Editing the Church

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Does God Send Judgment?

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I’ve started a new thing over on my author Facebook page, and maybe you’ve seen it. It’s called Theology Thursdays, and in it, I’m taking tricky theology questions and talking about them for five minutes (or less). Usually less. As I said this morning, I won’t always have answers, but I’ll always have an opinion.

Today, I’m sharing one of those here, in written form, but if you want to see the videos, check out my Facebook page, and be there on Thursdays at 11am!

So this morning, this question, not surprisingly, ended up being asked:

Is COVID19 a judgment from God?

Yes, some people are saying this thing. OK, so they’re probably the same people who’ve said that lots of things were judgments from God, like AIDS, earthquakes, tsunamis, Pierce Brosnan and Russell Crowe’s singing voices . . .

I’m not, as you know, into conspiracy theories, nor do I like to speak for God and decide when he is or isn’t raining down judgment on people. Particularly since those people who do enjoy doing so always manage to decide judgment is coming down on those with whom they disagree or find fault.

So there’s that.

But let’s look at this seriously, because it is serious, and it is worldwide, so that’s God’s territory.

Problems with the Logic Thing

A couple problems emerge with the idea that COID19 is a judgment from God. One, look at who is hardest hit by this virus. Statistics are telling us that some folks are getting sick and dying in numbers disproportionate to their percent of the population—and who are these people? The poor, urban African Americans, the elderly, the already sick.

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Photo by Astemir Almov on Unsplash

Those getting sicker faster are the ones who can’t stay home because they’re working in service industries and getting paid minimum wage to serve you and me or to clean our hospitals and grocery stores. They’re the ones who have to ride crowded public transit and live in crowded apartment buildings. The ones who have zero say in who comes home from work potentially infected.

To say, then, that this is a judgment from God is to devalue those people. It’s to say that God is somehow against or angry at our most vulnerable humans, and that is unequivocally, absolutely wrong.

In fact, God has special concern for the poor and the oppressed—the Bible says so many, many times. (Deuteronomy 10.18, for instance.) So calling this God’s judgment is not only a dumb thing to say, it’s damaging and dangerous for the most vulnerable people in our society, and it’s an insult to God. It’s actu\ally using his name in vain.

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Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

When God commands that we not use his name in vain, he doesn’t mean no swearing. What the words in Exodus mean is that his people are not to ascribe to God things that are not at all in his character. Don’t claim that God is in or behind something that clearly defies his holy lovingkindness. If we do, we’re taking God’s name in vain. For real.

Saying this is to defy those two things Jesus made a pretty big deal of: love your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

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The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God. (Hebrews 1.3) Photo by Virgil Cayasa on unsplash.com

Here’s the deal—God says in 1 John he is love. He says in virtually all the prophets he cares for the vulnerable. Jesus goes around healing, not striking down people, and Jesus is the exact copy of God the Father, according to Hebrews. Here’s a good rule of thumb—if you can’t imagine Jesus doing it, based on what you see of his actions and words, then God he Father wouldn’t do it, either.

So no, COVID19 is not a judgment from God. I can’t speak for God on whether he ever does the judgment from heaven thing. I’m not God—I don’t get a yeah or nay vote on what he can or can’t do. If he chooses, he certainly can. I’m just saying that this isn’t what it looks like if he does.

This is also not to say he cannot and will not work good things from it.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8.28

He can, he will, and he does promise that for those who love him, he is going to work good from even the hardest things. So maybe let’s concentrate on loving him, not figuring out whom he might be judging. That, as maybe we’ll talk about another time, is a dangerous game anyway.

If you have a question you’d like to see, comment below or on my facebook page. Thanks! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Missing the Blessing

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“Jesus leads the way to a new vocation. Instead of the frantic pressure to defend the identity of people, land, and the temple, Jesus followers are, to the renewal of hearts and lives, to recover the initial vision of being a royal priesthood for the whole world, which is the Messiah’s inheritance and now will become theirs as well.”       NT Wright

That initial vision is what we’ve been talking about so far–from creation up until now. The “new vocation” is really an old vocation, as old as the garden of Eden. It really comes down to one word, that vocation. God called it going out and working the earth, creating community and beauty throughout the new world.

But basically, it’s one word. BLESS.

And I do not mean that the way a good Southern woman means it

Make me a BLESSING

 

The vision comes in the beginning, and it comes again clearer in God’s plan to create a people of his own when he speaks to Abraham. Because, by this time, humans needed it clearer. They had already lost touch with what God said in the garden and required a little Creation 101. So God speaks clearly:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12.1-3 

Abraham’s call—his work and meaningful purpose in life (remember that fundamental blessing of Genesis 1?) is to bless the nations.

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Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

The Nations Are Right Here, Abram

Yet when given the chance, he fails. repeatedly, before he succeeds. Nowhere more clearly than in the story of Hagar, one of my favorites. Hagar is a slave, a foreigner, and a woman. Talk about a triple whammy. She “belongs” to Abraham, more specifically to his wife. In some transaction, they took her with them when they left Egypt. Given those circumstances, he has a perfect opportunity to bless her—and thus fulfill his call.

Spoiler: He doesn’t.

Spoilers

Instead, when his wife Sarah says, “Hey, here’s my slave Hagar. Sleep with her so I can have a child through her,” he does.

I think we can assume consent was not part of the deal.

Hagar had no agency. No ability to choose. The power differential was completely on his side, and it was his call to choose blessing or harm. Abraham chose harm.

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Later, when Sarah again complains, this time that a pregnant Hagar is triumphing over her mistress, Abraham again has the choice to bless or to harm. He could choose to protect this woman and her son, to treat them as family, to apologize, to tell his wife that her jealousy has reached unhealthy epic proportions and she needs counseling, stat.

Spoiler: He doesn’t.

He allows her, the mother of his son, to be treated so terribly that she runs into the desert, preferring its certain death to her current situation.

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God’s Magic Is the Best

And that is when the magic happens. God’s magic, that is.

‘The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (No, this is not the appropriate time to break into “Cotton Eyed Joe!)

“I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. . . .

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). (Genesis16)

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Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

God meets Hagar on the road. He sees her. She sees him. She, the foreign slave who one would suppose doesn’t even know Abraham’s God, is so overwhelmed by this that she worships and calls God by a new name. El roi. The God who sees.

Hagar—the foreign female slave—is the first person in Scripture to give God a name. Sit with that for a while.

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The God Who Sees

And what a name. She recognizes God as personal, invested, caring and compassionate toward her. Not simply in general but toward her, personally. She never expected that. She comprehends what it means. She does the only reasonable thing—bows in worship, speaks the truth, and allows that personal love toward her to strengthen her as she returns to whatever will come.

In the desert, Hagar is blessed beyond belief by feeling and knowing herself seen.

But notice who does the blessing and who does not.

God comes to her and blesses her.

Abraham, the one whose job it is to bless, does not.

As a result, he also doesn’t take part in God’s great action toward Hagar here in her desert struggle. Abraham never experiences this great blessing that God gives to his slave.

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Fear is counterproductive to blessing others.

Abraham has been so busy being afraid. He fears his wife and his neighbors. He fears rocking the boat of his marriage so much that he allows his own in utero son to be sent out to die. He is so afraid of disturbing the peace that he loses his peace.

Hagar finds it.

The one he refused to bless finds his blessing.

Isn’t God funny?

It makes me wonder about myself.

Wonderings

It makes me wonder about myself.

How often do I fail to bless others, and that backfires on me?

How many times is the person I failed to bless still seen by God, but I miss the whole thing?

Why would I ever risk missing such a great wonder of God?

It makes me wonder about our society.

It makes me wonder if God will bless those we refuse to bless, as a nation. If the foreigner, the abused women, the enslaved or encaged around us will see God while we stare uneasily at our clumsily manufactured peace and wonder why he seems distant.

It makes me wonder if we as a society are missing the very great blessing we could receive if we chose to fulfill our job to bless the nations. It makes me wonder if being great really means that greatness should give out the most blessings the most freely.

Hagar would say so. She knows what it is to be seen.

The Freedom of Blessing

While we wallow in fear, fear of the other, fear of the unknown, and now fear of everything (we truly all finally have pantophobia, Charlie Brown!), I wonder if it’s a mud pit of our own creation.

I wonder if we could be free of it if we chose the simple act of blessing.

As we allow this season of remembering sacrifice to envelop us, be flooded with the meaning of the body and the blood. See it before you, and remember.

  • Remember the slavery—Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the unquenchable image of God. Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the new and abundant life his death purchased. Hagar’s. Yours. Your neighbor’s. The foreigner’s. Everyone’s.

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It makes me wonder if God will bless those we refuse to bless, as a nation. If the foreigner, the abused women, the enslaved or encaged around us will see God while we stare uneasily at our clumsily manufactured peace and wonder why he seems distant.

It makes me wonder if we as a society are missing the very great blessing we could receive if we chose to fulfill our job to bless the nations. It makes me wonder if being great really means being the one to bless the most.

Hagar would say so. She knows what it is to be seen.

The Freedom of Blessing

While we wallow in fear, fear of the other, fear of the unknown, and now fear of everything (we truly all finally have pantophobia, Charlie Brown!), I wonder if it’s a mud pit of our own creation.

I wonder if we could be free of it if we chose the simple act of blessing.

As we allow this season of remembering sacrifice to envelop us, be flooded with the meaning of the body and the blood. See it before you, and remember.

  • Remember the slavery—Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the unquenchable image of God. Hagar’s. Yours.
  • Remember the new and abundant life his death purchased. Hagar’s. Yours. Your neighbor’s. The foreigner’s. Everyone’s.

“The Good News of the kingdom of God directly counters the Empire mentality by saying two important truths: 1. Every human has intrinsic value imprinted by God; 2. There is enough. The Eucharist shows us there is overflow at the banqueting table while simultaneously reminding us that the intrinsic value of human beings is worth dying for.”– Gena Thomas

Bless. Receive the blessing. And do not allow fear to rob you of it.

Thanks, Dad

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The Field of Honor flags hang still as I walk among them, their stripes melded together with not a hint of breeze to break the humid, stifling July early evening. Yesterday, they fluttered and flew. Today, nothing. I wish they would, walking between poles in the slightly curved display of hundreds of flags.

It would be a better photo op, at least.

A few years ago, I zip tied these flags to the poles, along with a couple dozen other volunteers in the VFW multi-purpose room. I purchased one for my dad. I thought he would be proud to have his name there, giving passing people the chance to thank him for what he had done long ago on a ship in the South Pacific.

I toured that ship last summer. I walked the same decks he had as a boy in 1944. Yes, a boy he certainly was. Sixteen year old—probably the age of one of the cafeteria servers in the black and white photos that hung in the bowels of the ship-turned-museum. For all I knew, that photo was my dad. I didn’t know what he looked like at sixteen. I didn’t know what he had done on that ship.

I don’t know how much of his choice to enlist resulted from patriotism and how much stemmed from a deep desire to get away from home. Regardless, for two years that teenaged boy who would be my father walked those decks, heard those guns, ducked enemy fire, and committed acts of both bravery and horror of which he never, ever spoke.

Maybe the flags hang silent for a reason.

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For the first time in the twenty-two years we’ve lived in our little community, I didn’t march in the July 4th parade. (Technically, it’s July 3rd here, but who wants to be technical?) I heard the celebration from my backyard, the usual pre-parade chaos of sirens and drums, not quite ready for prime time. I usually heard it from a much closer proximity.

I’ve walked that parade route as a 4H volunteer, a community theater board member, and, most recently, as a library participant. Possibly as a garden club member, too, tossed in one year for fun. I’ve walked it in rain and in scorching heat. Once, we walked it in a thunderstorm, but that disbanded quickly, and I spent a couple hours locating my children who had fled the 4H float and taken refuge in that same VFW hall.

It seems community can’t get rid of me here. Part of me missed the chaos and camaraderie; part of me appreciated the relative quiet and definitely the air conditioning.

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Seventy-five years ago, my dad stepped on a ship that must have been the largest structure that southern-Illinois-bred boy had ever seen, sporting a new buzz cut and a uniform doubtless too big. He fought a regime that only believed in human dignity insofar as the humans looked like white northern Europeans and thought like they were instructed. Which means, they didn’t think. They chose to look away. They chose to scapegoat their personal fears and woes. They chose to excavate multiple reasons why what was happening must be so. It had to be a deep dig.

There is nothing, nothing on the face of this earth or in heaven, that justifies treating an image of God as anything less than that. We must dig far to find those things, because they do not lie anywhere easy in God’s good world.

A few years ago, I bought that flag and its memorial, waterproof pouch for my dad, and they put his name on it. They printed the years he served the US Navy, 1944-46, and I remembered that pouch when I walked the metal stairs and touched the cold bunks of the USS Iowa. What he did there died with him, but I knew he had grown up quickly in those years, and I knew he understood why he had gone.

This year, I chose not to walk the parade, because I could not step in time to a theme of “Let Freedom Ring” when it does not and is not for so many. When boys my father’s age on that boat are in cages and babies have to defend themselves in court. When parents who only want their children to live have them stolen instead. When people die because they dreamed of freedom, and even to request it was denied.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

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I think that choice also honored my dad. Dad believed in fairness. He believed in treating humans as fellow humans. He believed in fighting evil and naming it for what it was, even if that fight for him began more as a way to leave his parents’ difficult home than as a declaration of human rights. He believed Teddy Roosevelt.

He had seen what happens when we look away.