Better Than This (or, manifesto destiny)

“The difference between me and my parent’s generation, the culture warriors, is that I actually know people on the other side, and I like them.” -Russell Moore

I write this not to clarify my positions or to postulate some new and radical philosophy of political engagement. I don’t write this to endorse anyone or convince you to change your mind about whoever you have decided is best to lead this country. In fact, I really don’t care.

US politics this go around has been a three ring circus of epic proportions, with less actual discussion of policy and enough vitriol and libel slung across enemy lines to level a nation, which is what I fear.

I was born into a very specific sect of Christianity , which shapes and informs my (many) opinions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the refugee crisis. And as a minister of a Gospel which I believe gives life to all who receive it, I am horrified at the trends I’ve seen rock our nation to its core the last several months.

My politics would probably be categorized as center-right if you’re one of those people who desires tidy boxes with which to organize all the things that you couldn’t possibly wrap your head around without such a system. But I identify myself as an Independent, because I believe party lines in a post Reagan world are more divisive and ugly than helpful. I want to learn who the candidates are up and down the ticket, as to make wise and informed decisions.

Now, I hope that doesn’t make me sound too engaged in the political system, because I also consider myself, if such a term exists, politically agnostic, in that I don’t know if these partisan political circuses are even remotely the way things ought to be (and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not.)

Hillary and Donald are human beings, deeply flawed human beings with whom I am so disgusted with. I don’t believe either of them are honest and I don’t believe either of them are what we need. But they are, apparently, what America wants right now. And as much as the conservative and liberal media would want you to believe otherwise, they are human beings created in the image of God.

I hear echoes of Israel crying out for a King to lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity. Whispers of God’s people crying for a messiah, and not recognizing him when he appeared.

I have friends who I love deeply, believers and non believers alike across the spectrum of republican and democrat and everything else. To the politicians, they are a voting block. But to me, they are friends and family members, who are human beings created in the image of God. They all have lots of opinions, lots of data and theories to justify that one of these candidates is the obviously better choice.

I don’t write this to exalt the merits of either of them or change your opinions about which one of them is Adolph Hitler in disguise. I don’t even write this to slander either of them. This is less a discussion of politics and more one of basic humanity.

Because one of the most heartbreaking things I see in this time are all of those people whom I love and are created in the image of God at each other’s throats.

I am blessed to have all different kinds of friends. My Facebook page isn’t an echo chamber resounding with opinions that resemble my own. And I think that keeps me honest. It reaffirms my calling as an evangelist, not to win people over to my side of an argument but to proclaim God’s goodness across the massive scope of humanity. I believe that his kindness draws us to repentance. It is my job to love you no matter how we differ. And I don’t apologize for that belief.

But I urge you, my friends and neighbors and strangers who read this blog: do not let the mean spiritedness of our current political climate let you hate those with whom you disagree. Don’t fling fiery darts across your news feed or tweetstorm the ignorant into oblivion.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, specifically: remember the life to which you have been called. Remember that your identity rests not in a politician or platform, but in a person named Jesus Christ. Do not sully your witness by being the very agitator you cry out against.

Ideological divides are no excuse for ugliness. If our presidential candidates will not act like adults, the responsibility falls into our hands. It is my hope that I and those I love will treat one another with dignity. Love as Christ loves. We are better than this.

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Of Intentions and Idols (Let Us Run)

Chains

I sat with my class in a corner of the sanctuary, music played throughout the building, people sang and prayed and worshiped. I saw children running, only to be stopped by concerned parents and shushed by the present clergy. This was a sacred place, a holy place to encounter the divine.

And on the stage, one might’ve expected to see a pulpit rising above the crowd. But instead, there stood several monolithic statues, faces etched from stone, frozen in time forever, or at least until the years ate away at them, paint faded and crumbling. These were the gods and goddesses of the Hindu faith, impersonal sentinels with stony faces looking toward their devoted worshipers indifferently.

A lot of folks, especially those of my own religion, would compare this scene to that of an ancient city in an ancient world that bears no resemblance to our own. But that is not true. It is a world we live in, and a world we find ourselves entrenched in, even in the Christian faith.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to a Hindu temple in Charlotte. It was an interesting experience, one where I gained much respect for the people, but also came away with a deeper understanding of my own sinfulness.

This particular instance was a more vivid depiction of idolatry than I’d ever seen in my own American dream-ridden life or in the lives of the people around me. It’s a lot less subtle when you watch people literally bowing down to and offering food to statues who will never be able partake of it. But what I saw there was a reflection of my own heart and my own proclivities.

Tim Keller, hearkening back to John Calvin, says that our hearts are idol factories. This means that something about human nature points to the inescapable fact that we are wired for worship. And if God is not the center of our worship, we will surely find something to take his place. I saw people in that temple physically bowing down to idols, participating in what we would call idolatry, but hey! At least they are honest about it.

Myself and so many of those I love fill their lives with a plethora of distractions and luxuries that we like to pretend have no ultimate grip on our lives. And idolatry barely ever starts out as a bad thing…Idolatry, in its simplest form is making good things ultimate things. It is where admiration turns to obsession, where appreciating God’s good gifts becomes focusing more on the gift than on the Giver, where want becomes overwhelming need.

Here’s a good test for whether or not that thing you love is an idol to you: If it were to be taken away, could you go on living? Obviously, I’m not talking about enough food to live or water. But the point is that the problem doesn’t lie in the idols themselves, many of these things are innately good gifts from God. But the problem is somewhere deeper, the problem is inside of us, in our hearts. We are desperate to worship, but not so desperate to be obedient to the thing we worship. Which is why worshiping God seems so difficult, because of what that demands of us.

But the catch is that you cannot worship anything without obeying it, whether you realize it or not. All this makes me thing about that anti-smoking commercial that was floating around a while back. Here it is:

The thing is, whatever you devote all of your time, energy, and devotion to will stop being a good gift to be used and start making the rules for you. You build your life around the thing you idolize. We turn good gifts like sex into porn, prostitution, and nymphomania. We turn food into gluttony or anorexia and bulimia. We make something good sinful and let it reign over our lives. Instead of God.

I have a lot to learn about idolatry, but I see it in my everyday life. My prayer for myself as well as for those who are reading this is that we will return to Christ, worship him as he ought to be worshiped, and place our affections on him, and not on the idols that we hold dear. It is God’s desire for us to seek first the Kingdom, and it is my desire that that would be my desire as well.

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”-Saint Augustine