3:30 Thursday, Motivation Monday, Projects

Let’s just leave God out of this, please.

Earlier today, the President of the United States shared the following sentiment on his social media accounts:

  • realdonaldtrump IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT – WE WORSHIP GOD!
    #USA 🇺🇸

And something in me has officially snapped.

I am done.

If I hear one more statement from a Christian comparing the man who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to a morally questionable leader/king/etc. from the Old Testament and saying that because God used so-and-so, God is also using the 45th President of the United States to bring about his will. I have a few things to say to you.

And, to you, morally superior Christian who has instead identified this man as a portent of the end times, the anti-Christ, and evil incarnate – I have some things to say to you, too.

It’s probably not the end times.

Let’s get some perspective – basically, all Christians since the year 33 A.D. have believe that they were living in the end times. And, let’s be honest, the Christians who lived through the black death in the 14th Century saw 50% or more of Europe’s population die. By 1691, 90-95% of the indigenous peoples of the Americas had died from epidemic disease, war, famine, and other side effects of the “discovery” of the New World. Even in the last few centuries, children died of malaria, small pox, diphtheria, polio and common colds due to malnutrition, lack of medical care, poor sanitation and unfortunate luck. Now, here we are in 2017, and in the United States of America we have an unqualified bully for a President.

A man who admittedly thought it was worth his time today to accuse Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska of “letting Republicans down” by not voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And who also thought it was worth his time and energy to make a statement excluding transgendered Americans from serving in our military.

But even in these dark times, we still have electricity, running water, cable television, Facebook, and an overabundance of cheap processed food available at grocery and convenience stores 24 hours a day. I’m just saying – our claim on the end times is pretty pathetic compared to basically all time before now.

I can appreciate your feeling that our President feels like a bad omen. Nevertheless, I want to challenge that idea. I think we make this mistake over and over again in our country, and in the Christian faith.

Let’s think about Jesus for a second…

The ministry of Jesus Christ was not a political revolution. He confused people constantly in his ministry. He appeared to have infinite power:

ICYMI (In cased you missed it):

  • He could heal the sick just by touching them
  • He used 5 loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people
  • He turn water into wine
  • He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors – usually having meals with them
  • He raised a child from the dead
  • He raised his friend from the dead
  • He called out religious leaders for hypocrisy
  • Also, when faced with the prospect of death, he died. Rather than use his power against his accusers – he died. (Note the distinct contrast with the words of our current President: “When the President gets hit, he’s going to hit back 10 times harder.”) Then (we’re back to Jesus now) he came back to life.

Note some big missing elements: He never endorsed a political candidate or party (not even Ronald Regan). Also, he never mentioned the United States of America, free speech or trickle down economics. In fact, he suggested that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the first would be last and the last would be first (Matthew 20:16).

Thanks for the Sunday school lesson…why are we here again?

Here’s what I believe: Jesus Christ came to restore humanity’s relationship with its creator, not overthrow the Roman empire. I’m just going to put this out there – I don’t believe that God cares one way or another who the President of the United States is. I think God cares how we treat each other, how we treat the poor, how we treat the sick, and how we treat the planet. And, I dare say, we can do better in those areas.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t even believe that God hates Donald Trump. I think this is why Evangelical Christians have “hope” for this man – Donald Trump is not beyond the reach of God’s love…he doesn’t strike me as someone who is searching desperately for the living water that Jesus offers his followers (John 4:14), but who am I to judge another human’s innermost heart?

And that is another revolutionary idea of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ died for Donald Trump, too. I believe that Mr. Trump sees Christians in a transactional way – he likes the ones that voted for him…and that is sad for him. Because if he ever put anyone or anything above himself, he might discover the power of grace, the value of love, and the return on the investment of forgiveness and faith that leads to a truly abundant life.

I don’t believe that Donald Trump should have the power of the Presidency, and I certainly don’t want to give him the power of the antichrist. He is unworthy of both.

Is he a greedy man? Yes.
Is he a shallow man? Yes.
Is he a bully? Yes.
Is he an insult to the position that he holds and the country he represents? Yes.

And YES, he is in a position to do real harm to many people and our country, and that is why, despite my desire to pretend that he does not exist, that I choose to resist.

But please, do not give him the credit for bringing about the end times. And certainly don’t give up on the Paris accords or trying to prevent the destruction that our planet will experience due to Global Warming because you think the World is going to end anyway.

The world has seen bad leaders. evil leaders. and worse – leaders who were bad and evil, but also smart and charismatic. Mr. Trump is clumsy, inarticulate and foul. His lies are transparent and he will fall into the trap he has laid for himself.

In the mean time, let’s give God a break. Christians, can’t we please get back to the work that was important to Jesus Christ? Feeding the hungry? Healing the sick? Loving those who were rejected? Turning the other cheek? Not throwing the first stone? Following the Spirit rather than the letter of the law? Let’s do those things and stop pretending that the man in the White House represents those values right now.

 

3:30 Thursday

These forty days

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three lifelong friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, the forty days – not counting Sundays – leading up to Easter. Christians relate to and observe this religious season in lots of different ways, and so do the three of us. So today we’re sharing what’s on our mind as the 2017 Lenten season begins. 


Mary Margaret 

We traditionally begin the season of Lent with the Gospel account of Jesus setting out into the wilderness of the Judean Desert. After forty days of fasting and solitude, He is tempted by the devil. The story comes after Jesus’ Baptism and before His public ministry- the miracles, parables, disciples…the cross. Frequently people approach Lenten discipline as some period of atonement or punishment, particularly the practice of “giving up” things we enjoy. It’s tempting to imagine we gain brownie points with God by denying ourselves actual brownies. But Jesus’ withdrawal to the wilderness doesn’t actually point to that, having no reason Himself to make recompense for personal sins. Rather this time must be seen primarily as one of preparation. Preparation before the work of His life- the miracles, parables, disciples- and cross.

As Lent approaches I keep returning to one word: wilderness. A place by definition wild. For centuries the church has invited a connection between Christ’s 40-day ordeal in this inhospitable place with our own spiritual lives, and I’ve been asking myself what might be gleaned in the where– the setting of this scene.

Wilderness paradoxically encompasses emptiness and desolation along with terrifying potential for chaos and danger. Nothingness and turmoil. To me, wilderness isn’t only a physical place but also a mental and spiritual state, particularly obvious in challenging times. This year has already left me in the desert a number of times, but what scripture suggests is that oddly, the seemingly infertile, terrifying, lonely place is precisely the location to learn and grow. Here I offer three aspects of wilderness I’m taking into my Lenten preparations this year.

*There aren’t a lot of people in the wilderness. Ie. not so many words and competing voices. Why is it easier for Moses or Jesus to discern the Word of God in wilderness? Less competition. I want to scale back the wordiness in my life, being mindful of how many voices I engage with in social media, podcasts, news, and even conversation. This Lent, I want to find what I hear in the quiet.

* Wilderness is not a place you have control over—which is scary—but you have to be there anyway. But here’s another truth: you don’t have control of life outside the wilderness either. I think fearful, uncertain moments must serve to deepen our understanding of our ultimate lack of control. I’m not suggesting helplessness, but that we are not other people, the universe, or our Creator, and when we try to assume control of these things, we are more often left frustrated and debilitated.

*Sometimes you get lost in the wilderness. (There isn’t an abundance of signage). I once heard a yoga teacher quote this Turkish proverb: No matter how far down the wrong road you have traveled, turn back. I want to approach this Lent with openness in finding where I may be traveling in the wrong direction- in thinking, or actions—and stopping to turn back. No matter how much time or energy you have invested in moving through the wilderness, if the path is wrong, it’s time to turn around. After all, that’s literally what the word repentance means: a turning. Sometimes it’s simply time to turn around.


Jillian – with trigger warning for eating disorders, mental illness and foul language

I am NOT a Baptist. But I’m kind of a Baptist. And the Baptist take on Lent that I grew up with was that some other Christians fast or “give up” certain things they enjoy as, well, basically as a piss-poor homage to Christ’s suffering. (But Baptists don’t say “piss.”) To a Baptist, the idea that giving up sugar could represent Christ’s suffering is like the idea that a little sprinkle of water on a baby’s head can represent Christ’s baptism. In short, it’s bullshit. (But Baptists don’t say “shit.”)

Baptists are an all-or-nothing kind of bunch, God love ’em. But they’re pretty bad at understanding other denominations’ faith practices. For years I’ve turned down Mary Margaret and Maggie’s invitations to join in their Lenten devotionals, but now I’m attending a church that does observe Lent, so I finally just asked my minister to explain to me what the deal was.

As I was asking her, I was telling myself I could talk about this without talking about my eating disorder. But – I blame the pharmaceuticals – I was forgetting just how neurotic I really am.

My minister talked about how Lent could be about distilling your life down closer to the essentials and focusing more on what you truly need. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that “distillation” is my addiction, that when I start slicing off bits of my life, I can’t stop until I’ve pared down to nothing and I still can’t stop even then.

She talked about how Lent could be about remembering our mortality as we prepare to observe Christ’s death on Good Friday. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I obsess about death like a child about an absent parent: When will she show up again? Will she have a kind word for me? Will she help me understand who I am and where I came from?

She talked about how for some people, fasting for Lent could be a way of remembering the physical sensation of need, which can help you remember your reliance on God. I said, okay. But I didn’t say that I’ve fasted and fasted until I stopped feeling hungry, forgot how to feel hungry. Until I stopped craving food and started craving only emptiness. That after nearly four years of re-learning how to eat, every time I feel hungry, I crave the emptiness all over again.

She talked about how we tend to keep our faith cerebral, and that at Lent we should recognize the importance of Christ’s body, and the need to bring the spiritual together with the physical. She talked about how Lent could be a time for finding your own ways to experience your faith in your body. I said, “Okay, I think I can get behind that.”

And I caved, and I told her about the years I spent pushing myself toward death and the years I’ve spent trying to make peace with life, trying to undo the dichotomies that keep my mind at war with my body and my spirit at war with the world. I told her about how, while everyone else seems content to honor life in death, I’d been trying for so long to honor death in life.

She said, “You know more about Lent than you think.”

I thought, “The hell I do.” But Baptists don’t say “hell.”


Maggie

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I made what has turned out to be a pretty significant decision in my life. I gave up soda for lent. I used to drink sprite, coca cola and other soft drinks all the time, but after I stopped drinking soda for lent that year, I never started again. That was before the childhood obesity was a thing, before high fructose corn syrup was the enemy of health and before anyone ever said anything about a kid drinking soda.

Did my 9 year old self really think that my sprite habit was keeping me from being closer to God? No, probably not. But the practice of observing lent, even though I didn’t understand that we were supposed to be honoring the 40 days that Christ spent fasting in the desert – helped me appreciate that there are things in our life that we think are important, but can be let go.

One of the things I love the most about the liturgical calendar of the church is that you get to revisit a practice like lent year after year. The scriptures, the practice, the idea has been the basically the same for thousands of years, but as I have changed, my experience of the practice has changed.

Back to this practice of “giving up” for lent. When I was thinking about this post I was reminded of a year when my mother gently suggested that my sisters and I give up fighting for lent. Another time, I “selflessly” vowed to “give up” five pounds (you know…because they were holding me back from a relationship with my creator). Many times these things have been more wishes or second chance New Years Resolutions.

I think I’d really prefer it if God wanted me to give up something I don’t really like anyway: taxes, cable news, my landline phone. But that is not how it works. It makes me appreciate the story of the rich young ruler from the Gospel. In the story, a wealthy young man tells Jesus how he has followed the commandments all his life and asks what more he must do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him that all he has to do is sell all he owns and follow him. The ruler then goes away feeling very sad because he had great wealth. I wanted you to tell me I had done enough. I was hoping you wanted me to adopt a puppy!

Christ doesn’t ask us to give up what is easy. Because it’s not the easy things that are keeping us from a closer relationship with our creator. He asks us to give up that which we identify as ourselves because those things we use to identify as ourselves: our job, our money, our cultivated image – are an illusion hiding the spiritual beings that God created us to be. But I’ve worked so hard to raise my family, earn my living, make my home. These things aren’t off limits for God. He doesn’t ask us for easy things. He chooses Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. He asks Jesus to give up his life. God doesn’t want our leftovers, he wants the things that we think are essential to ourselves, so we can appreciate that only he is essential.

This is not stuff for the faint hearted. This is why Christianity is radical. This is why letting go is an act of faith.

I try to appreciate that while God may want everything, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Maybe today I only have faith enough to give up chocolate or Facebook for the next 40 days. But, that little act of faith in God’s providence – that faith that God could fill the space in my life that is now occupied by politics, twitter, or re-runs of the Office – is still faith. Faith isn’t always about feeling faithful. It’s about being faithful and letting go.