Was there Room for Jesus at the Stone Wall Inn?

On my way to the office this morning I passed a couple taking some pictures in front of new sign posted on a busy intersection. I was a bit nervous for the couple, Brooklyn traffic still makes my stomach sink every morning, and wanted to see what was on the sign they were standing in front of. As I passed the couple and looked back I saw that the sign was a big rainbow flag stating “Brooklyn Celebrates Pride.”

As a white heterosexual male I have to admit that I didn’t realize it was that time of the year. Usually I’m made aware that it’s Pride season when all my Conservative Christian friends post pictures equating New York Cities Pride Parade with the on goings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The New York parade hasn’t occurred yet so the fact that Pride is being celebrated by millions wasn’t in my consciousness.

As I continued driving I started to think about the couple. I couldn’t help but think about their lives, their story, and the struggles they faced. In my heart I know it can’t be easy for our gay brothers and sisters to live a life completely free of worry, care, and judgment. I always wonder and marvel at the strength it must take to live in a society where some question their humanity, love, and sadly in most churches, their faith.

I write about issues of Social Justice because I’m a “Jesus person.” I’ve been a Jesus person all of my life. It’s really all that I’ve ever known. Its what defines who I am and why I live my life the way I do. Jesus has kept a tight grip on my heart since I was a little boy and he has never let go.

I say all this because in a week filled with news of suicide, nuclear war, and dictatorship, I sometimes wonder if the cares of this world take my eyes off of Christ. I’ve been wrestling in my head with those arguments that claim homosexuality is a choice, a manifestation of sin, deplorable, etc. I’ve been wrestling with the reality that we all fall short of God’s expectations and desperately need mercy.

I’m not a theologian, biblical scholar, or Christian philosopher. I’m a simple person that feels Jesus has called us all to live out what Scripture says in Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I want to spread humility, love, and compassion in the same manner is was shown to me through the life of Jesus.

I know that Pride began when Gay men and woman began to fight back against brutal police oppression at the Stone Wall Inn in 1969. I know that day was the beginning of a people awakening to express their humanity. I pray that as a follower of Christ I stand always with the oppressed. I want to stand with “the least of these” even when doing so might raise the eyebrows of “good church folk.” I want to stand for grace and salvation because that is what Jesus gave to me. If I’m wrong than it will be only because I’m a fool for Christ and the hope he inspires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The First Amendment V. The First Commandment

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

1 Corinthians 10:23

 

On Monday my Social Media was abuzz with opinions regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop Vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I would say that the opinions of my friends, much like that of the country was a clean partisan split. Interestingly I found that those friends who I can label as self proscribed “Christians” were the most outwardly happy with the Courts ruling. This is not all that surprising, however, it does raise an issue that I think Christians should think about in greater depth.

Some quick background on the case: A Christian baker in Colorado was asked by a gay couple to make a wedding cake for their upcoming ceremony. The baker declined and explained to the couple that he believes making the cake would violate his Christian values. The Civil Rights Commission of Colorado (A government entity) found the baker in violation of the couples civil rights and levied fines. The Supreme Court (I will leave it here just to give a quick cursory telling of the story) found that the Civil Rights Commission violated the rights of the baker.

Now, as an exercise in political thinking I found the Courts decision very interesting. What really sparked my interest, however, was an article in the New York Times documenting more cases like this that will test boundaries of “religious freedom and civil rights”. One such issue the Times discussed was a Bill recently passed in Oklahoma (SB 1140). This bill essentially allows private adoption agencies the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples when placing children. This Bill, which before reading the Times I was unaware of, will most likely push the “Christian Rights vs. Gay Rights” debate to the forefront of the Supreme Court in the coming years.

I don’t know all that much about adoption/ child welfare issues. I did work, for a very short period of time, as a Social Worker who would visit with newly adopted children and families to help offer services as they transition into their new lives together. For the most part I came across very loving parents and very excited children. They were always so happy to have a new place to call home and new people to call Mom and Dad. What I did learn during my time in the field, is that those children waiting to be adopted face the constant fear of instability, sexual assault, educational neglect, and emotional abuse. Children waiting to be adopted too often experience fear when living every day in group-homes, foster care facilities, and in some foster homes.

While I was not responsible for finding foster kids adoptive homes, I did hear stories from other Social Workers who had this job, and these stories still shake me. I was told of a thirteen year old child that was given one meal a day by his foster family, beaten for minor infractions like spilling milk, and forced to eat his own vomit after getting sick. Luckily, in this story the authorities learned of the crimes that occurred while the child was in foster care and they were able to find a nice adoptive family to take him in. Authorities also were able to persecute the foster parents who committed the gruesome crimes. In this instance the child was lucky. I often pray that this is not the reality being experienced by any of the over “107,918” children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family.

After learning about SB 1140 I did a quick Google search just to learn a little more about the law. I came across many “Christian” organizations making the argument that this law is necessary because it will allow religious organization the ability to “provide social welfare services congruent with Christian values.” I found a few op-eds from Christian writers who saw this as a victory for “Christian liberty”, “Godly values”, and “traditional families”.  I did not see, from any Christians at least, statements on how this will positively impact (according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services) over 9,000 kids in Oklahoma in need of adoption.

I understand that for some Christians there is a belief that sexual politics is an arena where there can be no compromise. While I don’t share this view I would never ask someone to act in a manner that violates his or her deeply held spiritual convictions. However, since the people speaking in these op-eds and in the media are proclaiming to be fellow “Christians” I feel as though I can engage in a little debate and push back on these feelings.

In the beginning of the blog I quote 1 Corinthians 10:23. Here we see the Church struggling with issues of ethical Christian living. The Church in Corinth is asking what it should do about issues regarding a proper diet, morals, etc. The answer given in the Scriptures is one that speaks to our current times. Essentially we are told that since Christ came to renew our minds and hearts there no longer should be worries about trivial matters like diet. We are told that everything is now permitted, however, we must realize that we can’t go “overboard.”

We learn in the scriptures that Christians should feel free to eat anything they want, however, as good brothers and sisters of Christ they should realize that this freedom may have to be put aside for the greater good of others. Many Pastors will use this scripture when teaching about things like alcohol consumption. They usually will say things like “sure, you can drink alcohol as a Christian just don’t be a drunk and act in ways that would embarrass Christ. You should be careful though and realize that there may be a Christian Brother or sister that is struggling with alcohol abuse. It may not be wise to drink around them. So in essence, yes, as a Christian feel free to drink in moderation, just recognize that this freedom comes with a responsibility.”

I think this teaching serves as a great parallel to something like SB 1140. In America we are granted freedom of religion and freedom to engage in faith and moral traditions that proscribe certain standards of behavior. However, we are Christians first and Americans second. We are often looked at as examples of “good behavior” even if we don’t mean to be. Yes, maybe some Christians feel that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt because it violates Church teaching. I argue this does not outweigh the duty we have as Christ centered individuals to continually work to be the salt of the earth.

As Christians we must ask ourselves this question: does allowing private organizations the ability to refuse children in our care an adoptive home simply because we find an individuals lifestyle to be “sinful”? It may be legal but does it edify the spirit of Jesus and the witness of Christ’s saving grace?

I would ask Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, who at an event organized by Franklin Graham stated “I’m not scared to walk my faith because my faith plays a role in the decisions I make” to stop and consider those children who may be victims. I would ask all those Christians who publicly stand against the L.G.B.T community to ponder if its “sin” they are against or if it’s the feeling of being outwardly “righteous” that makes them stand in condemnation of our Gay brothers and sisters?

As Christians we have always lead movements for peace, justice, and love. From abolishing slavery, to establishing Unions and marching for civil rights, Christians have a heritage we can be proud of. I pray we don’t tarnish that heritage because it’s politically expedient.

 

 

 

 

With Friends Like These Who Needs Enemies?

Last year a Harris Poll was conducted to determine just “how happy” average Americans are. The poll (http://time.com/4871720/how-happy-are-americans/), found that only 33% of Americans responded that they are “overall happy.” Why are we such an unhappy group of people? Some on the left would say it’s probably because Donald Trump is our President. The Right would retort that it’s “godless” liberal values that are making us increasingly unhappy.

I have no real opinion or thoughts as to why, as a people, Americans are unhappier than others. Sometimes I believe it stems from living under a capitalist economy those forces us to work and toil harder and harder to scratch out a meager living. At other times I believe we may be so unhappy because we are all longing for spiritual fulfillment. And some days I assume that the entire nation is comprised of New York Knicks fans that suffer with year after year of losing, dashed hopes, and relentless heart break (you can insert my fellow Jets fans in place of the Knicks if you prefer).

Happiness is a very hard thing to define, measure, or even understand. I know Social Work literature is filled with studies that show variables like “community, faith, family, purpose, and work”  are things which make us feel more “content”, which is also often translated into feeling happy. Any Social Worker worth their salt will look to these variables and often suggest that clients experiencing depression, loss of hope, and those who are unhappy, reach out and connect more with sources of contentment.

So often in American life we resort to our “tribal camps.” Associating with those that think, believe, and behave like we do, naturally makes us feel more comfortable, and dare we say “more content”? This is why so often I find myself going to left leaning websites to read articles that document a sense of justification for feeling the world needs to be a more progressive place. This always makes feel safe, accepted, and content.

However, on Tuesday  I decided to venture out of my zone of contentment and read a few articles from a Conservative website. I thought “hey why don’t you be more opened minded and see what the other side has to say.” I have to admit that I was a bit nervous at first but after ten minutes it wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t come across anything to grotesquely right wing that would upset my “snowflake” sensibilities.

I was intrigued by an article posted on the website ( I won’t share the article or the site. I don’t want to stir unnecessary debate/ hurt feelings of those who may frequent the site.), regarding an update on Democratic Senatorial Candidate Chelsea Manning. For those who may not be aware of Chelsea’s story I will give a really quick overview: Chelsea Manning was born Bradley Manning. Manning served in the military as a specialist in Technology and intelligence. Manning was essential to providing organizations like Wikileaks and the New York Times  with classified information that informed their reports on abuses carried out by the United States Government during the Iraq war. Manning was subsequently arrested and sent to prison for giving out classified information. While in Prison, Manning declared that she was now identifying as a female and will be changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea. She has since been released from prison and is currently running in the Democratic Primary for Senator in Maryland.

I was intrigued that an overtly Conservative website would post a story about Chelsea manning’s health. Apparently there were some reports released that claimed she tried to take her own life. The report explained that Chelsea is okay and is recuperating. The story was pretty dry and self-explanatory.

I ventured past the text of the article and saw some of the comments. This is what really struck my interest. A self-identifying “soccer mom” whose username for the website (which I will make up to protect her identity) literally was along the lines of “ChrstianGal4Jesus” had the first comment on the story. Her comment, which I’m directly quoting, was “I know this makes me a bad Christian but I don’t care that she is okay. She is a traitor. She is lucky she wasn’t shot and killed.”

“ChristianGal” was very sincere and honest with her comments. While I was in a bit of shock to see her so openly state that she didn’t care that Chelsea Manning was okay, I felt compelled to take a second and think about what she said. I was struck that she was honest in feeling that her remarks exclude her from “polite Christian company.” I appreciate honest people that are self-aware. I was disappointed, however, by the amount of people that responded positively and told “ChristianGal” not to be ashamed. There were, at my last check, which was noon on Wednesday, over 20 responses affirming “ChristianGals” feelings and explaining her lack of empathy did not make her a “bad Christian.”

In Evangelical circles it’s very popular for people to say “I hate the sin and love the sinner.” Essentially, this statement is trying to clarify that a Christian is not personally hostile to another individual, but that they are merely hostile to a belief, action, or behavior that can be considered sinful. Evangelicals are very quick to offer this statement as a response to LGBTQ issues. It’s a common troupe for explaining why Evangelicals generally do not support things like “gay marriage”, “gender neutral bathrooms”, or “same sex adoption.”

I think most Evangelicals  generally are sincere when they make this statement. Sure, some may be overtly homophobic, racist, or sexists, but I think there are some who generally cannot accept certain things they deem to be “ behavioral choices.” I’ve begun to wonder, however, if this statement is starting to serve as a mask for a deeper anger.

In Romans 12:2 Christians are told not to “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Essentially, Christians should not allow the world, society, popular culture, etc. to take such a prominent role in our lives that it drowns out the saving grace of Christ. We should be believers in Christ, who spend day and night trying to reflect a love so deep that “it passes all understanding.” Can we love, when hating on social media feels so right?

I think its getting increasingly harder for Christians to decouple their thinking from that of the President, Congress, Conservative Pundits, and right-wing Facebook memes. I focus on “Conservatives” only because unlike Christians on the political left who have never had an Evangelical Liberal to admire (I exclude former President Jimmy Carter because I could write a book on how totally not progressive he was but I’ll save that for a later post), politically Conservative Christians have been well represented in the halls of political power. A Conservative response to Chelsea Manning is one of anger, betrayal, and maybe even hatred. A Christian response is one of love, empathy, and hope for a renewal of her spirit and mind. A Conservative response to “ChristianGal” is one of affirming her feelings of discuss; A Christ like response to “ChristianGal” is a word of life affirming love and correction.

A Muslim friend told me that he is disappointed in Christians. He believes that Christians are not holding President Trump to the same standards that they held for President Bush and President Obama. He stated that “Christians may be self-righteous at times but at least they came from a moral place. Now, its like anything goes. Its like they are okay with living in Sodom and Gomorrah.” I don’t think we are anywhere near Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe we are human, imperfect, and in need of love. We can make this right. We must go back to the basics. We must become friends with those in the world. We must not become like the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Leaders Have Eyes but Fail to See

My Sister, a former public school teacher (and overall just a gosh darn good person), had a response to last weeks school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that really sums up how so many of us feel. After seeing a friend post about the shooting on Facebook she simply replied, “oh come on.” Her response gave voice to the sad reality we are all now living in. When we hear of a school shooting we no longer feel shock, fear, anger, or even dread. Instead, we start to feel annoyed.

It’s sad but so powerfully true that school shootings have ceased being tragedies in our collective conscious. We start to wonder if people can just be decent enough for a few months so that we don’t have to feel awful every time we open a newspaper, turn on social media, or watch TV. Very rarely, if we are being completely honest with ourselves, do we personally feel any sense of the tragic reality that friends, family, and community members must be feeling at a time like this. Like normal people we try to be empathetic and say a prayer for mercy and peace to be on those impacted by the tragedy.

Sometimes, however, an occurrence within the greater overall tragedy will lead us to experience something more. For me this occurred in the Parkland, Florida shooting after hearing the fear and shock it created in my children. With Santa Fe, unfortunately, I was moved to pray for the victims and the community but didn’t feel anything beyond traditional empathy for those involved in the massacre.

This changed after hearing the response of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Maybe its just simple “Northern Liberal” stereotypes of Texas and Texans but after hearing the Lieutenant Governor, whom I assume is a Christian or at least claims to be (Again, this is part of my northern liberal bias) talk about the tragedy I found myself exceedingly angry. It’s worth reading at length his comments on what happened.

 

       GOV. DAN PATRICK: We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and, particularly, violent video games, which now outsell movies and music. Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, may have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of video, violent games.

 

This is standard “Conservative thinking” and nothing is inherently evil or wrong with these statements. In fact i agree and think the increasing violence of American society is quit disturbing. However, it’s the thinking,  behind the statement that brought my blood to a boil. Mr. Patrick speaks as if he is not someone in a position of authority who can impact the situation. This is a complete “passing of the buck” when it comes to moral leadership.

For a moment lets compare the statements of Mr. Patrick with his record in office. I mean its fair to say that since he holds the second most powerful position in the State of Texas that he has some control over policies that lead to the outcomes he decries as being potential causes of Santa Fe’s violence:

“Students are desensitized to Violence”-Mr. Patrick helped push school funding per child to the lowest levels in decades. Texas now spends the second least amount per student in the United States. The low spending levels are blamed on teacher turnover, cuts to after school programs, counseling, etc. All things that will help kids do things OTHER THAN SIT AROUND AND PLAY VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES.

“Devaluing life and the Break up of Families– For an elected official so worried about the “break up of families” and the “devaluing of life” one would wonder why Lt. Governor Patrick would have spear headed efforts to cut Medicaid funding. Medicaid provides care to poor, indigent, disabled, older individuals. Medicaid, as explained by a report released from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, shows that if Medicaid continues, “to be cut nationally, 22 million deaths will occur as a result of insufficient care.” What better way to help stop the so-called Devaluing of life than to gut a program that’s actually responsible for saving life?

I could go on and on (anyone interested do a simple Google search of Lt. Dan Patrick legislative agenda and you will find plenty of more examples) but I think you get the picture. Its not Mr. Patrick’s politics, per se, that in the midst of the tragedy got me so angry. I think what got me so upset, after I came to learn that indeed Mr. Patrick is a self identifying Christian after all, was a video he made for his reelection campaign titled “Stand for Christ” (https://www.danpatrick.org/standforchrist/) In the video Dan highlights his faith in Jesus and adherence to the scriptures as signs for why he should receive Christian votes. This use of Jesus and the scriptures makes his statements after the Santa Fe shooting that much more blood boiling to me.

In scripture (James 2:15) we read the apostle ask us a simple question. He asks “What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, go in peace; stay warm and well fed, but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?” James is basically asking us to “put our money where our mouth is.” If someone is needy, facing a health crises, or experiencing physical danger, well wishes and sympathetic comments won’t help him. Similarly, all the “small government” and “family values” policies are not going to protect our children from gun violence. Jesus is demanding his followers to follow up their faith in God with real concrete action.

I try to be as non-judgmental as possible when it comes to another Christian’s faith. Its getting harder and harder to do that in light of recent events. It pains me to see another Christian, like the Lieutenant Governor, professing Christ but neglecting opportunities that can help usher in God’s grace on this world.

Mr. Patrick is publicly invoking the name of Jesus. He is telling us that we should consider him to be a “man of God.” This is all wonderful but as any “man of God” who has read Mathew 7:23 will know, Jesus is not keen on people that claim to have faith in him but who outwardly, and inwardly, are ravenous wolves. In Mathew 7: 23 Jesus says “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Jesus is declaring here that in the end there will be people whom “outwardly appeared to be the most religious, the most moral, the most “Christian”, but who in reality are morally depraved.

I pray this is not the case for the Lieutenant Governor. I believe that Christianity is the expression of a hope, which passes all understanding. Tonight, after thanking God for protecting my children, family, and loved ones, I will pray for the Lieutenant Governor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light in Dark Times

As a student working towards my PhD, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many amazing students, professors, and administrators. The majority of these individuals, which I guess is not all that surprising considering my education has occurred at a public university in the Northeast, can correctly be labeled as “liberal and secular.” They tend to be liberal in the sense that their politics and outlook on society fall neatly in line with the Democratic Party, and secular in that most express no religious affiliation and no real understanding of religious teachings or traditions.

I make no secret of my deeply held political views. I consider myself a Pacifist, Democratic-Socialist (this might disqualify me from ever being President of the United States, but I’m a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)), and an Evangelical Christian. The first two rarely get much attention on a liberal college campus, however, the third self-identification does. I’m always asked, “How are you a Evangelical and not a republican? How are you practicing Evangelical and still so progressive minded?” I love these conversations because it gives me an opportunity to what all narcissists love most and that is talk about myself.

I usually bring up the standard social justice bible verses that a majority of the public has heard (Jesus call for Christians to be peace makers, the Jewish practice of jubilee where debts are erased and the poor given access to food, the first apostles communal living arrangements, etc.). What I often find myself answering most from people who are interested in why I hold progressive political views while holding fairly conservative religious beliefs is a question that I must say really upsets me. So often, especially since 2016, I’m asked “why do your fellow Christians support Donald Trump? His life is so immoral.” My reply, which I admit is not a very well thought out piece of political analysis, is usually something like “I think Christians recognized that President Trump is a flawed man, however, they tend appreciate his policies which they view as being in line with God’s will.”

My current doctoral work is focused on the role Intellectuals have played in the Conservative drive to roll back the benefits of the welfare state. In simple terms: I’m trying to understand why Conservative thinkers, usually professors who write big policy papers and teach in top universities, believe that things like social security, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. are benefits that should be highly restrictive and not all that generous. I think I chose this topic because of my religious and political beliefs. I’ve been wrestling with the notion that conservatives, who so often are Evangelical Christians, can be opposed to things that “outsiders” and people that do not share our faith assume Christians would be happy to support. I guess I wanted an answer to the question I’m frequently asked “if Jesus wants you guys to love your neighbors than why are you all so often against allowing the government to help people?”

I haven’t found the answers to these questions. What I have found, and continue to find, are more examples of what I’ve come to label “Christianity at its worst.” I reflect and meditate on these issues not because I want to add to the growing list of complaints that are often thrown on Evangelical Christians. Rather, I think and pray about them constantly because I believe that Christians are much better than the picture we give to the outside world. I also, and this may be a bit naïve, believe that most Christians simply need to be better informed. I tend to tell myself “its not that Evangelical Christians are mean by default. I think that in a busy world with so much going on it’s hard to have a clear spirit filled belief on every topic.” At times I feel a burden to try where I can to educate my brothers and sisters in Christ on certain topics.

One topic that I have written about and have discussed with Christians at length is immigration. Most Evangelicals are just like the rest of America. They are afraid that lax immigration leaves the United States prone to potential invasion and think if someone enters the country illegal they must face punishment. Usually, but not all the time, Christians simply see illegal immigration as a crime that must be punished like all other crimes. These are all fine arguments that I understand and disagree with. However, what so often I don’t hear is a scriptural argument for these stances.

As Christians we are exhorted to live not by “Bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Christ wants us to not “conform to this world but be transformed through Christ love and salvation.” In essence, we are not supposed to conduct ourselves in the same manner as everyone else. We are to be beacons of light, hope, and compassion. We are to be the moral salt in a world that has become bland to seeking justice.

In the Washington Post today I read a quick “update” on where the Department of Health and Human Services is in implementing a policy to deal with increased traffic on the border. The story stated that the Trump Administration is looking at options for placing children in “foster homes, unused summer camps, or in military installations.” The article explained that children who are separated from their parents as a result of their detainment for trying to “cross the border illegally” will soon be relocated to one of the three options mentioned before.

This brings to mind Deuteronomy. In the book of Deuteronomy God informs the Jewish people that children “shall not be punished for the sins of their parents.” God deliberately prohibits children from receiving any retribution for the acts of their Fathers and Mothers. God, who is the ultimate arbiter of justice in the Old Testament, is making a clear judicial distinction for what can be considered “reasonable punishment.”

Jesus, in the New Testament, often brings many of these Old-Testament laws into a better light. Jesus explains to his followers that children are what we all should aspire to. Jesus lets us know that children, both literally and figuratively, have a special place in the kingdom of god and should have a special place in our daily lives.

This circles back to the issue of President Trump. It also brings us back to the question “If Christians believe in Jesus than why do they support President Trump?” It begs Christians to ask,  “Are we living out our faith with fear and trembling?” Are we ensuring that “in welcoming aliens we unknowingly entertained angels?” Does our political stance square with our public witness to those who are not saved?

I’m hopeful that Christ is at work in the lives of us all. I’m also hopeful that Christians stop, pray, and think how best we can serve as a wake up call to a world begging for peace, love, and salvation. Can we anymore justify the President’s actions with statements like “it’s the liberal media attacking him? I know he isn’t a saint but still he supports the Christian agenda.” Can we allow a President, who as many political scientists have found won the election only as a result of the Evangelical vote, to “punish children for the sins of their mothers and fathers.” Or can we be the force that propels our world to stop, think, and move towards justice, hope, and light?

 

The Gospel: as Performed by Katy Perry

I’ve been reading a lot of “Critical Theory” in preparation for my Doctoral Dissertation. Critical Theory, to give a really quick and crude explanation, essentially tries to understand society by looking at the ways our economy and psychological processing interact to produce culture, art, and personal beliefs. It can be very interesting and at times very boring.

One of the interesting concepts in Critical Theory that philosophers who adhere to this school of thought examine, are the importance of “low-culture” (think pop culture, the Kardashians, Love and Hip Hop, etc.) .To the Critical Theorists “low-culture” rarely serves to teach people anything. Most Critical Theorists believe that “low-culture” keeps society selfish, mean, and overall narcissistic.

I tend to agree with the Critical Theorists. Although I do watch and consume a lot of what can be considered “low-culture” I will consume things arguably considered “high-culture” to balance out my diet and atone for the sin of enjoying sleazy reality TV. I believe, in accordance with Cultural Theory, that there is no shortage of popular culture that adds to our societies propensity for greed, violence, nationalism, and exploitation.

As a Christian I tend to think that most of us agree in some form with the analysis made by Critical Theorists. I know there is no shortage of Christians that as a rule assume every Super-Bowl halftime show will end in debauchery. However, I think if we look at things with a more open mind we might be shocked by what occurs in our popular culture.

My wife and kids have become very big fans of American Idol (for the record I have started to enjoy it and watch it with them. I think Justin Guaraní has the possibility to make a big comeback. Who’s with me???).  They particularly enjoy the role Katy Perry plays as the very “happy and inspiring judge”. This has lead them, in particular my wife, to look deeper into her music and some of the interviews she has given over the years.

In one interview Katy Perry explains that she had grown up as a “born again Christian” but has since ceased practicing the faith. The “Born-Again experience” as she proclaims in one interview has not gone completely away. In one song she writes openly about the power God has over her life and how she turned to God in times of personal despair. I have to admit her depth of Christian spirituality shocked me.

Yesterday, while getting ready for work I heard the news say that Katy Perry had apologized to Country star Taylor Swift for their recent feud. As my 9-year-old daughter explained when I asked what the news was talking about “Katy Perry made a song in response to a song Taylor Swift made about Katy Perry. They both don’t like each other so they made songs saying that they were better singers than the other.” While I don’t know the finer details of the argument I was interested to see what details the news story had to offer.

The news shared that Katy Perry had reached out to Taylor Swift personally. They stated that she sent a note and an olive branch (I enjoyed her use of the olive branch. Seems fitting considering her background in the church). It appears that Katy Perry was asking for forgiveness from Taylor Swift and is interested in restarting their relationship.

My daughter, who is a really shrewd judge of social conflict, asked me “why Katy Perry would apologize if all she did was defend herself? Katy didn’t start this fight; all she was doing is just defending herself. It’s Taylor who should be apologizing.” As any good dad who wears cardigan sweaters would do, I thought this would make a good “teaching moment.”

I talked with my daughter and reminded her of Christ’s words that “blessed are the peacemakers.” I explained that regardless of who started the fight and who is truly right or wrong, Jesus only cares about our actions and our hearts. I explained that what Katy Perry did, in apologizing for her role and seeking to make things better with her adversary, is the exact behavior that God wants us all to emulate. My daughter’s response is one I wish to emulate “wow, so Katy Perry is like a really good Jesus person.”

While I don’t know Katy Perry personally, or feel comfortable commenting on anybody’s personal beliefs or spiritual walk, I must say that her actions do make her a “really good Jesus person.” I hope that in the end I exhibit behavior that will make my daughter say of me “wow, my dad is a really good Jesus person.” In the end that is all that really matters.

 

Fear of Practicing What We Preach: Fearing the Bad Apples Misses the Potential Angels in The Current Immigration Debate.

Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

A year ago the New York Times released a detailed investigative report on the lives lost attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. One unidentified victim “Case 0519 carried Psalms and Revelations, torn from a Spanish Bible.” Another victim had “a cross and a few grains of rice” on them when their bodies were discovered and turned over to authorities. These stories, and many more like them, are incredibly heartbreaking and sadly relevant in the wake of the hundreds of Central American migrants currently begging for asylum on the U.S.-Mexican border.

As a Christian who likes to fancy himself “someone who takes the Bible seriously” I have struggled with how best to relate what occurs in the scriptures with what occurs on CNN or Fox News. Yesterday, while waiting to get my oil changed I was treated to an hour of President Trump’s favorite television show ‘Fox and Friends.’ On the show were some family members of victims hurt, killed, and raped by non-documented immigrants. One family member asked the question “if we just kept these people out, my family would not be grieving the loss of a loved one. Our family would still be intact. Why are we even considering letting more of these people in?”

It’s hard to think ideologically when you are face to face with someone that is experiencing such unbelievable grief. I could hear the pain in the voice of the family member and felt, as someone who considers themselves to be way to the Left of liberal, that my political ideology has consequences. I thought, “Maybe people like me who have a dedication to social justice are to blame?” It was a moment of deep self-reflection.

As I went about my day this short segment from ‘Fox and Friends’ kept playing in my mind. I wondered how I would react if the same thing were to happen to someone from my family. I have often been asked the “Michael Dukakis” question. People who know that I consider all taking of human life by the state to be illegitimate and morally evil, often ask if I would hold the same belief if my “wife were raped and murdered.” My response is always unhesitatingly Dukakis like: “Yes I would still be against the death penalty.”

I say this not to boast in my strong adherence to a deep moral confidence. I say this more as a meditation on what it means to be a Christian in a world of increasing hatred, division, and violence. I say this also in reflection of what the Scriptures, which as an Evangelical I believe to be the word of God on all things spiritual and moral, tell me about conducting my life in a fallen world.

In Hebrews we learn directly how God views proper relationship building amongst those that are “strangers in our land.” I often reflect on how hard it must be coming to a new country where you don’t necessarily know the culture, language, or social norms. I wonder how scared you must be to meet someone that doesn’t approve of your coming in to his or her country. I imagine that the immigrant hopes she stumbles upon a Christian who believes in living out Hebrews 13:2 and not one that thinks in agreement with Brother Franklin Graham who stated, “Immigration is not a Bible issue.”

It’s hard to live out the teachings we find in scripture. Loving you neighbor, being a peacemaker, even keeping your heart and lips free from lies and jealousy are incredibly hard to overcome. As Christians we have the Holy Spirit to help us in this endeavor. I have come to believe it was the Holy Spirit that moved the Freedom Riders to face brutal violence in Alabama as they fought for desegregation. I think it was the Holy Spirit that gave spiritual bravery to the young African American college student who chose to sit quietly and read C.S. Lewis while being attacked and verbally abused at a Woolworths lunch counter during the historic “Sit-Ins.” I think it’s the Holy Spirit that allowed “Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths” to posses the bravery to subject himself knowingly to arrest for giving undocumented individuals water in the Desert of Mexico. Scott Warren knowingly followed the Holy Spirit instead of “man’s law” which calls it a crime to give water to a person seeking refuge in the United States.

We may not all be called to display such acts of bravery. However, we are all provided the help of the Holy Spirit to stand brave when times are scary. I pray the Holy Spirit would help me remain strong in times of fear and suffering. I pray the Holy Spirit be with us all as we continue to figure out how we can best make it through our lives in this world of hurt and suffering.