The Enemy-making Machine

Human beings are good at making enemies. The Hatfields and McCoys are a case study; the two families engaged in a decades-long blood feud that claimed a dozen lives. The point of contention? One lost pig of Randolph McCoy in the fall of 1878, blamed on William Anderson Hatfield. It’s easy for us to put people into categories, to think of them as either friends or enemies, and treat them accordingly. Unfortunately, this enemy-making mentality has seeped into the church throughout history as well.

But Jesus wants to demolish that kind of thinking among his disciples and replace it with something better. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus outlines a process for dealing with sin among the church, a passage that has too often been abused by our friends-and-enemies thinking. This text is really about moving past the boundaries of friends and enemies to consider and treat one another like family.

Who might Christ be calling you to treat as family today?

Privilege, Power, & the Gospel of Jesus

There is a lot of talk about privilege in our world right now, especially white privilege. So often the conversations are loaded, filled with either defensiveness or shame.

Part of the problem seems to be that we tend to think of power in terms of position only, and we have a sinful tendency to only think about power in an upwards direction. We readily see ourselves as “less powerful” than those above us, but rarely think about how much power we have to serve those who are weaker. 

Jesus came and laid down his life for the healing of the world. Each week when we gather around the table of communion we remember that Jesus (who was all-powerful) willingly laid down his power for the sake of others. To follow in the way of Jesus is to, like Jesus, be taken-blessed-broken and given for the healing of the world. It is in the bread that is broken and in the wine that is poured out that true life and redemption are found.

We must recognize that no matter our position or privilege, we all have power.  We all have power within relationships to subvert or support, to destabilize or stabilize, etc., as well as other types of power like wealth or status. Humility and service aren’t about randomly giving up that power, but about using that power to serve the interests of others. As the ancient scriptures say, “Let each of you look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) Becoming a servant is not about becoming less than ourselves, but using our full self to serve the needs and interests of others.

Failure of Nerve vs. Failure of Heart

There is a wonderful leadership book called Failure of Nerve, which is all about having the courage to leave the status quo and lead change when necessary. It’s a really great book about adaptive change.  Right now, in our world, however, I don’t think our problem is a failure of nerve. We are all embracing adaptive change, we have no choice. We are adapting. We’ve learned to pivot. One pastor I know said, “I think I can learn adaptive change, I just don’t know if I can survive it!” I think that gets at the heart of this moment. I think our problem is not a failure of nerve, it’s a failure of heart. Many of us are wondering if we have what it takes to survive, we are wondering if it is worth it, or if we should abandon the job, the town, the house, the plan, or the school and make a big change. It is tempting to make a big move in part because it gives me a temporary feeling of control in a time when so many things feel out of my control.

I know some of you will be called to make a big change right now (and I support those Spirit-led courageous journeys into the unknown!) But I also want us to consider that sometimes re-arranging the furniture on the outside deck of my life keeps me from some house cleaning on the inside. Many of us are not all that developed in life endurance skills because we have had the luxury of so many distractions. When things get hard or uncomfortable, we just move or change rather than endure. If you tackle a big change in life right now, it will take a lot of your attention to do that, and it may give you a temporary feeling of control, but it also may distract you from an inner journey invitation. So for those of you who are weary and losing heart, and looking to distract yourself by grabbing the reins of something you can control by making a big change in life…hear the words of this ancient sacred text and consider Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Remember dear friends, the one who endures, resides in you. May you not grow weary or lose heart. 

Here are a couple of inner life questions to ask yourself right now:

  1. What key spiritual practices and rhythms are going to sustain me in this season?
  2. What key relationships are necessary to build resilience as things won’t be getting easier anytime soon?

I know that so many things feel outside of your control, and they are. Please know that you, my dear friends, are being held up in prayer before our ever-present loving God. May you rest in knowing you are fully known, fully loved, with no fear of rejection. Right now. Right here. Just as you are.

Hello, Anxiety

Anxiety

an ever-present tightness in my chest

a worry in my head

a companion I ignore and push away

deny is real

run over, past, around

but rarely through

rarely talk to. 

 

So today I say

Hello anxiety

I see you anxious one

I see that tightness in your chest

That story you are making up in your head

Rather than scold you, I invite you to sit down for some tea because, 

“Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.” (Simone Weil)

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7

Our Divided World

So many of my conversations with people lately reveal the anguish of our deep divides. Families are in turmoil as generations disagree on issues facing our world today. Friends are dividing over political differences. Relationships are fracturing as honest dialogue has been replaced with monologues in an echo chamber world.

In our world of deep divides and polar opposite perspectives, why does truth matter? Should we just throw our hands in the air and let each person go their separate way? Here is one reason why truth matters: the narrative you believe will impact the way that you live. The story you believe will impact the way you relate with yourself and your neighbor. So, as we read and research various viewpoints, perhaps we could make it our practice to simply ask ourselves: how will this narrative lead me to live in the world? Will this narrative lead me to love others more? Will this narrative lead me to be more generous or more defensive? Will this narrative lead me to live in fear or greater freedom? Will this narrative lead me to love God with my whole heart and love my neighbor as myself?

Jesus said, ““If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth,and the truth will set you free.”” — John 8:32

Truth matters because the stories we believe impact the way we show up to one another. May we be people who seek out the truth, not because we want to be “right” and lord it over those who disagree, but rather because we want to be people who live in love and extend that love to others. The story you believe will influence the way you live. May you live in the eternal dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who is one God and mother of us all.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in these uncertain times.

May the Lord surprise you in the ordinary moments of your day today with holy presence.

May the Lord reveal to you your belovedness.

May the Lord free you from anxiety.

May you lean into the eternal love of God and may you extend that love to another today.

Getting the Scarlet “C”

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

— Frederick Buechner

In July 2020, I turned 45, celebrated 19 years of marriage with Tim, and got sick and tested positive for COVID-19. Getting this virus is kind of like wearing the “Scarlet C” around on your chest right now. We are all trying to avoid this experience and wondering what it will be like if we get it. I am so grateful for all the care and prayer I have received during this time. I am also so very grateful to be feeling better and myself once again!

For me the experience of getting COVID happened while we were wrapping up our family vacation in Wisconsin. I started feeling sick with cold-like symptoms, but after a couple days it turned into a fever and chills, followed by an achy body and sleeping 18-20 hours each day. Then came the cough. Whenever I tried to take a deep breath I had to cough, a dry kind of cough. After a few days of being sick I decided to get tested for COVID, and my thinking at that time was just to do my due diligence and get tested out of an abundance of caution, but I really didn’t think I had the virus. I kept thinking, ‘we are in northern Wisconsin after all, in rural America – how could I get it here?’ While waiting 5 days for the test results I lost my sense of taste and smell, and then at that point, I figured I probably had it, since that is such a rare experience that I had never had before. The COVID test came back positive right as I was starting to feel better. Then the kids and Tim (who were with me the whole time) needed to begin their quarantine in case they were carriers. So, that was my experience. Not fun, but certainly not very extreme compared to others. Even though I never had to go to the hospital, I can only think of one other time in my life when I was that sick for that long which was when I was 16 years old and got a parasite in my system while living in Bolivia one summer.

One thing about getting COVID is that you are truly given permission to rest. I wonder if it might be helpful to give ourselves that sort of permission more often. May I offer you a bit of permission today? You have permission to rest. If you are a serial achiever who is always striving to get an A+, you have permission to get a C- in life right now. You have permission to be less than your best. You have permission to be weary, afraid, and mediocre. May you receive your worthiness apart from your performance. May you practice just being beloved when there is nothing you can do to prove your worth. May you rest in the grace and goodness of God today.

Start Close In

There is a poem by David White that I really love called “Start Close In.” Basically, the poem is saying that rather than trying to solve all the problems in the world, start close in, start with yourself.

This poem reminds me of a passage in scripture that simply says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: to mind your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…” — 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

These words remind me that I do not need to show up to every fight I am invited to. When our world is on fire it can feel like a full time job to show up to every single conversation being waged online and among family and friends. I have permission to be quiet and mind my own business, and so do you. You do not report to anyone other than God, and God knows your heart. Take your lead from the whispers of the Holy Spirit on when to speak and when to remain silent and listen. You live for an audience of one, and God is already pleased with you. You cannot do anything to earn God’s favor. May your daily life win the respect of others. May you rest in the gift that it is all grace. May you start close in.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

We only see in part

For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  — 1 Corinthians 13:12

We live in a world not yet made right. The scriptures say we only see in part. 1 Corinthians 13:12 speaks of us seeing “in a mirror dimly;” the King James translated this phrase as seeing “through a glass, darkly.” It’s a good picture of how we view the kingdom, and why Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to describe the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was telling his followers that although the kingdom may seem small now, there’s an unbroken line from its present manifestation and its future maturity.

Just imagine for a moment you held up a piece of very dark and cloudy glass and looked toward the mountains. You’d see only the barest outline of the peaks; it would be difficult to pick out the clouds in the sky, or any real features. Now imagine that this was the only way you had ever seen them. You would never know their true grandeur, only their barest outline, and it hurt your eyes to try to see much of them. This is what we are like as we behold the things of the kingdom in a world not yet made right. They often appear to us as the barest outline, if not completely obscured. But one day the glass will be removed, and we’ll behold these realities face to face, and they will be even more glorious and brilliant than the sight of the Rockies on a sunny morning.

Lament Over George Floyd

“History and scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance, there can be no repentance without confession, and there can be no confession without truth.”
— Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism

Injustice exists all around us, it’s just not often caught on film. This week we watched in horror as the video of George Floyd’s death surfaced online. It is so sad and disturbing and I have had no idea what to say. It invokes a righteous anger to watch a child of God plead, “I cannot breathe” and then watch as his breath is taken from him. We watched. We saw. We cannot unsee. God stands with the vulnerable and the oppressed and so must we.

I stand against violence and racism.

What does the LORD require of you? To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8

Let us pray.

God, we are witnesses of injustice, violence, murder and death. We speak the name of your beloved child George Floyd. A man made in your holy, precious image, whose very breath was taken from him. We bring you this rage, our anger, our sadness, our apathy, our shock, our horror, our heartbreak. Our world is such a mess and we cry out in lament with the psalmist, “how long, oh Lord?”

We confess we have not loved you with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

God we often sing, “break our hearts for what breaks yours.”
Our hearts are broken.
Your heart is broken.
We reject the sin of racism.
We reject the sin of silence.
We reject the sin of apathy and self-centeredness.
We reject the sin of indifference.

We pray that you guide us into action, show us how to work and serve to wage peace and restore justice and shalom in this hurting world.
May we die with you, Jesus, in sacrificial love.
May we rise with you, Lord Jesus, with a different kind of power that listens to the other with empathy, values others above self, fights for freedom, seeks truth and the flourishing of all.
We cannot weep at your cross, Jesus, and not weep at the suffering of people made in your image.
You tell us to mourn with those who mourn. Teach us to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you, God.

Your kingdom come.
My kingdom done.
On earth as it is in heaven.
Break my heart for what breaks yours.
We need your saving, oh God.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy.
God save us.
Amen.

Lamenting Racism

What do we do?
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
— Benjamin Franklin

Outrage is a godly response to injustice. When you are witnesses of a homicide, as we all have been, it is right to cry out in rage. In fact, if the gospel penetrates us deeply enough we will cry out as if the act was against our own child. It feels cozy to sing, “help me to love with open arms like you do, a love that erases all the lines and sees the truth” but it is just a platitude to sing that song and then be unmoved or defensive in the face of injustice. The uncomfortable reality is that the work of loving, the work of justice is hard, painful and messy.

Our world is on fire right now, as it has always been (and as people of color have always told us it is). The difference is that not everyone has felt the heat in the same way. Some communities and people groups have been protected from it while others have lived in the destruction of it for their entire lives. Connection and trust in relationships happen when one heart meets another heart. The thing that will destroy connection and trust in relationships like nothing else is invalidation. Invalidation is when a person’s own experience is all that exists to him or her. Often that person moves to negate, minimize or explain away the other person’s experience, treating it like it is somehow not real or non-existent. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know that it feels terrible.

So here we are, our world is on fire and our brothers and sisters of color are crying out. How will we respond? Here is how I hope to respond with God’s help…will you join me?

  1. Lament
  2. Listen
  3. Learn
  4. Confess
  5. Pray
  6. Act

Lament
In lament we bring our raw emotion to God in prayer, no filters. Below is a list of lament; a list of names of African Americans killed by police since Eric Garner’s death in 2014. This list is, by no means, comprehensive. In reading these names we also acknowledge the ones not included here; knowing that God knows the full list and holds each one in his heart. Each one is a life made in the image of God who is gone now because of violence, oppression and racism. God’s heart breaks, and so must ours. We do not turn away with indifference but we speak each name in sorrow and outrage at the injustice that snuffed out human life:
ERIC GARNER
JOHN CRAWFORD III
MICHAEL BROWN
EZELL FORD
DANTE PARKER
MICHELLE CUSSEAUX
LAQUAN MCDONALD
TANISHA ANDERSON
AKAI GURLEY
TAMIR RICE
RUMAIN BRISBON
JERAME REID
GEORGE MANN
MATTHEW AJIBADE
FRANK SMART
NATASHA MCKENNA
TONY ROBINSON
ANTHONY HILL
MYA HALL
PHILLIP WHITE
ERIC HARRIS
WALTER SCOTT
WILLIAM CHAPMAN II
ALEXIA CHRISTIAN
BRENDON GLENN
VICTOR MANUEL LAROSA
JONATHAN SANDERS
FREDDIE BLUE
JOSEPH MANN
SALVADO ELLSWOOD
SANDRA BLAND
ALBERT JOSEPH DAVIS
DARRIUS STEWART
BILLY RAY DAVIS
SAMUEL DUBOSE
MICHAEL SABBIE
BRIAN KEITH DAY
CHRISTIAN TAYLOR
TROY ROBINSON
ASSHAMS PHAROAH MANLEY
FELIX KUMI
KEITH HARRISON MCLEOD
JUNIOR PROSPER
LAMONTEZ JONES
PATERSON BROWN
DOMINIC HUTCHINSON
ANTHONY ASHFORD
ALONZO SMITH
TYREE CRAWFORD
INDIA KAGER
LA’VANTE BIGGS
MICHAEL LEE MARSHALL
JAMAR CLARK
RICHARD PERKINS
NATHANIEL HARRIS PICKETT
BENNI LEE TIGNOR
MIGUEL ESPINAL
MICHAEL NOEL
KEVIN MATTHEWS
BETTIE JONES
QUINTONIO LEGRIER
KEITH CHILDRESS JR.
JANET WILSON
RANDY NELSON
ANTRONIE SCOTT
WENDELL CELESTINE
DAVID JOSEPH
CALIN ROQUEMORE
DYZHAWN PERKINS
CHRISTOPHER DAVIS
MARCO LOUD
PETER GAINES
TORREY ROBINSON
DARIUS ROBINSON
KEVIN HICKS
MARY TRUXILLO
DEMARCUS SEMER
WILLIE TILLMAN
TERRILL THOMAS
SYLVILLE SMITH
ALTON STERLING
PHILANDO CASTILE
TERENCE CRUTCHER
PAUL O’NEAL
ALTERIA WOODS
JORDAN EDWARDS
AARON BAILEY
RONELL FOSTER
STEPHON CLARK
ANTWON ROSE II
BOTHAM JEAN
PAMELA TURNER
DOMINIQUE CLAYTON
ATATIANA JEFFERSON
CHRISTOPHER WHITFIELD CHRISTOPHER MCCORVEY
ERIC REASON
MICHAEL LORENZO DEAN
BREONNA TAYLOR
GEORGE FLOYD

Listen
It is not my voice that is most needed right now. It is the voices of people of color who have been doing the work of justice who we all really need to listen to right now. They are the experts. We have lost the art of dialogue in a monologue world. Listening is so rare. Listening with empathy is rarer still. When was the last time you felt truly listened to? This is such a gift. In our marriage class, we teach couples to listen using the RAVE MODEL, which is simply an acronym for:
Reflect back what the person said to ensure you heard them
Affirm the feelings you hear
Validate their experience, and do this with
Empathy
Let us listen well to our sisters and brothers right now. Let us listen without self-interest and with open hearts.

Learn
If you are white, then please join me in being a student of race in America. Do not go to your friends of color and ask them to tell you their experience, to teach you about race (enslaving people of color all over again) but rather take the job upon yourself to learn. Here are a few places to start:

  • Follow people of color who are speaking out online and just listen and learn, people like: @austinchanning, @berniceaking, @clintsmithiii, @ibramxk, @rachel.cargle
  • Take the time to read books on race written by people of color. A few that have helped me learn more include:
    • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
    • Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, by Latasha Morrison
    • How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
    • Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, by Claude M. Steele
    • The Hate You Give (a novel), by Angie Thomas
    • Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
    • Other books on race: Talking to Strangers, Bloodlines, White Awake, Such a Fun Age (a novel)

Confess
God, We confess we have not loved you with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

Pray
This is a prayer offered by the president of Denver Seminary, or you can write your own.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have blinded my eyes. In spite of the clear evidence of deeply embedded racism all around me, I have looked the other way. Too many have died. Too many have suffered. Too many have been locked out and cast aside. Too many indignities. Too many injustices. And still I looked the other way.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have hardened my heart. Believing the lie that blacks have the same opportunities as whites, I could not allow myself to admit that my life was shaped as much by racism as theirs—mine to benefit and theirs to harm. But it was and it is and it will continue to be. I have cared too little. I have grieved too little.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have silenced my tongue. My voice has not been raised in prophetic rebuke and anger. My feet have not stepped out for justice alongside those who have more courage than I. And in my silence I am an accomplice to bigotry.

Forgive me, O Lord.

I have sinned against you and against those who suffer the evil of racism. Indifference has smothered my soul and snuffed out fleeting impulses for reconciliation. I ask for your forgiveness and I will appropriately seek their forgiveness.

Empower me, O Lord.

I need your strength to step beyond blindness, indifference and fear; to step toward those whom I have sinned against. I make no grandiose promises or plans today for I know how easily these can be made and forgotten. But this I know. I cannot be the same. And I will not.

Amen!

Act
God calls each of us to use our time, talents, and treasure to do justice. As we listen and learn, let us also be quick to move in acts of service to promote the shalom and flourishing of all people everywhere. That will look different for each person. Let us not love with words alone, but in action and in truth. In the weeks to come we hope to share with you other specific ways that people in our community are acting and invite your participation in church-wide acts of justice, mercy and love.

What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
–Micah 6:8