Worldview

4 Tips for Following Jesus in Election Season

Donkey-elephantWell, here we are again. The season that seems to come around all too often and stick around far too long. Some of our dinner table dynamics are still trying to recover from “conversations” that percolated during the last election season and our “unfriend” counts have finally slowed. 

We have come to embrace the fact (whether we like it or not) that the political process in this country involves mudslinging, political posturing and combative debate. With that said, I’m yet to meet a person who finds that reality helpful. Most alarming, the Jesus’ Community often falls prey to this failed political discourse though its participation or fueling of an unsafe, divisive environment.     

So, how does the Jesus’ Community live in this election season as a signpost of the kingdom rather than a pawn in a political power play?     

1. Spend AT LEAST as Much Energy Advancing the Kingdom as You Do Your Candidate

Based on one’s core convictions and values, there is no doubt that some candidates are a better choice than others. The championing of a candidate becomes problematic when we find ourselves spending more emotional and physical energy advancing the cause of a candidate than we do advancing God’s Kingdom which has both come and is coming. Championing a candidate and championing the Kingdom are certainly not mutually exclusive, but they are far from the same thing.

A good question to ask in this election season: “Does my life’s energy more reflect a desire for “God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven,” or a desire for “my candidate to get elected and his/her agenda implemented?”

2. Be Careful Where You Place Your Hope

I don’t know how many times I have heard Christian’s say something like this about their political aspirations, “If my candidate (insert name) isn’t elected, the United States will fall apart and I’m not sure I even want to be here when that happens.” Or, “If my candidate (insert name) is elected, our next generation will finally have somewhere to place their hope.”

Both sentiments are problematic. First, no candidate or system is perfect, so we must not (ever, EVER) claim as such. We can get so caught up in the political game that we white wash the corruption that is marbled into our political system and place our candidate/party/system on an unwarranted pedestal. This blind hope reduces the Jesus’ Community to pawns in a politically partisan drama, rather than signposts for the hope found in the upside-down Kingdom of God. Second, we can celebrate and endorse our political institution without worshiping it. As one who came to upend and reorient the power structures around a system of love and selfless sacrifice, it’s hard to imagine Jesus entrusting the hope of his kingdom agenda to the agenda of Rome’s political systems and power players. Our hope isn’t found in a political party or system, it’s in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

3. HOW Someone is Elected is as Important as BEING Elected 

This is often where things get pretty ugly. As our Facebook timelines, Twitter feeds, family reunions and conversations at the park fill up with political rhetoric, mudslinging and dehumanizing language, the Jesus’ Community has a choice. We can either join the chorus of unhelpful sound bites seeking to “win,” or we can model constructive discourse that places relationship ahead of political agenda. The discipleship challenge in the midst of a heated political climate is to embrace a posture of curiosity that seeks to understand rather than to be understood. “Winning” an election while losing our prophetic witness as a community shaped by the cross is not “winning” at all. We don’t have to fall victim to this game of rhetoric and political posturing. It IS possible to stand for our core values without being jerk in the process. 

4. Remember Your Primary Allegiance and Live Like it is Real

In the end, our primary allegiance isn’t to the United States of America; our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. Yes, we are US citizens with a corresponding set of responsibilities (voting being one of them!), but we are first and foremost Kingdom citizens. It is a Kingdom without borders whose values often run in direct opposition to many of our cultural values of acquisition, power, prestige, control, peace through violence or winning at any cost. When our allegiances get inverted, bad things happen and we fail to live into our call to be salt and light in a world desperately in need. 

Friends, we live in a system where elections matter because they determine who will make decisions that impact people. People created in the image of God and with infinite worth. So, in so much as that is true, elections are worth our attention. BUT, getting our candidate elected isn’t worth compromising our witness. And, in the end, whether our candidate is elected or not has no bearing on our call to live, love and lead in a way that reflects God’s heart for the world amid the muck and messiness of everyday life in our homes, neighborhoods, nation and world.  

Why I’m Giving Up Peace for Lent

atomicholocaustThe violence of our world seems to be spiraling out of control. Every news outlet is filled with the latest tragedy and for many, the violence has struck closer to home than they ever imagined. Sadly, much of the violence is being done in the name of religion. Religion -- at its best -- is designed to be a conduit for right relationship. At it’s worst, used as a tool for manipulation and violence. While the former is certainly happening, the latter appears to be one step ahead at the moment.  

If ever there were a time where the work of peacemaking seemed soft and unrealistic while proposing some kind of fairy tale future reality, it is now. If ever there were a time to set aside the way of reconciliation for the way of revenge, it is now. Peacemaking appears to be a royal waste of time reserved for the ignorant idealists. 

Yet, if ever there were a time the exact opposite case could be made, it is now. In recent history, there has never been a time peacemaking is more necessary. In fact, the moment we deny the necessity for peacemaking, we deny the very mission of God and the vocation of God’s people. God’s work is peace -- the holistic repair of relationship -- and the vocation of God’s people. We aren’t pawns in a divine drama that will end in an atomic holocaust allowing us to apathetically put our hands up in resignation because “everything is going to hell.” No, the Jesus’ Community is to announce the reality of God’s kingdom and participate in God’s activity of making all things new. And not just in some future world, but NOW. 

Where do we start and how do we keep hope in a world of war?  

We need to give up peace for Lent. 

When the world is filled with violence, it is easy to get so caught up in evaluating and critiquing big picture, systemic issues (and the figure heads they represent) we often don’t make any effort to look inward; to do the hard work of unearthing the lies we believe about God, ourselves and others. The “peace” we need to give up for Lent is the pseudo-peace that says we are immune from contributing to the violence we see around us. When we tell ourselves that all the violence in the world happens “over there” because of “them,” we give ourselves a free pass from confronting our own evils that overflow into the world. 

To wage peace, we must first (and continually!) wage war on the evil within that keeps us from embracing our vocation as ambassadors of reconciliation (II Cor 5). 

Our prejudice.

Our isolation.

Our “othering.”

Our paralyzing fear.

Our stereotypes. 

Our insecurity.

Our need for revenge. 

I was recently sitting with a friend, a leading Muslim scholar and teacher, who adamantly denounced the corrupted definition of “Jihad” proposed by extremists and amplified by our fear-funded news-outlets. He said, “True Jihad is simply to face the evil within so that we can better reflect love to the world around us.” I was deeply convicted both of my falling pray to stigma and stereotype and by the long process inward that would be required to face the evil within. 

Jean Vanier, practitioner and seasoned guide on Christian community, says, “We create enemies because we haven’t confronted the enemy within us.” This begs the question, who are the “enemies” I have created as a result of my inability to face the “enemies” within?

Today marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day pilgrimage of introspection, repentance and re-alignment that leads to Holy Week on the Christian calendar. It is a season of confronting the evil within so we can wage peace in the midst of a broken world. It is a season of reflecting on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and acknowledging the decisive peace God waged in Jesus. The evil has been dealt with and the Kingdom has broken through. It is now our job to acknowledge and live into the reality of a Kingdom of peace despite the kingdoms around us that promote the opposite. The Jesus Community is called to be Salt and Light in THIS world, not some distant-future reality. It is to live as a reminder of the way things were meant to be all along. To seek the holistic repair of relationship. To be an instrument of peace. 

During this Lenten season, may we turn our sights inward and confront the evil within that keeps us from embracing and living out the decisive peace waged on the cross and embodied in the resurrection.

May we put to death the evil that creates and confronts “enemies” with revenge and be resurrected with the weapons of transformation, reconciliation and sacrifice.

May we seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed -- near or far -- and repent (turn) toward a life that reflects the one we follow. 

Girls: The Hope of the Future

unnamedOver the past few days, Ruby, our little four year old firecracker, has asked some profound and provocative questions that have both challenged and brought us much hope for the future.

“Why does Jesus want us to talk to him if he never talks back to us?”

“Why do we have a house to sleep in, while some of our neighbors don’t?”

“Why are there only boys on the Giants (my favorite MLB baseball team)?”

Today, a 17 year old Muslim girl named Malala Yousafzai, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Muslim.

Pakistani.

Female.

Child.

Breaking culture’s boundaries and expectations, this heroine gives us a glimpse of hope in a season when we needed it most. 

g243_u112483_1350706037760.cached“Two years ago Yousafzai garnered the world’s attention when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan. Since then, after recovering from surgery, she has taken her campaign global, most notable with a speech last year at the United Nations.

We haven’t heard a statement from Yousafzai about the peace prize. Apparently, she was in chemistry class when she was notified. She’s scheduled to release one later this day. After school lets out.

That may be my favorite part of the article I read about Yousafzai this morning. Because while, yes, she is a hero, she is also still a child. Who probably has a history quiz today. The day she is making history.

But I can’t say I’m shocked. Of course the Nobel Peace Prize is going to a child. My only surprise is that it took this long! Who better than a child to promote peace? They have the biggest stakes in the future.”

In a world riddled with conflict, oppression and brokenness, I’m more convinced than ever that it will be strong, articulate and courageous girls/women who will offer the needed healing to humanity’s deepest wounds.

And, if today’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient is any reflection of this, we are well on our way.

Maybe we’ll tell Ruby that girls don’t have enough time to play baseball because they are too busy winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

May we empower, listen, learn and be led by this tribe of prophets. Maybe, just maybe, they will show us once again what it looks like to tangibly love God and neighbor. 

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NOTE: Embedded quote courtesy of Compassion International: http://blog.compassion.com/nobel-peace-prize-malala-yousafzai/#ixzz3FlzB8xUk

In A World of ISIS, We Need More Muslim Friends

I can remember when I was scared of Muslims.

I don’t think I would have ever uttered those words, but subconsciously, they were true. 

As a good, Bible-Believing-Evangelical-Christian (that’s all one word, right?) who could recite the two greatest commandments to love God and love others before I was out of diapers, how had this fear developed in me?

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Well, it’s easy. Stories we are told about Muslims are often related to terror, oppression and violence. And, to be honest, it is far more comfortable to remain in a place of isolation and ignorance than it is to engage in the intentional work of education, experience and relationship. 

Further, I used to think the only way to meet Muslims was to fly half way across the world and enter into a reality completely foreign to my own. “They” are somewhere over there and “we” are over here, so let’s just agree to keep our distance and allow our politicians and power brokers to work things out.

That all changed for me when my wife and I joined a faith community committed to Jesus’ invitation to love our neighbors. We quickly realized loving our neighbors required we know our neighbors. And, living in a city that is home to tens of thousands of international refugees, we discovered that “they” don’t only live across the world, “they” are at “our” baseball games, in our neighborhood and our parks. It wasn’t that our Muslim friends had just moved in, it was that we hadn’t had the eyes to see them, let alone enter genuine friendships. 

Over the years, I have discovered that the only way to love and be loved by my neighbors (locally and globally) is to be in relationship. The reason I used to be scared of Muslims was simply because I didn’t know any. I had never heard their stories. I had never been to their sacred places. I didn’t understand their traditions. I hadn’t even shared a meal with them. 

I have come to realize what an incredible opportunity I had squandered. Interestingly, what I had squandered wasn’t primarily what I had to offer my neighbors, but what they had to offer me. 

As ISIS fills the headlines, Islamphobia spreads like the common cold and sound bites trump human interaction, there is no more important time to build friendships with our Muslim neighbors. Here are five reasons why:

1. A Cure for Fear

Fear is one of the most toxic diseases hijacking Christian’s ability to live as salt and light. Not only do we often tell ourselves that everyone is out to get us, we think relationships with those different than us leave us open to falling down the slippery slope of compromise.

I have never met a Muslim who asks me to compromise my commitment to Jesus. If anything, they encourage me to take it more seriously. Being in relationship with people who are different than us doesn’t compromise our faith, it reflects the very best of it. A mentor of mine recently said, “The deeper our roots are in Jesus, the wider our branches can extend into other traditions.”

2. An Expanded Worldview

I recently sat in a West Bank backyard with a collection of 20 Christians and Muslims. Having just spent a few days together, we sang, danced and shared what we had each learned about the other’s religious tradition based on our experience together. It was sacred. The worldview of both the Christians who were with me and the Muslims who lived in this village will forever view the “other” in a more helpful, human way.

In many other parts of the world, Christians and Muslims don’t see themselves as enemies, but as dear friends, partners and fellow humans. When we extend past our inherited worldview, we may see a very different landscape of interfaith collaboration. What media sources, experiences or influencers are we allowing to inform our worldview? How might that become more diverse?

3. An Antidote to Isolationism

We, the Christian community, can fall victim to becoming insulated and isolated, which inherently puts us in a posture of defense rather than invitation. When our relationships remain only among those who think, look and believe like we do, we run the risk of becoming exclusive and tribal. Which, ironically, is so much of the West’s critique of regimes like ISIS.

The antithesis of Christ-like love is to only be in relationship with those who are like “us,” while excluding “them.” As we begin to build relationships with those outside of our tradition, we break out of our little bubbles and are able to truly love like Jesus. Jesus never ran in fear from those who were different than him. No, he ran to people who were different. Our inherited theology may distance us from those of other religions, but Jesus never does.

4. A Solution for Our Need for Mutual Relationship

Our Christian tradition hasn’t historically done well at entering relationships with those outside of our tradition in a posture of mutuality. Our tendency has been to enter relationships as the hero rather than the learner.

As we build friendships with our Muslim neighbors, we must do so seeking to understand rather than be understood. Genuine friendship is not a project. Get curious. Share life and space. Spend long hours around the dinner table. Take each other’s kids to school. Accept their love in the same way you would expect them to receive yours.

5. An Understanding of Misrepresentation

I just got an email from my friend, Jarrod McKenna, who as a Jesus follower, is doing remarkable work reassigning dignity to the Muslim community in Australia. Sadly, his email was to tell me that a Muslim family was violently attacked, not because of their actions, but because of their religion.

In my city, a Muslim mom was recently killed outside of her house for similar reasons. These are just a couple acts of hatred and prejudice of our Muslim neighbors are enduring as a result of our inability to differentiate between Islamic extremists (ISIS, etc.) and the majority of Muslims.

The Christian Community must understand that the vast majority of Muslims are embarrassed and concerned for their own safety as a result of ISIS, and we must advocate for their humanity. If we are in genuine friendship, our advocacy will become a non-negotiable.

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NOTE: This piece was first published on RELEVANT Magazine

 

 

3 Barriers Hijacking Christian’s Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

EmpathyIn recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders. 

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch. 

War. 

Racism. 

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding. 

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human. 

Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”  

And by human, I mean, divine image bearers who have stories, families, pain, hopes, traditions and a unique interpretation of reality. 

Here are three barriers that are hijacking our ability to love our “enemies” and acknowledge our shared humanity: 

1. Fear

Those of us in the West (and I’m sure many others around the globe) live in a culture of fear. It is a reality of “What If?” What if the robber breaks into my house? What if all of our jobs are taken by immigrants who don’t deserve to be here? What if the terrorists strike my city? What if that person walking on the street (who looks different than me) tries to jump me? What if the stock market crashes and I lose all my investments? What if (insert name) gets elected and everything goes to hell?  

The Problem? We spend so much time trying to prepare for the “what if” that we completely miss out on the joy, beauty and opportunity right in front of us. Further, we project our fear on others and undeservedly make them the potential culprit. Because everyone is out to get us, we can no longer trust anyone and our worldview is largely pessimistic. 

The Cure? “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -- Jesus (Luke 12) 

In the end, if we truly believe Jesus is reigning, what do we have to fear?

2. Nationalism

Yes, we live in a country with unprecedented wealth, opportunity (for many) and infrastructure that has done remarkable things domestically and abroad. As I travel around the world, I don’t have to look far to run into people who dream to live in our country. There are so many reasons to be grateful to live here. With that said, it is deeply disturbing to me how inverse our allegiances have become within the Christian subculture. Many, out of reverence to our country, have placed their primary allegiance to the USA rather than to the Kingdom of God. 

The Problem? Nationalism is a form of idolatry that we must repent from. Healthy love of country isn’t what I’m referring to. Nationalism is the belief that our country is somehow set apart over and above all other countries which leads to unquestionable support of our nation’s policies and practices even if they come at the expense of innocent human beings on the other side of the globe. Further, we often place our hope in our elected officials rather than in Jesus (who reigns as king of the Kingdom that has come and is coming). It means we -- whether subconsciously or consciously -- see people who live outside of our borders as “less than.” We may not admit it, but it is certainly the case. If our war machines take the lives of those half way across the world it is somehow easier to justify than if it were the life of one of our own. 

The Cure? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. -- Jesus (John 18:36)

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   

3. Power 

The growing distance between those with economic and political power creates a social distance that doesn’t allow us to share tables with those who have differing degrees of power. Often, those in power don’t KNOW the people who their power impacts which leads to decisions that negatively impact those on the underside of power. The flip side is that those without power are willing to dehumanize others as a way to ascend to power. If getting power means values and ethics are compromised (which inevitably has direct implications on human beings), then so be it. 

The Problem? Power is viewed as a commodity that can be acquired for our own advancement rather than gift to be given away for the flourishing of others. A utopian view would say everyone is born into an equal playing field of opportunity, but that simply isn’t the case. Those in power don’t plan to relinquish it and those without power will often choose unethical means to gain it.  

The Cure? “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” -- Jesus (Matt 18) 

What if we took seriously Jesus’ words that the first shall be last and the last will be first?

A Prayer for the People of God and our Human Family 

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

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