A Call to Love in a Culture of Hate

Shootings

I went to bed Saturday night after having read the news of the shooting in El Paso, Texas.  I awoke Sunday morning to news about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. As a pastor, I felt a responsibility and an urge to talk with the Sunday morning congregation about the events. It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t part of the “order of service” that had already been set and sent out to the team.  

 

But neither had we planned on these shootings.

 

So, before I arrived at Sunday Morning Venues, I wrote these thoughts and then shared them during our services:   

 

Today we mourn over our country that has once again witnessed the evil of hate. 

We grieve over the state of our land. 

We humbly open ourselves to the real possibility that we have ignited  the flames of hate. As James writes, “It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell”  (James 3:5-6).

We confess our sin. 

We long for the day seen by the prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in the Christ we see in Jesus, when, “Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end. Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there (Isaiah 60:18).

We express our hope.

As children of God we accept the call to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We renounce every expression of violence.  

Violence of the tongue.  Violence of the gun.  

Violence in the heart.  Violence with the hand.  

Violence with a post.  Violence with a text.  

Instead, today, our mouths will speak blessings not cursings;  love not hate. (James 3:9-10).  

Today, …our feet will move to spread the good news of peace (Isaiah 52:7). 

Kissing Goodbye…

Joshua and Shannon

I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).

Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students.  The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.  

It didn’t work out so well.  Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered.  In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication. 

This morning, I read this from Josh, 

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.  The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’.  By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”  You can read Josh’s full statement here. 

I kissed dating goodbye.

I kissed marriage goodbye.

I kissed Christianity goodbye.

While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.

I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.

I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them.  I don’t know their story.  I don’t judge them.  I am for them. 

Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.  

*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous.  You know, the “if/then” formula.  If you do this, then you will get this.  If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”

Well, there is also “prosperity dating”.   If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss. 

When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.  

*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary.  Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”  

*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church  “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….

We’ve been taught to listen to others but not taught very well, if at all,  how to listen to the divine image of God within us (1 Corinthians 2:11-13, John 10:27).

*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good.  Is deconstructing what Jesus did?  “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.”  Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way? 

But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught?  It’s gut-wrenching stuff.  Our world seems to collapse.

Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian.   Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that.  I have felt the same way.  How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”  

What is the measurement of being a “Christian?”  Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense.  The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).  

Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus? 

I admire Josh and Shannon.  They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it.  They could have kept it to themselves.  But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us. 

I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.  

 

All You Need is Love

Paul All You Need is Love

The theme of my sermon Sunday  (July 21) was The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”.

John Lennon wrote the song in the context of the conflicts of the 60s – the Vietnam War, Racism, Gender Discrimination, on and on.  

Beatle John’s solution?  Love.

Paul wrote his love poem, 1 Corinthians 13, in the context of the conflicts of the church.  There were, in the church, factions, divisions, comparisons, competition, categorizations – “I’m better than, more spiritual than, closer to God than – you.”

Apostle Paul’s solution?  Love.

The Love Poem of 1 Corinthians 13 was not written to be read at a wedding – although it’s a pretty good fit – it was written to be read at a fight – a relationship fight, a church fight, a community fight, a country’s fight. 

Love.  How can we love the “other”?

I got a clue from a rock – a talking rock.  South of Springfield, MO, where I live, is an attraction called “Talking Rocks Caverns”.   

Do you think they’re using “talking” as a metaphor?  Have you ever heard a rock talk?

Jesus says if we don’t recognize and respond (eulogeo – bless, speak well of) to Jesus as King of a new kingdom, then the “rocks will cry (an urgent scream) out” (Luke 19:40).  

Talking rocks. Shouting rocks. 

The Psalmist says there’s a concert in the fields.  “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are carpeted with grain.  They shout and sing together for joy (Psalm 65:13).

Shouting Rocks.

Singing Sheep and Grain. 

There’s a lot of shouting and singing going on in nature.  An actual “rock concert”! 

How does that help me love?

Jesus teaches us to find God incarnate in this world.  Holding up the bread at the last supper, he said, “This is my body.”  

Paul writes that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).  

God can be seen in things if we want to see.  

In rocks. 

Even in people.  

“In the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46).  

According to Paul, all of humanity are God’s “offspring (genos – from God’s genes)” (Acts 17:28).

Does spirituality teach us that we can see God in people and pebbles? I’m thinking, “yes.”

Science seems to teach us the same thing.  In case there is any question, I did not do well in science through school.  English, Literature, Philosophy? I loved. Not so much for science. But, I’m now I’m reading scientists who sound spiritual!

Go figure.

Science and spirituality both agree that we are all one…that we all come from one God – unless you believe that God is a white-bearded old man living in the clouds.  But if you see God as “spirit” (John 4:24), as Universal Being, Cosmic Mind, the unity of the uni-verse makes sense.  

“Universe” – “uni” means “one.”  “verse” is from the Latin “vertere”  and means “to turn.”  

Universe means we are turned into one.  

We are one.  One unified reality.  Science tells us that if we look closely enough at any person, plant or rock, its basic structure, the atom, is nothing more that a collection of spinning energy vortices – in everything.   

I don’t get that at all.  What I do get is this: Despite our apparent separateness, there appears to be one energy source from which we all arise.  Whether you call it the “Higgs Boson” or God, science and religion both agree that it’s real (Well that concept is a bit too “out there” for some people of faith to accept.) 

There is a supernatural, mystical connectedness between everything…

…even with those with whom I have major disagreements and differences.

Why should I bother with the “other”?

Why should I care about those over there?

Why should I try to walk beside those on the other side?

Why should I be with those with whom I disagree? 

Why not walk away from those who think a different way? 

Because we’re connected.  

Another guy much smarter than I, Tom Chi, said, in a Tedx Talk that “societies that deeply adopt this idea are the ones who over time deepen their level of consideration, deepen their level of expression, deepen their level of understanding, for each other.”  He goes on to say that “this is actually something that is literally true.”

Since the connection is true, the unity is a reality, I need to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bonds of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

 

Lunch Buddy to Life Buddy

 

Water slide

This is the last week of school for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

This is the last week for my Lunch Buddy and me.  

He’s graduating from 5th grade this Friday. The Lunch Buddy program stops at 5th grade.

I always liked the last week and day of school.  Not so much this year. 

He and I were matched his first year at Robberson. He was in Kindergarten. We’ve been “buddies” for 6 years.  

We’ve gone from me pushing him on a swing and him trying to push me and having to call his friends for help, to just walking around the school yard or sitting on a bench talking.  His choice.

I was at his school yesterday. We had been sitting on a bench for about 20 minutes engaged in a good conversation. Other kids were on the grounds playing. His 5th grade class was eating pizza and ice-cream – a special treat for the graduates! Thinking he might be bored and wishing I’d leave so he could go play, I did my best to give him an out: “You know,” I said, “we’ve been talking a while and it’s been good, but if you want to go play with the other kids or go grab some pizza, that’s cool.”  

“No,” he answered, “I’d rather just sit here and talk with you.”

We’ve grown.  We’ve talked over the years about:

-what hurts us and what scares us.  

-what makes us laugh and what makes us sad.

Each time, no exception, over the 6 years, I’ve left Robberson a better person for having spent time with my buddy.

I’ve learned from him generosity – every single time he offered to me some of his lunch.  When I would bring  him a bag of candy he would share with his friends. Everytime.

I’ve learned from him kindness.  His life may not be easy. But his spirit is strong and sweet.

I’ve gotten in trouble some at the school.  Kind of a lot. I brought a football one time to toss around with the kids, only to be told that there are no footballs allowed.  Football might lead to tackling.

I led the kids in the old-fashioned game of “Red Rover,” and was confronted by the playground supervisor telling me that that too was not allowed.  The game I grew up playing was too rough.

I developed a reputation of not always playing by the rules.  Imagine that.

I started taking “Reeses Cups” to her as penance.  It worked.

Yesterday was “Water-Slide Day” for the 5th graders.  After lunch, the kids lined up to take their turn. I stood with two teachers watching the fun.  Each time a kid would climb the steps to slide down the other side, the other kids would chant their name.  

The kid would slide down amidst the chants into a pool of water sending  sprays over the shrieking, happy kids waiting their turn.

I watched my buddy slide down, gave him a hug and left.  I signed out at the office, walked outside toward my car but took a right turn at the edge of the school building instead.  

I wanted to slide.  Was this another breaking of the rules?  I checked with the two adults still standing there – “Is it OK if I slide?” I asked them.  

“Sure!”  No rules against silly adults sliding down the water-slide.  So, with the kids chanting “Phillip, Phillip…” I climbed the steps and in my best cannon-ball tuck, went down the slide.

“Come on, Phillip.  You’re 62 years old.”  I know. to me, that’s even more reason to go down the slide.  As Pablo Neruda said, “A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”

Being a Lunch Buddy for 6 years has given me the opportunity to play again, to cultivate a “beginner’s mind,” a mind that sees things, hears things, experiences things as if for the first time, like a child.  A beginner’s mind leaves me open to learn new things or to think about old things in a new way.

When I left Robberson School, my lunch buddy asked, “Can you go with me to my new school?”

I wish that were possible.  Maybe it is. One thing is sure, he is more than a lunch buddy.  He is a life buddy.

 

Game of Thrones – A New King

GOT“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” 

I have no idea of the origin of that quote.  I’ve heard it used in motivational speeches for businesses and in sermons and eulogies at funerals.  I’ve used it myself.  

I thought of it when I watched the final episode of “Game of Thrones.”  

I think I’m in the minority but I think “GOT” ended well.  I have seen a lot of final episodes of TV shows. Here they are in the order in which they popped into my head, not from worst to best or best to worse – just the order in which I thought of them:

“Lost”

“Seinfeld” 

 “The Sopranos”

“Cheers”

“Mash” 

“Big Bang Theory”

“The Fugitive” Most readers will have to Google that one! The final episode of “The Fugitive” was really good.  Maybe the best.  

The final episode of Game of Thrones didn’t get much love. 

Here are a few of the comments:

“I wish I never owned a TV.”

“That’ll teach you people to look forward to things.”

“Tyrion: ‘No one is really happy.’  All of us watching, ‘No kidding.’” 

From William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, “Craycray incestuous family rules 7 kingdoms.  Baddies from the north invade so must put away their differences to fight together.  After winning the go after the craycray Queen who didn’t help them fight and everything ends up in a hot mess and a big disappointment. The end.”

I liked the ending.  It wasn’t “The Fugitive” good, but it was close.  Here’s why I liked it.  

Bram the Broken was named king of the 6 Kingdoms.  

“All hail the King that no one expected.”

“All hail the King that was broken.”

“All hail the King who was the least.”

Some may remember the “Red Wedding.” 

Some may remember the Coffee Cup or the Water Bottle.

I remember the final speech by Tyrion:

“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?” Tyrion asks.  Most of culture would say “Yes.”  Those are the things around which people commonly rally.  But it’s not so in the new Kingdom established after the melting of the Iron Throne.  This new Kingdom would be different than the kingdoms of old.  In this kingdom the King was broken.  Crippled.  Wounded.  Humble. 

Instead of sitting on an Iron Throne made from the swords of vanquished enemies, the King in this Kingdom sits in a wheelchair.

This Kingdom would be led not by one who is strong in the world’s eyes, measured by the bodies slain but by one who is weak in the world’s eyes.

I don’t know the spiritual leanings of George R.R. Martin, the author of “Game of Thrones,” or the spirituality of David Friedman, the screenwriter of the HBO adaptation, but I see, hear, and feel a picture of Jesus and the Kingdom of God in this final episode.  

You don’t look for a King in a wheel-chair.  You don’t look for a King washing dirty feet, riding on a donkey or hanging on a cross. 

In Jesus’ Kingdom the first shall be last.  Those who have been pushed aside (out of a window) are elevated.

In Jesus’ Kingdom it is about restoration, not retribution. When Bran picked Tyrion to be his “hand,” Grey Worm protested, appealing to the need for a justice of retribution.  The newly announced King outlined a new approach, “He’s made many terrible mistakes. He’s going to spend the rest of his life fixing them.”   Restoration replaces retribution.  

There may be plenty of things to not like about GOT.  I get that.  I didn’t like all of the blood and sex.  But this, I liked.  

The finale presented another way for a King to lead, another way for people to live.

Denise and I turned off the TV Sunday night, said “Goodbye” to GOT, but were challenged and encouraged to live that new way.

Good-bye Doris Day

Doris Day And Rock Hudson In 'Send Me No Flowers' Doris Day Rock Hudson 2

Depending on your age, the death of Doris Day is either a “meh” moment or an “sds” (so damn sad) moment.  

Here’s why her death matters to all of us.

The impact of Doris Day’s life has its roots in the “rom-com” days of my childhood.

Who is your favorite “rom-com” couple?

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan   (Sleepless in Seattle; You’ve Got Mail)?

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (Birdcage)?

Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (Pretty Woman)?

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)?

How about Doris Day and Rock Hudson?

Doris Day  and Rock Hudson were the “it” couple in late 50s and early 60s, starring in movies like “Pillow Talk” (for which she received an Oscar nomination), “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers.”  

While I was too young to see these films in their first-run theatre releases, they were the “go to” movies we would watch on TV or early VHS tapes.  

Doris Day was a movie blonde.  Not in the Marilyn Monroe sense, but in the “girl next door” sense.  She knew this and embraced it. She said,

“My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness…An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it.”

Oscar Levant, the musician and humorist had this one liner about Doris Day, “I knew Doris before she was a virgin.”  The line reminds us of the distinction between movies and reality.

Here’s what was real in their movies:

The chemistry between them – not a romantic chemistry, but a genuine friendship chemistry.  Hudson said, “Doris and I became terrific friends.  She’s a dynamo – a strong lady. And boy, what a comedienne she is! The trouble we had was trying not to laugh.  Doris and I couldn’t look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you’re not supposed to? That’s what we had.”

Here’s what was not real in their movies:

Rock Hudson’s sexuality.  Rock was gay. All of those romantic sparks between their characters?  Not real. Not even close.

Rock played the role of American heterosexuality and he played it well – better than the rest. He hid who he was.  He had to.

Remember the times.  These were the 50s and 60s.  

For Rock Hudson to come out would have shattered  his career. No questions asked.

The public did not know about Rock Hudson’s sexuality until 1985.  That’s where Doris Day steps in. Doris Day had launched a show on the Christian Broadcasting Network and had invited her old movie co-star Hudson to be her first guest.  But Hudson had contracted the AIDS virus. He was in a fight for his life and was keeping the fight secret.

Until, that is, his good friend, Doris Day, extended the invitation.  He couldn’t say “No.” What America saw that day was an unrecognizable, frail, emaciated Rock Hudson. There was a collective gasp. A few days later at a press conference it was announced:

Rock Hudson, the Heterosexual Hunk, was gay and was dying of AIDS.

Yes, Rock Hudson, like many gay men had concealed his sexual orientation from the public.  AIDS was referred to in those days as “Gay Cancer.” The Christian world chimed in with phrases like “God’s judgment.”  In 2001, a Barna Study discovered that only 8% of Americans were willing to donate to organizations that worked toward the education and prevention of AIDS.  Among evangelicals? Only 3%.

In the 80s AIDS victims were treated as if they had a plague.  Charlton Heston called for a “kissing” ban for people in a “high risk group.”  But on that day on that show, Doris Day hugged and kissed her friend.

 Barriers began to break.  Minds began to change. Judgments began turning to understanding. Doris Day helped us grow.  Doris Day helped us be human.

Three months after his appearance with his friend, Rock Hudson died. It was October 2, 1985.  He was 59.

About  that appearance on her show in July, Doris Day said, “He was very sick.  But I just brushed that off and I came out and put my arms around him and said, ‘Am I glad to see you.'”  

I think that yesterday Rock Hudson greeted Doris Day with the same words, “Am I glad to see you.”  The rom-com couple, the co-stars, the friends are together again.   

 

“Stay in Your Lane”

Kentucky Derby

A friend stopped to talk with me after a Sunday service.   He told me that someone had told him that “Phillip had gone off the rails.”  

“But,” my friend said, “I don’t believe him.” 

Thanks.

 I got home and Googled the phrase and read this: “The phrase has been used since the mid-1800s and is a reference to a train derailment.  When a train goes off the rails it is no longer progressing along its preordained track and is uncontrollable and chaotic.”  

Well, that doesn’t sound good at all.    Derailed trains are tragic. 

Have I gone off the rails? 

I guess going “off the rails” meant that I was, at one time, “on the rails.”

Whose rails? Who laid the rails? Are the rails of theology set?  

I get it.  Sometimes it’s good to stay on the rails – if you’re a train. 

It’s good to…

  • Stay in our lane when we drive.
  • Stay in our lane when we are riding in the Kentucky Derby!  It was a wild ride at the Derby.  Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but got a DQ when it was determined that he got out of his lane and interfered with other horses.  Just like football I guess.  So, Country House, a 65-1 underdog, won the first American Triple Crown race.  The lesson here, I guess, is, “Never throw away your ticket in anger.”  Or, in horse racing, stay in your lane.  

But is it good to stay on the rails of theology?  In no way am I putting myself in the same category as the following folks, but their story certainly makes me question the rigidness of rails.

-Jan Hus, a precursor to the Protestant Reformers, asserted that:

*no pope or bishop had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church, and

*that a Christian should pray for his enemies and bless those who curse him, and

*that a person is forgiven of sins by true repentance, not by making a donation to the church (Not a bad way to increase the offering!) 

Hus was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

-C.S. Lewis, a hero to Evangelicals: 

*accepted evolution, 

*did not hold to the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, 

*thought and taught that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the kingdom of God without knowing it, and, perhaps the biggest derailment of all, 

*rejected the view of Biblical Inerrancy.   

And, last but not least, 

-Jesus, according to the religious authorities of the day, went off the rails (John 5:18; Mark 2:5-7; Matthew 9:2-3; Luke 5:20-21; John 8:58-59; John 10:30-33; Mark 14:61-64).

Then there is Rachel Held Evans – writer, blogger, reformer.   I read her first book, Evolving in Money Town in 2010.  Reading it brought relief.  With each page, I thought, “I’m not alone with my questions, with my exhaustion with a constricted, restricted view of God and spirituality.”   Her words on paper removed my feeling of weirdness for thinking and feeling what I was thinking and feeling.    Rachel was raised between conservative evangelical rails. I lived on those rails as well.  

Rachel died Saturday from massive brain swelling after receiving treatment for an infection. Words of grief,  appreciation and honor have poured in. But, so have ominous words of judgment and warning.  

When she was facing death, the nicest of the comments went something like, “We don’t agree with her theologically but we are praying for her.”  Upon her death, other writers were just mean.   One website carried two articles, one titled, “Heretical Author, Rachel Held Evans Dead at 37.”  The other is titled, “How Do We Respond to the Death of an Apostate?”  

Some might say she has “Gone off the rails.”  

Rachel showed a different way to understand God, to love the Bible, to follow Jesus.  For many, her way is the reason they remained Christian. Instead of throwing out God and Christianity, she showed a spirituality outside the rails between which she was raised.  

As a Baptist by birth, I was born into a tradition that valued reform.  We were products of the reformation.  People today still value reform – 

In the past.

  It’s strange isn’t it?  We honor, respect, revere the people who colored outside of the lines, the risk-takers, the revolutionaries. We honor them…

  • from a distance. 
  • in the past.

Not up close and in the present.

The person who said I had “gone off the rails” may have said it out of concern. Or warning.  Or judgment.  I don’t know.  

I do know that I’m ok with it.  

I know that I don’t have it all figured out.  

I know that we are reformed and need to keep being reformed to the image of the Christ.

I know that that means we have to, at times, get off the track.