That’s a Wrap

Rounding Up

We did a LOT of puzzles in 2020

Are we ready for a round up post? On February 1? Of course we are. Because we know:

1) I’m not usually on time for these sorts of things. 

And

2) You got inundated with that jazz last month, and now you actually have time to look at these things. 

See? I planned that out. So here we go. My favorite things of 2020. 

Five favorite books

OK, 7. Because choosing is hard, and I could have easily picked twelve.

I met my goodreads goal of 35! I know that’s not a ton, but 2020. I was tired. We were all tired. I spent the first third of the year finishing and defending my thesis. Plus also, I did a lot of puzzles. Finishing the goal is a win. It doesn’t matter what the goal was. I finished.

Let’s not waste our time moving goal posts on ourselves because we don’t think what we did was good enough. Not Spoiler: it was good enough. We made it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Enough said. Truth – I’ve never read it. I’ve been a little major and an English teacher, and I have never read this book. Now I have, and now it has changed me. It makes me sad to see how much has not really changed. To see the world through the eyes of a child and to see her slow awakening to what people to what people are capable of, both good and bad, is enchantingly and devastatingly told.

From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Bethany D. Hiser. As a pastor and as a person who is constantly trying to save the world (is that redundant?), I found this work indispensable. Ms. Hiser helps people like me to pull back and to see ourselves. She helps us to equip others rather than to “save” them. In the process, we learn how to love and be blessed by our work rather than burned out. After the year we’ve just had, this is required reading for caregivers of any sort.

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s work is so challenging for pastors and so absolutely necessary. I needed this this year. Desperately. His whole section on rest and Sabbath is something I had been contemplating and wrestling with for a while, and this book blew it wide open.

Sabbath is a chance to let God do what God does best, without my interference. It’s my chance to join that after stopping long enough to see and to hear it.

The God Who Sees, Karen Gonzales. Gonzales puts the story of her family’s journey from Guatemala to the United States alongside the nomads of Scripture. The foreigners, those on the margins, those of whom God tells us to take special care. She explains to the reader God’s heart for those who find themselves on this journey and how we can make that struggle easier. I love the way she puts the stories together and the research she does into this very difficult issue. 

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. I will inherently love anything Gladwell writes. This book is quite timely, given our desperate need to hear what others are thinking and understand where they’re coming from. His exploration of how our different backgrounds and “languages” of communication affects the way we understand one another is fascinating. Gladewell is always a winner for me. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton. What can I even say? This man lost most of his life in prison. Why? Because, to summarize the words of those who arrested him, “they will convict any black man of the crime, and you are as good as any other.” It’s not just a story of one man’s injustice though. It’s a story of the relationships he made in prison and what all of us can learn from listening to those men alone in their cells. The relationship between the author and the klansman was so crazy and beautiful. This is one of the men you meet in the movie Just Mercy. You should meet him in this book, too.

Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior. As the Goodreads descriptions says, this book is for, “Anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.” Dr. Prior tells her memoir through literature, and this is so relatable to me. As a little girl who could never be torn away from a book, I could also tell my life through stories. Some of the stories she chooses could also be mine. I love the mingling of memoir and literature and life. This, too, is how I could explain out my life.

Five favorite recipes

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccini Yes please. Pasta. Garlic. Sun-dried Tomatoes. The word “creamy.” It’s all there.

Cinnamon Roll Macarons. Hands down the best macarons I’ve ever made. Only I put chocolate ganache filling in, because who doesn’t’t love cinnamon and chocolate???

Vaca Frita de Pollo. One of the women in our church was making this while on zoom, and I NEEDED the recipe. It was all I dreamed of.

Chicken Normandy. Do it on a cold day when you have lots of time and want the most delicious chicken dinner you’ve ever had, possibly.

Za’atar Man’ouche. I saw this on a travel show and said—I need this in my life! And what do you know? Our kid had given us zaatar in a Christmas gift. Here you are. You’re welcome.

Thing I’m most proud to have made: Two of the kids gave me a Great British Bakeoff Book, and let me tell you, everything in it I’ve made is incredible. But this was quite the challenge.

Five favorite podcasts

2020 was not a good year for podcasts. I generally listen to them in the car, and, well, I didn’t spend much time in the car this year. Like, we saved a lot of money on gas, maintenance, and we should have just probably cancel the insurance. I hardly drove that thing. So I’ve been missing my podcasts. But these have been my favorites.

The Holy Post

Lead Stories

Revisionist History

The Bible Project

And a new one to add—Three Black Men

Five things I hope don’t go back to “normal.” 

That we learned to love the outdoors again. 

That we learned to slow down and live without the unnecessary things we thought were so important.

That we said “enough” to injustice and decided to change ourselves in order to change our culture. We also decided to stop engaging with the nonsense and just get to work.

That many of us came to appreciate in a new way those who keep the gears running and keep us safe. Healthcare workers, food workers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers. Those who bring my groceries to my door and those who hover over ICU patients, for 36 hours straight. Please, let us not forget. Oh and by the way, a lot of those people are immigrants.

That we learned to hold our people tightly and our plans loosely.

The thing that happened this year I desperately needed and didn’t know I did. Can you guess?

That’s it. That’s my round up. What about you? What were the things you loved about 2020? What are the things you’ll remember and take forward? I would love to hear.

Editing the Church

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Today, writing a blog feels weird. 

See, I typically write my blogs a few months in advance. What you read in March I wrote in January or even December. But today, that’s kind of inconceivable.

I have no idea what this world is going to look like in a few months. I’m not even sure about next week. I don’t feel any sense of security or serenity writing about what my outlook on things will be in March as we sit here a few days out of a coup at the nation’s capital. I’m not assuming it’s over. 

Much has been written on the day, and much of it has been stellar. I’m not repeating those analyses.

So today, I’ll move some things around and respond to now, not two months from now.

Photo by Jeremiah Higgins on Unsplash

My focus, as you know from reading my banner if not my blog, is not on the politics so much is on the church. Not that the former is not important, but the future of the church is the passion that God has given me. What do these unsettling times mean for the church? Most importantly, what does the fallout mean for the next generations of our church? 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this could be the most devastating event for the American church that we have seen in a very long while. The next generation has seen the church in reaction, and they’re not having it. I don’t blame them at all.

Mind you, I wouldn’t be all that sad to stand at the grave of much that passes for American Christianity. My concern is with the baby that will likely get tossed with the bathwater. The bathwater stinks. It’s filthy. It is in desperate need of change. 

But the baby—the church you don’t see in the cameras—is filled with people who honestly, humbly, falteringly attempt to follow Jesus. They could be the innocent victims of this drive-by disaster. 

Jesus’ church really does have people in it who love him more than they love themselves. They’re just harder to find in the swill and swell of the stinky bathwater.

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

God will not suffer. Ultimately, his church will survive. Jesus Christ is King, and that will not change. He does not need us to defend him. He will raise his remnant as he always has. Like Simba, the church that survives will stagger up, blink at the light, and bewilderedly continue in the circle God has started. But it is likely to die, first. 

Four in ten young adults between the ages of 23 and 38 now say they are religiously unaffiliated.

IN a 2017 study, “Political rifts between young Christians and their congregations are growing. A quarter (25%) of recent dropouts said disagreements over their church’s stance on political and social issues contributed to their decision to stop attending, compared to 15 percent

That those rifts have increased with the advent of QAnon and “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theories being welcomed and applauded in the church is clear from a thirty-second perusal of social media. 

The exodus isn’t temporary, as it has been in the past, either. For the first time, young adults are not returning to church when they have families, because they don’t believe they need the church to teach their children how to be good people. That isn’t because they believe God has failed them or isn’t good. It’s because they believe the church is no longer filled with good people.

The people in the church cannot teach their children what they do not know.

While in the past most of those disaffected with church retained their belief in and some relationship with Jesus, that is also changing. 2019 saw the greatest surge in atheism in America. Those who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or”nothing in particular” have risen to over a quarter of the population. The next generation has lost their spiritual community, and with no one to talk with about their questions, doubts, and ideas, their faith has eroded as well. This was inevitable—God created us for community, and we cannot go without it for long without serious effect.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

An Atlantic article explores the sudden sharp decline in American Christianity in the 1990’s. “According to Christian Smith, a sociology and religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, America’s nonreligious lurch has mostly been the result of three historical events: the association of the Republican Party with the Christian right, the end of the Cold War, and 9/11.” The last two have complex sociological issues and are fascinating to look at. The first is the important one, for my purposes.

Here are some of the reasons younger generations are leaving the church right now. They are amazingly clear-eyed at the illogic and incongruity they see. These are the things they can’t understand. Church, we have to bring these things they see into the light. face them unflinchingly, and set them right. 

The same people who have told them that men cannot meet with women over lunch because they fear the “appearance of evil” are silent regarding “Jesus Saves” signs next to confederate flags and nooses—unmistakable symbols of white supremacy and lynching. These symbols do not convey the appearance of evil—they are evil. We are to believe Christians can stand next to them and not participate in the stench of their meaning. Yet a male pastor cannot accompany me, a female pastor, to a training meeting because “appearances.” This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who tell them social justice and creation concerns are not the gospel and “just preach the gospel” are very concerned about fighting for their constitutional rights. Also, they don’t appear to know the gospel very well. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who protest that talk of racism is dividing the church will tell them on social media that anyone who votes for a democrat is a baby killer and not a real Christian. We are supposed to assume this is not sowing division but righteousness. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who taught them that “Jesus loves the little children—red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight” don’t find those children precious when they’re in cages at a southern border. They shrug and consider those precious souls collateral damage in a war against the neighbor we’re supposed to love. This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

The same people who counsel them to “think for yourself” succumb to outrageously unlikely claims that fit what they see as a “safe” worldview. The same pastors who tell teens to question what their teachers tell them admonish them never to question the pastors.This is the incongruity causing young people to leave the church.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I’ve been an English teacher, a writer, and an editor. I’ve graded hundreds of papers and critiqued dozens of articles. There are two kinds of writing that an editor or a teacher find almost impossible to critique. That which is perfect as it is—and that which is hopelessly bad. 

In the first, we can find nothing bad to say. In the second, we don’t know where to start. We don’t think there’s any way to help the work improve. 

If I critique the church, it’s because I have hope. It’s because I don’t think it’s beyond fixing. I don’t think the people in it, like myself, cannot do better. I believe they, like me, are sinners in need of redemption. I edit with conviction and ferocity because I know we are better than we’ve been. I believe God is working, as Paul says in Ephesians 2.10, on a masterpiece. 

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2.10
Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

The problem is, sometimes the block of clay God is trying to mold prefers to mold itself into a different sort of creature entirely. One that does not image the Creator. This is when God needs to start over, sometimes smashing that clay down, to re-form it in the way it was meant to be. 

If that’s what happens to the American church, so be it. It needs to be re-formed. I pray that we choose to work with the artist in that reformation. I pray that the next generation wants to come along for that work and join us in it. Let it be a re-creation of integrity, free from incongruity (which others read as hypocrisy). Let it be a church that transparently looks and acts like Jesus. 

We’ll get some things wrong. I have no illusions that we won’t make our own massive errors. We’re all hypocrites, every one of us, preferring to see others more clearly than we see ourselves. That’s why we need one another.

We need to do one another’s critiquing, while we’re not too far gone, and we need to hear the critique of the next generation. As the mom of three of them, I can tell you—they’re pretty smart.

The God Who Is Bent on Good

I’ve been revisiting the story of Moses bringing this people out of Egypt again. You know—burning bush, wth? Pharaoh, plagues, lambs, all that MGM stuff. 

After God gives Moses a woodshed moment at the bush, Moses makes his way back to Egypt to free his people. A little reluctant and frightened, at first he is met with excitement. Finally, a savior has come to free them! 

Then Pharaoh digs in the talons deeper and makes life even more unbearable than it already was, which was pretty stinkin’ unbearable. He forces the people to increase their work while decreasing their supplies. Thus, the next time, Moses finds a less than enthusiastic crowd.

Ex 6.6-9 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”

Did you catch that last part? They did not listen to Moses because of their discouragement. Other versions translate it their “broken spirit and how hard they were made to work,” and “they had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.”

This last line struck me when I read it this time. I could not get away from it. I don’t think I’d ever noticed it before, or at least, I’d never paid attention. They believed—but they got too discouraged, too broken, because of the cruelty with which they were treated.

Make no mistake, that was Pharaoh’s intent. He planned that. When he authorized the increase in brick making with no materials to do it, he knew the result. The people would be too worn down by one more setback to dare to dream or try. 

It’s the same story as when Moses was born.

Evil is predictable. It bets on the fact that oppression and dehumanization will discourage others to the point of quitting.

Sometimes, it wins.

Other times, it doesn’t.

Photo by Mike Castro Demaria on Unsplash

We’ve heard this story hundreds of times, and all of those times I recall, we’ve heard how the Israelites behaved horribly. They were unfaithful, reckless, foolish folks who didn’t believe and didn’t obey. I’ve never once heard this verse spoken of.

They did not listen to Moses because of their discouragement.

These are a people filled with trauma. They’ve suffered terrible degradation, dehumanization, oppression, and marginalization. For generations, they have no experience of freedom and no ability to govern or lead themselves. 

The normal human response from and to trauma is exactly what we see—fear, confusion, comfort with the devil they know, inability to see that things are going to get better after they get worse, and anger at the person responsible for that worse part. 

The gut-wrenching beauty here is that God knows this. He understands that they feel too broken to believe. So he continues to free them, bringing them out, showing them his power, and fulfilling his promises, regardless of how they feel or act.

He does this because that is who he is.

God is bent on good for his people—and he will not be stopped. He loves them through their trauma and brings them to the other side of the Red Sea, and beyond.

The story reminds me of another stretch in Scripture that’s rather notorious for its imagery. It’s a Psalm sung during the exile of Israel, much later.

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.

Upon the willows in the midst of it

We hung our harps.

For there our captors demanded of us songs,

And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.”

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.

How blessed will be the one 

who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (Psalm 137)

It’s one of my favorite songs in Godspell, beautiful and haunting. But the songwriter doesn’t use those last lines—the horrific ones about murdering babies. They’re not exactly lyrical.

The Babylonian exile was not a nice “pack up your things and get going” on a vacay. It was not Sound of Music. It was everything you know that modern tribal warfare is, and these people are not merely homesick. They are demoralized, exhausted, mourning loved ones, hopeless, dehumanized, humiliated. They’ve been beaten, raped, killed, and brutally taken from their homes.

This song speaks their emotion, and these are their honest, anguished words. It’s strikingly similar to how the Israelites felt in Egypt. 

It is not surprising there was intense anger. 

It is surprising that made it into the scriptures.

And I think this tells us something about God.

It tells us that he hears, sees, and knows his peoples’ pain, and he does not turn away from their expression of it. 

Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it’s terrible imagery. 

Yes, forgiveness and refusal to take revenge is God’s way for us. 

Yes, it would have been wrong for an Israelite to actually dash a baby against a rock, and there would be no excuse.

But somewhere in here, we get the realization that God knows we grieve and hurt and fear, and He lets us do that.

That’s what going on in Egypt as well.

They’re grieving. Exhausted. Hopeless. They wanted to believe but it was just too much. In the middle of that, God sees and hears and remembers and loves. 

He guides them out when they cannot see a way out.

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

And I think that’s what going on for some people right now, as we enter 2021.

We’re OK. But we’re fortunate.

Many with mental health issues or addictions are still hopeless.

Many who are alone are still scared.

Those who have lost people are mourning.

And God sees and hears and knows. 

Sometimes we as humans want others to hurry up with their hurt, grief, etc. We want to rush forward into 2021 and erase all that was this year. Many people will try for a do over, a forgetting, an obliterating of all that pain so that we can put it in the past.

But God doesn’t do that.

He sits with us.

He waits. 

He holds us up until we can walk on our own.

He weeps with us at our discouragement and hears our hurt.

We need to be willing to sit with pain, too. Ours or that of others. To sit with people or our own souls and hear them and give them permission to hurt. It could be the first best thing we do in 2021.

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

Why? Because 

  • He knows fear—My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
  • He knows uncertainty—“Will you leave me, too?”
  • He knows loss—he’s been betrayed so many times 
  • He knows grief—“My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
  • He knows loneliness—“My God why have you forsaken me?” 

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried.

God hears us in our grief and does not demand a right response.

God does bring the Israelites out. He relieves their despondency, discouragement, brokenness.

As he does for us.

Because the parting of the Red Sea is just ahead. 

And so is the empty tomb.

The Light Still Shines

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5 NLT)

As I type this, I’ve just received an email telling me my dream trip, the one I’ve been planning for two years, has been canceled. As you read this, that’s where I should be.

I know as sacrifices go this year it’s not tipping the scale, but the trip was both symbolic and a lifelong dream for me, and I’m devastated.

December may host the darkest days of the year, but it seems for many that the darkness never lifted after last winter. When spring arrived, so did protracted global crisis. We’re entering the Christmas season tired, grieving, and anxious. Family togetherness probably won’t look the same. There could be members missing from the circle around our tree. It’s unlikely we here will have in-person church services for this important time of year, and that loss of community during one of the most-community oriented seasons of our lives cuts deeply.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

The lights might be twinkling, but not a lot of people are singing “Joy To the World” in quite the same key they’re used to.

Into all this enters the promise of a baby in a manger wailing under a star whose wattage won’t quit. Nothing about that part of the story has changed. The Light of the world still came, still lives, and if nothing could extinguish it when John penned those words some 2000 years ago, nothing can in this year of woe either.

Think about the world Jesus entered.

When the star shone on Bethlehem, the people there lived under oppressive rule. They might not have seen Roman soldiers often, but they felt their presence. They knew the grasping greed of the tax collectors and their power to destroy a family already on the economic edge. They had seen crosses on the roadside, and they knew who usually hung there. Though their ruler Herod pretended to be a Jew, they understood his true loyalties lay only with himself.

They needed light to believe the darkness that pushed them into the ground and stole their breath could be pierced.

When the star shone on Bethlehem, most of the population existed in near-poverty, including Mary and Joseph. They subsisted, with a home and enough food, but they worked constantly, and one bad year could be the difference between survival and devastation. Jesus and Joseph would have carved plows, yokes, chairs, and bowls six days a week, unaware of this thing we refer to as leisure time. 

They needed light to hope that their children’s lives could be better.

When the star shone on Bethlehem, mothers died in childbirth, children died of diarrhea and other results of poor sanitation in crowded areas, and everyone died in plagues. In cities, people lived sardined together in buildings with no modern comforts such as air conditioning or indoor plumbing. Alexander Hamilton famously sings that, where he came from (1750’s Nevis), many people lived “half as many” as twenty years. Jesus understood this, too—at 33, he had already lived close to the 35-40 average lifespan. (High infant mortality, however, skews that number.)

They needed light to see that the grave didn’t close out their life story and this difficult world was not their only chance to find peace.

This is the world into which the great I AM entered as flesh. The similarities of disease and injustice strike us clearer this year perhaps, but they don’t surprise the baby who took up residence in a musty feeding trough in a place whose capacity for sin he knew too well.

The darkness can never extinguish the Light of the world. All the pain and difficulty in Jesus’ world could not stop the blinding star from flashing its sign for all to see who wanted to see: “Come. Faith, Hope, and Love are born tonight. This Light cannot ever be overcome.” 

We can be overcome. We can be overwrought and overworked. We can lose heart, and our courage to keep on can be extinguished. Those are the days we look to that star of Bethlehem we hang a facsimile of on our tree and remember: its incredible light was only a sign. Though it shone like a Fresnel lighthouse lens beaming its way out to a dark sea, it only pointed the way to the greater Light. 

That Light shone in a wooden trough on a holy night in a cave long ago. It also shone out of an empty tomb behind a cast-off stone on a morning when all hopes had been shattered. The darkness cannot extinguish it. Death has no power over it. Neither pandemics nor racism nor ugly divisions can separate us from it. If we follow him, even when it feels like we’re walking in the deepest darkness, we can know that we are walking toward life.

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

 “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. (John 8:12 NLT

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1 NLT)

This article first appeared in The Glorious Table.

Food that Satisfies

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. — Maya Angelou

This famous quote of Angelou’s, sometime erroneously attributed to Oprah, although she credited it properly, has surfaced anew lately. We’ve seen it more for good reason. Far too often in the last few years, people we previously trusted have shown us who they are. We’ve come to terms with that truth, even when we have desperately wanted to believe otherwise. Yet the quote has its positive side, too. If someone shows you who they are, and who they are is dazzling, believe that, too.

This Advent, we’re working through some of Jesus’ I AM statements. Several times he told the people who he was. More importantly, he showed them. It always rang true. He was/is who he said he was. 

Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life. I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6.27, 35)

Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last. I don’t know about you, but so much of my life at times seems filled with working for food that doesn’t last. Not tangible food I ingest. Food of others sorts. Praise. Appreciation. Perfection. Bylines or likes on a page. Numbers of people tuned in to a church service or a live video. “Food” that nourishes our egos but what about our souls?

Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

It isn’t that these thing aren’t important. They are. I’m not going to get on a soapbox about how promoting a brand or a church or a book is somehow ungodly and a waste of our precious one life. I don’t know that this is true. We are given gifts by the Holy Spirit, and God enjoys when we use them for our fulfillment and others’ benefit. I don’t believe God looks at our promotional efforts and shakes a head at how pointless they all are. God loves when we bless others through our work, and we can’t bless others who don’t know we exist. It isn’t the actions themselves or the need for them professionally or personally that causes malnourishment of the soul.

It’s the need for them for our identity.

Using that kind of bread to feed our souls isn’t sustainable for long, because it was never meant for that purpose. It doesn’t fill the holes hungry for real love and acceptance that hang nothing on what we produce or how profound or witty we are online. 

We hunger, deep in our spirits, for food that will satisfy those gaping holes of being loved for who we are and being wanted in someone’s space, no conditions attached. So when we exchange those likes, tweets, and shares for acceptance, we’re  gorging on food that doesn’t last. That space empties so quickly, needing to be filled again every day, just like out stomachs. 

The people who crowded around Jesus the day he made this statement had a similar experience. They hung who they were and how valuable they were on the thing they could see, like the bread and circuses so popular and familiar in their Roman/Jewish world.

They wanted to measure Jesus like this too, but he defied them. After he’d fed the crowd miraculously, he left them,  but they tracked him down, wanting more.

“I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life.

They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.But I told you that you have seen me and still don’t believe. 

Jesus knew they came for the show. He knew they wanted to be defined and valued by their proximity to the sparkle and glitter. He knew they would define him by what he could deliver, and they would turn on him once he did not. 

So Jesus showed them who he was.

He gave them bread. Then he offered life. 

Approaching the bread and circuses world in which we live believing we can find who we are and what we long for from it is asking for food that will not last. Yet this is where we live, so how do we find the balance between living there and gaining our value there?

Drawing near to Christ, the Jesus who was born in a feeding area and lived moving toward a cross, is our touchpoint. The Christ of loaves and fishes and water and wine is beautiful and generous and abundant, but this was not his daily life. Jesus didn’t materialize fish and fries for his disciples at every meal. His presence was the bread of life, not his miracles. 

When we gain our identity through proximity to his humble life rather than a shiny show, we can learn to manage that show as a helpful tool but not as our main source of nutrition.

The world this year seems to have grown both closer and lonelier. More people than ever long for acceptance in another’s space without conditions attached. We haven’t been in others’ space much, and when we have, we wonder if the wrong word or opinion might sever the relationship.

Interpersonal strains, writ large by how much we’ve been in the same space for so long together, have brought more of us to the point of recognizing that we need love for who we are, even when we are at our worst. 

Jesus offers to fill those hungers that nothing else can. The miracles of feeding 5000 aren’t about food. They’re about love. Abundant, magnificent, extravagant love that knows no bounds of physical reality that would count loaves and fishes and find them not enough. The miracles are about filling our hearts with the bread we need—the nearness of a savior whose love can’t be put in a box of opinion, dogma, or party.

It can, however, be put in an animal trough. It can come blazing hot on a winter’s night, lighting up our hearts and filling them with food that will endure for eternal life. 

It’s that food that grounds me when I launch into the world around me where identity and love can be bought for a large enough following. We do need daily food. It’s not a bad thing. It’s fine and good to work for. But it’s not the same thing as eternal food. We cannot confuse the two.

Choosing Gratitude

Last time I talked about the difficulty in giving thanks during years like this one. Yet I know, from experience and from God’s word, that doing it anyway matters. Giving thanks anyway:

  • Reminds us that we do have much to be thankful for, even in hard times
  • Helps us find the small things and appreciate them
  • Gives us compassion for those with less to be thankful for
  • Heightens our awareness of everything around us, to notice the little joys
  • Boosts our mental health, as gratitude always does
  • Shows us the arc of God’s care for us, even when we weren’t looking or seeing
  • Is obedience, and that comes with its own peace.

So today, I’m going to look back at my gratitude journal in 2020 and list some of the things I wrote down. I hope you can find some, too. I admit, I’ve not been great at keeping this journal this year. But the act of doing it always brings me joy and peace. I highly recommend a gratitude journal. 

It doesn’t have to be preciously cute or Pinterest worthy. Mine is a solid red notebook my husband brought back from a medical convention. It says “American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery” on the front. You can see, I’m all fancy.

It’s such a good practice for our hearts and souls. Pick up a notebook form the dollar store, and start writing. I write three things a day. You do you. Here are some great ideas and options in case you need them.

If you want some ways to get creative and make it super fun, I love the ideas of bookending and decorating, talked about here.

And if you want to hear the whole TED talk about gratitude the above article mentions, view it here.

So here’s random list of 20 things I’ve written since April.

  • Coyotes looking at me in the backyard, while I’m on a zoom meeting (Yes. It happened.)
  • I’m learning new patterns of kindness
  • I don’t worry people will kill my white children
  • Garden art
  • Hamilton (How lucky we are to be alive right now!)
  • My new home office
  • The fun quotes I made and framed in my new office, like the one below.
  • Hummingbird feeders
  • Crickets in my house (I love them. I’m not sorry.)
  • The ability to learn new things (hello, zoom church)
  • Morning fog 
  • My husband home longer in the mornings (his gym at work where he went early is COVID closed)
  • Clean mopped floors
  • Almond tea
  • Daughters who decorate my house for my virtual graduation
  • That graduation! That dissertation DONE!
  • People who put the dishes away
  • Quiet mornings on the deck
  • Early morning sunlight filtering through the trees
  • The privilege of white skin, and the responsibility
  • New followers!

That’s a short list. You can see it’s pretty varied. Some big things. Some little things. Some serious and some just plain fun. In this year of hard, find the small things that give you joy. Write them down. Go back to that as often as you need to. Feed your soul on joy.

You are loved.

Drop 4 Anchors

I wrote this blog post in 2018. I went looking for it this morning, because I believe there are definitely some of you who are not coming to Thanksgiving this year with joy in your hearts and thanks on your lips. How could you, given the dumpster fire of 2020? But maybe it’s affected you personally in a deeply painful way. Unemployment. Death. Long illness. Financial distress. Racial tension. Fear for your black sons and daughters. A society that refuses to hear your pain and fear.

I don’t know what it is for you this year, but I know this. The anchor holds. So here is a repeat post from 2018.

I approached Thanksgiving two years ago feeling less than thankful. With a body dematerializing before everyone’s eyes for reasons no one could diagnose, I entered the season sick, exhausted, and scared. I could barely get up most days, and when I did, it seemed everyone was posting their “What I’m thankful for” on Facebook.

It had been six months since I got sick. It would be almost another year before we discovered why. How do you lead people in thanksgiving when you spend your days begging the Lord to heal you, to help you find out what’s wrong, or at least to allow you to get a meal down and feel good for five minutes a day?

I reached for a little-known line in Scripture for answers: “. . . they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29 NLT).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Back story: Paul is in danger of being shipwrecked here. The men with him are terrified. They aren’t thankfully posting pictures of their holiday at sea; they’re crying out for mercy. “All hope was gone,” Scripture says (Acts 21:20 NLT).

All hope was gone.

I knew the feeling.

The last line of the tale shone like a beacon in my own storm. Sometimes, I realized, we can’t see through the storm, and the best thing we can do is toss our anchors and pray for daylight. Anchors keep a ship stable. When they dig into the seabed below, they hold. It may be chaos up above, but when the anchor is dropped, the ship won’t drift.

There are likely many of you who feel guilty because you are harboring less-than-thankful feelings this thanksgiving. Sadly, guilt drives us farther from the God who is the only hope when all hope is gone. Guilt isn’t an anchor—guilt is a gale blowing us off course. We may not see ahead, but we can know what’s written on our anchors.

Anchor #1—God is good

We toss around “good” all the time. It’s all good. I’m good. She’s being good. But in Scripture, the word “good” means something more. “Good” is a mix of just, holy, gentle, kind, patient, and merciful. Biblical goodness is an anchor because it can never change. God cannot stop being good. He will always be unfailing love, faithfulness, and compassion.

“Good” is also a verb. God doesn’t just have good feelings toward us—He makes good happen. So saying that God’s goodness is an anchor is knowing his power is bent on kindness toward us. Maybe we can’t see it, but we can feel it hold us in chaos.

Photo by Nias Nyalada on Unsplash

Anchor #2—God is love

When the doctor asked my husband nine years ago if he would donate his kidney to me, I knew the answer. He would say yes. His character was to love me as he had promised—in sickness and health. It did not hinge on me deserving it; it was who he was.

How do I know God’s love is an anchor I can trust in darkness? It’s his character, proved by his actions. Do I doubt his love? If I do, I have only to look at the cross where he died alone in agony. There is no greater proof of love.

Maybe you don’t feel it right now, but God’s love is an anchor that will not let go of the bottom of the sea. It will be there until the light of morning.

Anchor #3—God is able

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41.10 NLT).

I gave birth three times, each time willing to battle the world and all its forces to keep safe the little life in my womb and later in my arms. God is no different when it comes to his children—he is only infinitely more capable.

Imagine this: you are surrounded by the hands that formed the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, and every atom of the human body. God is able. No matter how badly the sea shakes, that anchor holds.

Anchor #4—God is enough

The summer before I turned nineteen was rough. Having lost my mom, I returned home from school to a suicidal, alcoholic father. One of my best friends killed himself. I was in a terrible car accident. All the while I sang in a group that praised God in the evenings while I questioned him during the day.

One of those evenings, I realized I had a choice. I could walk away forever, or I could believe that no matter what else happened, God would be enough. Even if I ended up like Job, losing everything, I would not let go if he was all I had. It was a hard anchor to toss, but it held. It’s held through worse crises than that, and I expect it will continue.

I didn’t feel like praising God that Thanksgiving. Maybe you don’t right now. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to dredge up feelings of thanks. Drop your anchors. You don’t have to feel them to know they’re there. Pray for daylight. I’ll pray alongside you.

Moses, David, and Leadership

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Last time we started a conversation on voting as Christians. This week, I want to continue that conversation, but widen it out a bit, too. The question I’d like to consider is: What are the most important qualifications for a leader?

The question definitely applies to voting, but it applies to more than that. I believe we, in general, have a faulty system for choosing leaders. The problem is not necessarily the system itself, but our criteria are lacking not only sound judgment but also attention to statistics.

How do we choose a leader? What are the most important qualifications for a leader? 

I’ve had this conversation a number of times with people, and we tend to come up with different answers. Some believe that the most important qualification for a leader is that they have leadership capability. But what does that mean? When pressed, their definition of leadership capability is that a person commands respect, manages people, casts a vision, and commands a following. These are important things in a leader, perhaps. But you and I both know a lot of people meet these qualifications, and they lead us into terrible things. History can offer up a parade of people who qualified as a good leader under this definition, but their legacy is one of destruction and harm. 

I’ve written entire papers on the qualifications for leadership, given the that I just finished a doctorate on church leadership. There were a lot of qualifications in those papers. But somewhere there has to be a priority list. Particularly when we are choosing between candidates with a lot of different qualities and beliefs.

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Of course, we first turn to scripture. How did God choose leaders? It’s interesting that when Israel demanded its first leader, God gave them someone very much like the definition of a good leader that I spoke about above. Saul is described as a handsome man who commanded respect, an imposing man, and one of wealth to whom people looked up. Literally. He was big.

It was a disaster. 

On the other hand, when God chose his first leader, David, scripture tells us that he didn’t look for the things that human beings look for. He chose someone everyone else overlooked. Why? We find it is because David had a heart after God. What does that mean? It means that he wanted to know God and follow him as best he could. It means he was humble, knowing his place before the Lord of the universe. Yes, David was very strong, and very courageous. But these were secondary qualities to the fact that he wanted to obey God and do the right thing in every circumstance. That he did not do so was later quite evident. Power corrupted him, and  he did terrible, terrible things. 

Still, his heart in the beginning was one that chose right, and in the end, his humility when confronted with his own sin shows that he remained a man who wanted to please God, despite the middle part that nearly destroyed his kingdom and family. We can learn good leadership qualities from both aspects of David’s life. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

HUMILITY

One is obviously humility. David chose to admit that he didn’t do everything right. He chose to accept that he didn’t know everything. He willingly leaned on other people to correct him and to guide him. The kings in the Old Testament who refused guidance were the ones continuously referred to as those who “did evil all their days.”

It’s simply a good leadership quality to know your own weaknesses and to surround yourself with people who know what you do not.

We see a leader in the New Testament doing this as well. The Roman army captain who came to Jesus to ask for healing showed that he understood God was above him and he needed to retain his humility. Because of this, Jesus healed his servant (Luke 7). We should look for humble leaders who can lead us holistically in this way.

God chose Moses as perhaps his greatest leader partly also because of this humility. It says in Leviticus that Moses was one of the most humble humans alive (Numbers 12.3). That’s a pretty amazing commendation. This isn’t a prerequisite for leadership that we think about very often. We tend to look more at the confident, even overconfident person and think—oh what a great leader. They will really be strong and tough for us. But God considers humility a number one qualification. This is counterintuitive to the way we tend to do things. Yet it makes so much sense. Humble people rely on teamwork, and all business models agree that this is a much better way to succeed. 

STRENGTH

Why else did God pick both Moses and David? Well they were strong. They had both made a living as shepherds, which means they did learn to be tough, protective, and physically capable. It certainly does come in handy as a leader to be tough. You get a ton of arrows shot at you, and if you can’t handle it, you don’t do well. So it’s an excellent quality to have, although again, we tend to equate strength with brashness, boldness, and masculinity, none of which it needs to be. You can quietly protect your sheep, as Jesus did, without all the fanfare. Personal strengths is very important. We come by it in many different ways. Some earn it by being tested physically, some by being tested mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. Strength has many faces. 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

COMPASSION

To be a shepherd, however, one must also be compassionate and caring. A shepherd, as we know from Jesus’ stories, goes after lost sheep. He heals them. She cares for their wounds, calms their nerves, and makes sure they have everything they need for survival. This means that a good leader, according to God, also considers compassion and care as some of the most important qualities to embody. Moses, in particular, is constantly interceding for his people, begging for mercy and offering to take the blame for their misdeeds. He is pretty incredible, really.

GOING FIRST

A good leader leads the way in difficulty. She or he goes first when things are hard. Moses was the first one who walked into the Red Sea. He consistently showed his people that he was willing to take the first step in the vision he was trying to leave them toward. David did the same with his band of men. When he didn’t go first, when the others were at war, is when he made his most fatal error. A good leader won’t let others take the fall.

INTEGRITY

Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.

Finally, continuing to look at both David and Moses, we see that a good leader is one who we can trust because she or he has integrity. Yes, both men really messed up. Yes, they both exhibited terrible judgment at times. Yes, our elected officials will as well. They will have policies with which we do not agree. But are they people whose integrity has been generally proved over time? Have we seen a track record, like we do with Moses and David, of choosing what is right over what is expedient? Do we see a willingness to listen, learn, and adjust? Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.

40 Years of Voting

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The first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote came a month after my birthday. I had to vote absentee, since in November I was in the weeds of my freshman year of college six hours from home. I excitedly blacked in the circles on my first ballot and mailed it back, thankful to be able to cast the first vote of my life.

I didn’t vote for either major party candidate for president. I chose John Anderson, partly because he appealed to college students like me across the board, partly because he hailed from my home state, so loyalty won. Of course, I guess Reagan did too, but only by birth. In any case, geography is, I realize, a poor rationale for voting decisions.

This year, I’ll vote early in person, and the gratitude for being able to cast a vote hasn’t really faded. I still recognize it as a privilege and hope I always will. With a dad who walked the decks of a battleship in the Pacific at the age of 16, I think I’d be letting him down if I didn’t.

I want to spend October on this touchy subject. How should Christians vote? No, not for whom. We’re not going there. Pretty sure you know I have definite opinions, but that’s not the point here. What I want to talk about is the theology around voting wisely and well.

First, Scripture addresses the issue of loyalty, and that matters immensely when we think about the theology of voting. Loyalty is BIG in the Bible. God self-labels as a jealous God, who won’t brook competition (Exodus 34.14). The first commandment is all about —no other gods before me! God isn’t a fan of idolatry—yet it’s clear in many places that his reasons are for our good. Having other gods always leads to unhealthy relationships with all of them and a divided self that doesn’t function well in any arena.

The Bible involves a lot of paradoxes, mostly because life this side of eternity is just plain messy. It’s not certain, and our reality and scripture both reflect that. One of those paradoxes is that we are a part of this world that we live in, yet we are not supposed to consider it our real home. 

Jesus says that we are in this world but not of it (John 17). He says he is leaving us here but that we are to live here as he did, having been sent as hew was sent. The way he lived here is not at all the way most people do. His every word and action very much showed that his loyalty was not with any powers of this world. That’s what got him put on a cross.

Peter says that we are always sojourners, foreigners in this land. Yet he is careful to say that we answer ethically to the people around us. (1 Peter 2)

Prophets like Jeremiah told God’s people to make our homes here and to create lives that blessed everyone around us (Jeremiah 29). Yet the prophets also make it clear that we are always longing for our real land, and this isn’t it. It is one of those paradoxes that we feel but do not understand.

This is my home, but it is not my home. I am to do well in it and bless others in it, but I am to hold it very lightly and loosely, because it isn’t mine. How does this affect the way we choose to vote in this country?

It sets us up to understand better where our loyalties ought to be. Let’s look at a few Bible verses.

Exodus 20.3 You shall have no other gods before me. First commandment. So, pretty important.

“Before” actually means beside—like, not only can’t we have any gods that are more important to us than the One true God, we can’t even have any that we put alongside God in competition. There are to be no close seconds. God is the runaway winner—no one else is even on the track.

Luke 14.26-27 If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus uses hyperbole here, a common technique in the Bible, to make a point. No, he doesn’t want us to literally hate our families. But he does want to make certain his disciples know the extent of the expectations and commitment. They are to place him first, and anything that comes in the way of that needs to be subordinated real fast. It might well mean sacrifice and putting other things before their own well-being and desires. So he’s preparing them for that.

Matthew 6.24, 33 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The context here is money, which is why he uses this example.  But it’s clear he means we cannot serve God and anything else. See again, first commandment.

So what’s the point of this? It’s that God does not accept competition. There isn’t any allowance for mixed loyalties. We are either God’s or we are not; there is no option for being partly God’s and partly something else.

Our complete loyalty has to be to getting up every morning and saying to God, “I am yours and I belong to your kingdom. How does that work out in my life today?”

Remember—God doesn’t even want a close second place finisher. 

Why? Because if we try to divide our lives up into loyalty for God plus loyalty for country, culture, family, anything, we find that they take precedence before God every single time. It’s just human nature that when we put something next to God, it always overtakes that first loyalty in our hearts. And God doesn’t take second place. When we do that, we are just serving whatever that other thing is then. God will leave us to it. 

There is, therefore, no such thing as the American church. The church belongs to God, and it is universal. There is no such thing as, God forbid, this new “denomination” that’s being created called the Patriot Church. (Heresy detected. Run away fast.)

We are citizens first in God’s kingdom, and to mix God and country so completely and indistinctly together is to create a soup with no eternal substance. 

Remember—no other gods even beside the one true God. That leaves zero wiggle room for worshiping our country. Gratitude for it? Absolutely. Care and concern? Sure. We’re to live in this world—and so to bless it and be good caretakers of it. This is why we vote. But we are to be always careful of what is receiving our ultimate loyalty.

To worship something means to consider it perfect. You see no flaw in it. It means to think of it first and to put your trust in it. It means you think that thing matters above all other things, and you are willing to sacrifice anything or anybody for it. This is fine, if that “thing” is God.

But if you hear things coming out of your mouth like, “my country right or wrong,” “Love it or leave it,””Don’t criticize the good old USA—it’s the greatest place in the world!”? That’s not patriotism. It’s worship. Patriotism is to tell God thank you for giving you a wonderful place to live and asking God to make you a better citizen while here on earth. And the prophets would agree with that idea. Yet we must all the while remember—this country is not our real citizenship. We’re God’s people, through and through, with ALL our priorities.

The next verse, a familiar one, puts this all together.

Matthew 22.37-40 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we reiterate here that God is first and alone in our hearts in terms of loyalty. But then he adds that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves as a necessary corollary. That brings this world into the picture. It speaks to the balance we talked about in the beginning between belonging to eternity and belonging to this place we live in.

It is because we place God first that we act in ways that love his image here on this earth. To honor God is to honor his image, which is every single person we ever meet or hear about. Paul talks about how this works out:

Ephesains 2.10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our task here on earth, our way of showing loyalty to God’s kingdom alone, is to do his good works here. The main one of those works is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So one of the ways we approach the concept of voting in a free country is to approach it as a way in which we can love our neighbor through our voting priorities.

How does this work? Well, let’s look back at some of the ways the Bible says we can love our neighbor.

The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind first, obviously. A good neighbor binds someone’s wounds up. She or he offers healing and the means that a person might need in order to completely heal. The good Samaritan paid for the hotel room and the treatment. Sometimes, that’s what a good neighbor does. They heal and provide. 

Jesus said that giving clothing, food, water, and visiting the sick and imprisoned was being the same kind of neighbor to people as if we were being a neighbor to him. So loving our neighbor means to make sure they have what they need and to make sure they aren’t left lonely. 

Paul says in several places that loving someone sometimes means helping them get back on the right path. Sometimes it means to correct them. At other times, we love people by mourning with them and rejoicing with them. We love people by freeing them from oppression. We love others by teaching them right from wrong. Being a neighbor even means to love your enemies. All of these examples have multiple Bible verses that show God has decided this is how we love the image of God on this earth.

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

So how do we vote in a way which loves our neighbor? Remember, this is all prefaced on the truth that we are here on earth in order to do his good works, the foremost of which is loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • How would you like the laws to be if they were applied to you?
  • How would you like voting to go if you were one of the people mentioned in the verses above—hungry, alone, sick, spiritually lost? 
  • What woulds you like this country to look like if it looked good for everyone?
  • What are the hopes and dreams of others, and how could my vote help those along?

These sorts of questions help us to think about the question in a way that doesn’t put “me” in the center of our voting action.

To vote in a way which loves our neighbor means first we have to put ourselves in our neighbor’s position. We can’t possibly do it if we cannot imagine ourself as a person with different needs. So it first requires empathy. It means getting out of the “me” silo and talking to and learning about other people. Listening to their stories. Knowing what their hopes and dreams and needs are. If we don’t know our neighbor, we can’t really love him or her.

I hope that gives a good theological overview of how Jesus first and second commands—love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself—should influence how Christians choose to vote. It’s complicated. But it’s worth asking ourselves a lot of good questions.

Be the Innovative Ones

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Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash

So many headlines have the ability lately to make us all curl up in our fetal positions and sob until Jesus comes back. It doesn’t take much anymore, even. We’re tired. We’re done. This one did it for me the last couple weeks, though.

“ICE guards ‘systematically’ sexually assault detainees in an El Paso detention center.”

You know by now I have a heart for immigrants and refugees. You also know, probably, that I am a childhood sexual abuse survivor. I’m seeing red that we can allow this to happen within our borders. This is’t the only facility for which compelling evidence is available, either.

I’m also seeing a tale as old as time.

Exodus and ICE

We’ve been walking through the Bible, slowly. We’ve already dived into Exodus a bit, but now, we’re going to back up. I know, I’m going about all this a bit haphazardly.

Pandemic.

This is the excuse for everything for the foreseeable future. Every single thing that doesn’t line up as it should have is because pandemic. We get a free pass. It’s just truth.

So, Exodus out of order. There is something here we must see.

We ended Genesis with Joseph triumphant, but we open Exodus with an entirely different history. Joseph is dead. Nobody cares. There’s a new ruler in town, and history is not his strong suit.

Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.” 

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. (Exodus 1.8-11)

Pharaoh is an insecure human and ruler. He looks around one day and sees the number and strength of the foreigners in “his” land. It frightens him. Rather than see the advantages they bring to his country, he gives unfettered reign to unfounded fear. Remember what we learned in Genesis? Israel was created to bless others, but too often, they allowed fear to drive rather than blessing.

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The Israelites have done nothing to cause fear. They’ve lived peacefully in the land. Their numbers have added to the tax roles, however those existed in Egypt (I’m not exactly an expert there). They’ve undoubtedly added heft to the Egyptian economy. One hopes their faith values have given them extra care toward their neighbors. (It appears they persuaded the midwives to become believers at any rate.)

Fear Is a Bad Driver

Yet Pharaoh sees only their presence and his fear that one day, they might shift the balance of power away from people like him.

So Pharaoh’s solution is to dehumanize them. He tries to crush their spirits, their hope, and even their bodies. He forces on them the work no one else wants for slave wages. He calls them names like lazy and worthless. He attempts to assimilate them into his people by murdering their boys so that the girls will eventually intermarry, or worse, and dilute any Hebrew blood or loyalties.

Tyrants and insecure kings do this. It’s common throughout history. His playbook is not new or original, and it’s been borrowed over the millennia.

Ex1-17

What Pharaoh does to the “other” in his land is nothing that hadn’t been done and isn’t being done in human history. Fear drives humans to evil things. There is always someone to put down.

Are you catching on that I think this might have some relevance to the present?

Earlier this year, I heard Jennifer Guerra Aldana speak these powerful words about this very story that I’ve found so invaluable over the lat year:

“Evil is so predictable. Love is always innovative.”

We know what evil will do. It doesn’t change.

It will always try to destroy and dehumanize. It will always seek to instill fear where love should be. Evil will consistently demonize others in order to feel more secure itself. History is littered with the strategies of evil, and they are always the same.

Make someone else the scapegoat for created fears, and whip up those fears so that people will do whatever it takes to relieve them.

Evil doesn’t have One Creative Idea. It’s so very, sadly, predictable. I loved hearing Jennifer point this truth out so clearly.

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Love Is Innovative

Love will always find a way around that. Love is creative. It’s smart. It’s determined and persevering. Love is one of the three things Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 will last forever. He also says it’s is the greatest of those three.

And God is always on the side of love.

He proves it in the most ingenious ways possible. When Pharaoh seeks to destroy the Hebrew baby boys, God saves Moses out of that mess. Pharaoh’s own daughter finds him and brings him home as her son. So what is the inevitable result of that? Moses gets raised in the courts of power. He is educated with the best of the best and taught to be a leader. He knows all the ins and outs of the royal world. And eventually, he will use that knowledge and education to bring about the next Pharaoh’s destruction.

It’s an Inside Job

God uses the tyrant’s own strategies to bring him down. Without his murder of the boys, Moses would have grown up to be just another Hebrew slave. But he didn’t. Talk about just desserts.

Evil is so predictable. Love is always innovative.

Quite a lot of evidence exists to prove that thoughts like Pharaoh’s are wrong. Check out the charts below if you want to know some of the advantages immigrants bring to a culture.

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Yet it was that shifting of the balance of power that really got him riled up. I believe that’s still true because, remember, evil is predictable. We know statistics tell us that in a couple decades, whites will be the minority in this country. That makes some feel insecure, just like Pharaoh did. It makes some worried. In fact, a large percentage of people who call themselves believers are on record as saying this is a bad thing.

According to 2018 polls,

“Fifty-four percent (of white evangelicals) say the U.S. becoming a majority-non-white nation will be mostly negative and 44 percent say it will be mostly positive.

White evangelicals are the only major religious group to express such worry over the demographic realignment.

Those concerns among white evangelicals also extend to immigrants, refugees, and other international visitors to the U.S.

More than half of white evangelicals (57 percent) say immigrants threaten traditional American custom and values, while 43 percent say immigrants strengthen our society.

Again, white evangelicals are the only religious group in which a majority feel this way.” 

Why? We fear the shift. Like Pharaoh, we don’t have facts to back up this fear. But facts matter little when we can stoke fears until no one really knows where they originated and on what they were based. The feeling takes over. The backdrop was lost long ago.

This, by the way, is what makes it easy to repost those negative stories about black or latino men. It helps us to believe our own fear.

We are still living the lies of Pharaoh. And we haven’t remembered things did not end well for him. God was not on his side.

God moved on the side of the immigrant baby, Moses. God moved on the side of the lower-class midwives, Shiprah and Puah. God moved on the side of a princess who dared to defy a xenophobic decree. God moved on the side of an entire nation that was delivered through the deadly water of the Red Sea by the same immigrant baby, all grown up and ready to do as God called.

Evil is so predictable. Love is always innovative.

We have the history in front of us in the book of Exodus. Let’s learn from it and be the innovative ones.