. No challenge. No change. No discernment. No deeper exploration. People want to land at a church that reflects back to them what they already believe.  That, my friends, is having your itching ears tickled.

So the question, for me, isn’t “Is church A or church B just teaching what people want to hear?” That is a never ending process of judgment and finger pointing.  A better question is,  “Am I the kind of Jesus-follower that can’t tolerate anything that I don’t already believe to be true?”  If I am, then I’m holding God hostage to my already believed stuff about God.  Then I’m the kind of Jesus-follower that seeks teachers who will itch my ear?

I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to being that kind of a teacher. I don’t want to be that kind of church.

“We’re not your parents church!”

I got my start in vocational Christian ministry in 1993.  Back then people who started new, seeker-driven, contemporary churches would say, “We’re not your parents church!”

That’s a perfect message to Baby Boomers who had experienced the institutional church as dull, with nothing to say and an old way of saying it.

We’re not your parents church!

The new, seeker-driven, contemporary church approach worked to some degree.  Baby Boomers did return to churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback and all their local incarnations.  Now it is there children and grandchildren who are finding their parents (and grandparents) church as dull, with nothing to say and an old way of saying it.   They are more critical of churches with professional stage lighting, fog machines, hi-tech video screens, and worship auditoriums with a platform or stage instead of a sanctuary and a pulpit.  I often talk to young people who ask, “Is that – the whole big event show type worship service – really what Jesus had in mind?”

Pastoring a small, rural, Mennonite church that is pleasantly irrelevant (to me) by the world’s standards, I never thought I’d get to say, “We’re not your parents church!”  But, alas, I think we can say it with some integrity.

If you parents attended a modern, contemporary, seeker-driven church we are decidedly NOT your parents church. I think that’s a good thing.