Trust is not the opposite of doubt; trust is the opposite of control. Doubt is the fertile soil in which trust can take root and solidify a sure foundation. Control is the thin veneer under which doubt continues to fester or wash away like the sand on an ocean shore.
The most basic and fundamental unit of truth is context, not fact.
The most basic and fundamental unit of identity is relationships, not individuals.
The most basic and fundamental unit of meaning is a story, not a sentence.
The most basic and fundamental unit of trust is doubt, not control.
The most basic and fundamental unit of relationship is intimacy, not commitment.
The most basic and fundamental unit of community is a culture, not a constitution.
Perhaps the least discussed but most incoherent aspect of the United Methodist Church’s divide over human sexuality is the fact that we don’t have a robust and common definition of sin. The statement at the center of our brokenness – “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” – surely rests on the conviction that sexual acts with someone of the same gender are sinful in some intrinsic way, but very little is ever said about what sin is such that certain actions could be considered sin or not.
There are, to be sure, some traditional notions of sin that are presumed to be operative. Sin is something like “missing the mark,” “breaking fellowship with others,” “causing harm,” “disobedience to God,” “outside of God’s design,” or a variety of other sometimes nuanced and varied ways of talking about sin from Christian history and the Bible. What they share is at least a generic notion that something about a given action is wrong, unfaithful, divisive, broken, problematic, or otherwise bad.
As a theoretical exercise, there is obvious value in attempting to determine if an action or category of action can be appropriately labeled “sin” or not. Something as clear and near universal as “thou shalt not steal” points away from the harm we might do others by taking what isn’t ours; it points toward our need to find sufficiency in the gifts of God; and it points toward the necessity of trust in community.
As anyone who has ever taken a course in ethics knows, the moment we start to evaluate actual, specific, real world actions, things get far more complicated. Perhaps the “sin” was stealing a loaf of bread. But what if stealing was the only way a parent could imagine feeding their child? Surely allowing a child to starve would have been just as sinful as taking bread. And what if the desperate parent was only in that position because the bread maker had cheated the parent out of the paycheck they’d been anticipating to feed their child? And what if paying for the bread would be funding a business that runs on the exploitation of workers through labor trafficking?
Ethical debates can complicate a seemingly simple action almost infinitely. No complication makes theft an intrinsically good thing, but each nuance and circumstance challenges us to more closely consider what might be properly labeled sin and to consider whether any conceivable action could be sinless. In every case, an action’s sinfulness or lack thereof is determined to a significant extent by an arbitrary designation of the context we are willing to consider in evaluating that action.
Lest this exercise seem too academic to be relevant, the same exact dynamic plays out in scripture – most clearly in Matthew 12. Jesus and the disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath, which was an explicitly sinful action. When called on it, Jesus didn’t deny that work on the Sabbath was sinful nor that plucking grain counts as work. Instead, Jesus complicated the Pharisees portrait of what mattered in evaluating their actions by quoting scripture and pointing to the hunger of the disciples. Again, doing so does not make plucking grain on the Sabbath intrinsically good – but it certainly challenges us to consider the meaning and implications of labeling an action “sin.”
When human sexuality is debated in the UMC, whether or not homosexuality falls on the “sin” side of the line is often central to the conversation. Conservatives say yes. Liberals say no or ignore the question altogether. Rarely do we pay enough attention to what is meant by sin such that both sides could even be engaging with the same underlying questions.
To meaningfully engage would require us to start with a prior conviction in Methodist thought – that we are uniquely insistent upon Grace as the foundation for all that follows. At the risk of oversimplifying, starting with Grace means at least starting with the conviction that we are first given the unearned love of God and everything about faith and a faithful life is a reflection of and response to the love and relationship God offers.
1st John 4:10 begins, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” In the words of Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
To start with the love and relationship God offers and embrace the assumption that any law or faithful Christian action is grounded in love of God and neighbor is to necessarily define sin in relation to that love and relationship. In other words, sin is necessarily a secondary concept that only takes on life and meaning in so far as it names an action that falls short of, breaks, harms, or otherwise distorts the love and grace of God. The distortion sin may cause is never a generic flaw; it is specifically a distortion of God’s relationship with us.
When we instead act as though there is a “sin” box and a “not sin” box into which any action must be placed, we treat sin as though the concept has inherent meaning. We might go about labeling theoretical actions as sin or not. And then, as above, start complicating our analysis by bringing in all sorts of considerations that render an action more or less palatable. Perhaps we arrive at some sort of score card for complicated cases: +2 for feeding your child, -1 for stealing bread, -(-1) for having been harmed by the baker first. As long as it’s not a negative score we might at least give it a pass. Or if we want to be hard liners we might say any negative points involved at any point means it’s a sin and a sin is a sin no matter how big or small.
Such analysis fails to account for at least two problems.
First, every action can be found to be sinful on some level if we simply define the context differently. Buying cheap vegetables in the US from the wrong store might facilitate child labor exploitation in Central America. Staying at the wrong hotel might make you complicit in labor trafficking. Whether or not it is fair to blame anyone for third or fourth order consequences is irrelevant to the fact that a choice of what counts must be made and that choice is significantly determinative of the resulting “score.”
Second, failing to make explicit the disconnect between a given action and the love and relationship of God treats sin as a primary concept. Instead of scoring/losing points for action, intent, result, utility, and whatever other aspect of a given situation we deem relevant at whatever level of analysis we choose, sin should be measured relative to the components of Godly love and relationship – such as consent, intimacy, vulnerability, trust, empowerment, teamwork, attachment, mutuality, authenticity, truthfulness, commitment, public accountability, personal growth, sacrificiality, or respect.
The extent to which any action breaks relationship by subverting (or simply failing to build up) these relational components is the extent to which that action may be appropriately viewed as sinful. To be sure, such analysis guarantees that every action will fall short in at least some way and the fact that there is no way to require the level at which analysis of a given action must take place ensures that there will be no objectively “correct” way to “score” anything. In other words, God is God, we are not. The best we can do is strive to relate to one another with the love and relationship presumed in 1st John 4:10.
To the extent that sin is falling short of the love and relationship of God rather than some objectively defined list of particular actions, we must be extremely wary of holding fast to theoretical definitions of actions traditionally understood to be sinful unless we can articulate the particular ways in which that action inherently and even now falls short. Sexuality presents us with a fairly unique case. (Considering whether or not there is a conversation worth having about the possibility of Godly sex outside of marriage may be a conversation worth having, but it is a question outside the scope of what follows. I am here taking for granted that sex and sexuality are only appropriately expressed and acted upon within marriage.)
A traditional understanding of sex as appropriate only in the context of monogamous marriage between a man and woman is surely informed partly by the positive concepts of relationship building above. For instance, the role monogamy can play in building trust is obvious even if one doesn’t believe monogamy is necessary for trust and even though it certainly isn’t sufficient. Conversely, lying to a spouse will undoubtedly harm trust in many, though perhaps not all, cases.
Marriage, then, is a particular, covenantal expression of the love God is. Our hope is certainly to be as if not more intimate, vulnerable, committed, accountable, sacrificial, etc in marriage than any other relationship. No human relationship can perfectly embody the love of God. But marriage is at least the commitment through which what is different is not allowed to take precedence over what binds those two people together. As in the body of Christ, our unity in diversity makes us greater together because we then have eyes for sight, ears to hear, and a nose to smell; so in marriage, our unity in difference makes us greater than the sum of our parts.
On these terms, the strongest case I can discern against marriage between two persons of the same gender is that a stronger marriage bond is one that overcomes a greater amount of difference. Because gender would be definitionally the same, that marriage could not overcome as much difference as a heterosexual marriage. That claim, however, is remarkably tenuous given that there is no functional, hierarchical, or complementarian difference believed to exist between male and female in the UMC. No definition or difference of gender is ever offered or argued other than the simple statement that God created us male and female.
How could a difference without distinction be the sufficient cause to prohibit same gender persons from entering a marriage covenant? How, especially, could the lack of one specific difference be sufficient to prohibit marriage given the pervasive assumption and reality that we already view marriage as a union between two people who are more alike than not? And if nothing else, how could this specific lack of difference be sufficient to render same gender marriage impossible, while no other difference (or lack thereof) is ever even relevant to any argument about any marriage? The only exception might be the encouragement for Christians to marry other Christians so as not to be “unequally yoked,” but here again it is our expectation that married people be more alike, not less, that drives the argument.
What, then, would be the constructive case against same gender marriage or sexuality? In other words, what constructive embodiment of the love and relationship God has for us is impossible within a monogamous, covenantally committed same gender couple? If there is something, I have no idea what it would be. If not, I can’t see any way to view same gender marriage as sinful that does not finally rest on an arbitrary choice or score card to determine which traditional or scriptural prohibitions and ethical exhortations to hold onto (perhaps don’t murder or steal) and which must be open to change or reinterpretation over time (such as divorce or women in leadership).
Given how often and how radically the Bible, Jesus included, pushes us to reimagine tradition in light of the particular shape of the love of God and never the other way around (in short – the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath), “tradition says” is hardly a sufficient battle cry for labeling a specific action to be sinful in all times and places. I cannot help but place the burden of proof on those who would wish to maintain a traditional definition of marriage to offer any hint as to where same gender marriage or sexuality falls substantively shorter from God’s love and relationship than the marriage and sex between husband and wife. And I cannot help but see a faulty understanding of sin playing the pivotal role in justifying the status quo.
1 Corinthians 13; Luke 4:21-30
The greatest failure of the Christian Church is the choice to center rules and beliefs over love and relationship…
…Rules and beliefs can only ever reflect the truth on which our lives are actually built – it never goes the other way around. And if that truth is our fear and anxiety and grief and uncertainty, then anything we say or do will always be built on a foundation of sand. We’ll always find ourselves one short step away from throwing Jesus off a cliff rather than admitting that we’re hurt or afraid. It won’t matter how great the arguments are or how far back the rules go. The words we write on a page or recite in the creeds – the lines we draw or the rules we follow – they will never be more than imperfect attempts to put words to the love and relationship of a God who goes far beyond words.
We see it in Luke when God shattered yet another box in which we tried to contain God’s promise. We see it in Paul’s letter to Corinth as he offers a line by line reminder of how far they fall short. In both scriptures we are reminded that we’re not going to fix all the problems. We don’t get to define the sides and decide the winners and sit back while God follows our most common sense expectation of how God should act next. We do it all the time in countless ways and I’m convinced that thinking we can start with rules and beliefs is the greatest failure of the Christian Church as a whole.
But this is also the good news of our faith. It’s not up to us to figure it out. We don’t have to solve all the problems or make the best arguments or define the right rules or do or think or say anything at all. Before we are anything else, we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. Each and every one of us. Each and every part of us. This is the sure foundation on which we stand, the reality on which we can build a life of faith and a church for Jesus Christ. Because the greatest of these is love.
There’s a thread in my previous writing that is hard to adequately name in words. That thread is present in at least the variety of posts below. I’ll offer a link and brief comment on how that thread presents itself in each post.
- Scripture and dishwashers – consistent fights in a relationship are about intimacy and trust even if they present themselves in the same concrete ways, like how to load a dishwasher. Likewise, words in scripture are about relationship with God no matter what arguments or commands are made.
- Is it a sin is like is it offensive – what people find offensive is almost entirely subjective. What matters in a relationship is not what an outsider sees but whether those inside are hurt. Likewise, sin is that which harms, not that which looks like something on a prior list.
- Fundamentalism is like hanger – Christian advice, no matter if it’s technically true, does no good when it is not offered in a way or at a time it can be received or used.
- Racism rules and rethinking theology – with a complex problem, we often want simple rules. Rules might help but are never sufficient for relationships in the same way doctrines and arguments may be needed in but aren’t synonymous to a relationship with God.
- Toward a constructive engagement with sin and righteousness – instead of avoiding a list of things we shouldn’t do, righteousness is about building on the aspiration toward loving as God loved us.
- Sin and trust – trust is built on emotional intimacy, not on doing enough to be worthy of trust. Likewise, sin is secondary because it can only ever be that which breaks intimacy with God or others.
- Law is like parenting – we can no more rely on a finite set of rules for all people for all time than we can parent a toddler the same as a teenager.
- Prayer like marriage – getting married doesn’t make a relationship last, just like saying the right words in prayer doesn’t make us trust in God
- John 3:14 Christianity – the core of faith is not knowing a fact but looking into the heart of what terrifies us most and trusting God rather than try to control the outcome.
- Intercessory Pony – when a kid asks a parent for something huge, whether or not the request is fulfilled is the least important part of the interaction. Prayer functions the same way.
- First loved, then love – the entirety of Christian faith and life is a response to and reflection of the way God first loved us.
- Feeling vs Fixing – God’s clear choice almost every time is to feel with us more than fix it first.
- 4 Stories – what we see someone do and how we interpret their actions depends at least as much on our perspective and past as on anything they could actually do.
The common thread of these posts is the way in which relationship dynamics constitute the raw materials for any claims to truth in words or arguments. Words can express a reality already present; words can facilitate the creation of a world; but words do not create anything apart from the lives and relationships of the people speaking and hearing those words.
To the extent that theology is a specific discipline born in the articulation of words that point to or express truth about God, those words are an essential rather than accidental aspect of theology. To the extent that theology is relationship, words can only ever mean what they mean in the context of a particular set of relationships or communities; words can only ever point to what they point or do what they do in and from a particular point in space and time; words can only ever express truth within the story in which they are told.
It is the relationship in which words are formed that give life and meaning to those words. The extent to which words can be true is the extent to which they present and convey reality within and around that relationship. Theology, to the extent that it represents an endeavor capable of truth, is inseparable from relationship with the speaker and object of its words.
In short, theology is relationship.
(This post continues a series of occasional posts trying to zero in on what I believe to be the most significant thing I think I think. This is probably the most concrete and practical way of phrasing what it means to say that theology is relationship. The other two posts can be found here and here.)
Date Given: 3/14/21
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Hasselback waffle potatoes. You may not know what they are, but they are the source of my greatest shame. OK, that’s not really true. But there is a story about Hassleback waffle potatoes that I would much rather hide from than share publicly. Unfortunately, the sermon title for today is “No More Hiding.” And I don’t know how to be true to that message if I don’t start by telling you a story about Hassleback waffle potatoes.
The date was Sunday, March 7th, 2021. One week ago today. I was at home with Sallie and Hutch, preparing to make dinner for the family. The adventure began innocently enough as I opened our recipe app and started gathering ingredients. The primary ingredient in Hasselback waffle potatoes is your standard Russet baking potato, peeled, and cut into pieces. Those potato pieces are soaked in butter and garlic and salt and a few other things and then baked in the oven until they are crispy, golden, brown perfection. The secret to their crunchy, buttery goodness – is that each potato piece is cut into a thin rectangle, and then you use a knife to cut a grid pattern all across the surface. That grid allows the buttery, tasty goodness to soak into the potato and give it a crispy, almost fried texture in the oven. That grid is what makes them so delightful. That grid was absent from my Hasselback waffle potatoes. But none of that is the embarrassing part.
The embarrassing part comes in at the point in the instructions that say to lay out a chopstick next to the thin potato pieces. You can use the chopstick as a guide for making the grid pattern. The chopstick stops you from accidentally cutting all the way through with your knife… That’s not how I read the instructions. I read that I was supposed to use the chopstick to help cut the potatoes, but not cut them all the way through. And somehow I also missed that they were supposed to be fairly thin squares.
I found myself with little half inch cubes of raw potato, diligently stabbing each one with a chopstick, from at least two different angles. When Sallie saw the finished product on her dinner plate, she immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong. Instead of crunchy, buttery goodness, we had cubes of mushy potato, with two small holes in the side. Looking back, I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to try and cut a raw potato with a chopstick. Raw potatoes are hard. Chopsticks aren’t made to cut things. I can’t even begin to tell you what I was thinking.
You can probably imagine why I would say that Hasselback waffle potatoes are the source of my greatest shame. Again, it’s not really my greatest shame, but looking back on that moment does force me to ask one very serious question – why didn’t I ask for help? After 10 minutes or so of us both laughing at my absurd choice to stab potatoes with a chopstick, that was the first question Sallie asked me. And it is the question that I have spent most of the last week asking myself.
There’s a level at which I didn’t ask because of stress and exhaustion. Raising a two year old is not for the faint of heart. He was quietly watching TV or playing in the other room while I was cooking. I know in part my brain thought the worst idea would be interrupting a happy moment because who knows what might happen next if he lost focus on what he was doing. But I still could have texted Sallie. Or googled. Or done anything other than stab raw potatoes with a chopstick.
At a deeper level, I have to confess that I occasionally do absurd things because I struggle to embrace the fact that I am not perfect. I like to pretend that I’m smart enough or talented enough to figure out and do anything I put my mind to. I don’t need to ask directions when I can figure it out for myself. I don’t need help when I should be able to solve the puzzle on my own. I can do anything if I think and try hard enough. And that attitude may sound like pride or arrogance, but I can guarantee you 9 times out of 10 it’s my own insecurity. It’s a whole lot easier to pretend I can do anything than it is to admit that I’m only human. It’s easier to say I’m amazing than to let anyone see the fear I carry inside. Which is precisely why it didn’t even occur to me to ask for help. And precisely why I thought it was reasonable to stab raw potatoes with a chopstick.
To be clear, culinary mistakes are not going to make or break my self esteem. But all those insecurities and fears underneath the surface just might. The most frustrating part is that the more we push down and suppress and try to hide insecurity and fear, the more powerful they become. And the more powerful they become, the more likely we are to do absurd things.
Thinking back, I can vividly remember moments when those very same fears were running the show. As long as I’m telling embarrassing stories today, I might as well share one more. I didn’t date at all before college, but I did develop a few major crushes. I almost always played it cool, which is to say I was so terrified that I almost never shared my feelings with anyone. None of that is the embarrassing part.
The embarrassing part is remembering one of the few times when I did share my heart. It was sometime in high school when I decided my best option was to sit down and hand write a letter, complete with poetry, to express the depth of my feelings for a good friend. I don’t think we had even spent a moment alone together or said a word to each other without other friends present. But I wrote that letter…poem included…stamped it, and put it in the mail. An eternity later, she wrote back. As you might have guessed, we stayed friends.
I may not have learned much about dating before college, but I will offer this one tidbit, free of charge today – confessing your love for someone out of the blue, via poetry and the postal service is great for movie plots… and extremely unlikely to work out in real life. It would have been far better to start by asking her on a date or at least having a one on one conversation about SOMEthing, really a conversation about ANYthing before bearing the profound depths of my heart in a multi page, handwritten letter through the mail.
I know there were other options that would have made for a better starting point, but what I remember more than the letter was the fear. The thought of taking a more reasonable step was crippling. To look her in the eye and hear “no” felt like the most devastating outcome I could imagine. So for a long time I said and did nothing. And the more I held back, the more I felt like everything was at stake. So I hid my feelings even more. And the more I hid, the more afraid I was that she would confirm my fear that I’m not good enough or worthy enough to be loved. Obviously I know now that no single person could ever define my worth or lovability. But my teenage brain wasn’t developed enough to understand it back then. And to this day I still struggle to feel it at times. I don’t remember what finally did it, but at some point the pressure of hiding was so strong that sending the letter seemed like the best option.
Hiding from our fears and insecurities leads us to do absurd things. If we’re self aware enough to see it and strong enough to admit it, I’ll bet we can all name a few of the things we’ve done to avoid feeling things we’d rather hide. A midlife crisis might be a distraction from grief over what we thought life was going to be. That constant fight we keep having with a friend or spouse is a way of avoiding the fact that we feel unloved and unappreciated. A character from a TV show I used to watch flew to Yemen to avoid having to admit he wanted to break up with a girlfriend.
Today’s Psalm reminds us that people have been hiding from themselves and refusing to deal with their feelings for centuries. Psalm 107 begins by encouraging God’s people to “give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” Then it offers illustrations of the absurd things God’s people have done instead of accepting and celebrating the steadfast love of God. Our reading for today offers that beginning call to give thanks and then focuses on one particular illustration from verses 17-22. In verse 17 we read, “Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.” I’ll read that again in case you didn’t catch it [READ AGAIN].
People were sick and hurting because of their sinful and broken ways. And how did they respond when they felt pain and affliction? By loathing food of any kind until they drew near to the gates of death. God’s people knew they weren’t perfect and rather than ask for mercy, they starved themselves until they almost died!!! They were so afraid to admit fault, so afraid to be seen as imperfect, so afraid to stop hiding what they knew they’d done wrong that they brought themselves to death’s door. Hiding from our fears and insecurities leads us to do absurd things.
In truth, humans have done absurd things instead of dealing with our feelings since the very beginning. Adam and Eve were created in and for paradise. Yet they were afraid and thought they could hide from God and pretend they had not done the one and only thing God told them not to do. Some of God’s people wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt when all they had to do was ask God for water to drink. A little later, those same people built a golden calf to worship rather than ask God for a reminder of God’s power and presence. Ananias and Saphira were struck dead for trying to hide from their community. Zacchaeus hid in a tree instead of just walking up to Jesus.
Fast forward out of the bible, you can find King Henry the 8th creating the Church of England because he was so terrified that he wouldn’t have a son to carry on his legacy. Alexander Hamilton, and yes I do know this because of the broadway play, published a pamphlet detailing how he cheated on his wife because he was afraid people would think he stole money. Fear of change and losing power led our ancestors to allow slavery in a country that declared all men are created equal. And those same fears led later generations to create “separate but equal” institutions that were anything but. And those same fears still keep us, as a nation, from knowing how to acknowledge, much less resolve, the brokenness left behind by those systems. We do absurd, contradictory, harmful things when we can’t face our fear and insecurity.
In our Psalm, it was when God’s people were at their lowest – when they were “near to the gates of death” – it was only then that they finally cried out to the Lord. And God did what God has done every time we cry out. God saved them from their distress. God healed them. God delivered them from destruction. The more we push down and suppress and try to hide insecurity and fear, the more powerful they become. And the more powerful they become, the more likely we are to do absurd things. Finding an outlet for those feelings is the only path to healing.
A few days after the Hasselback waffle potato incident, I was finally able to admit to Sallie all the weight that I had been carrying. The weight came from assuming I can and should be smart enough to solve all the world’s problems – even in the midst of a once in a generation pandemic, even just a few weeks after the trauma of the winter storm, even while national politics seem so hopelessly broken, even with a toddler who has suddenly stopped falling asleep at night, even while trying to lead a church through a challenging season of discernment with no pre-packaged solutions.
Even with all that’s been happening, I felt sure on some level that I could and should be that smart. Pretending I can do it all lets me hide the anxiety and fear that tell me I’m not enough. Pretending I can do it all also led me to do something absurd rather than admit that I’m not smart enough to do it all on my own.
When I was finally able to name the weight I’d been carrying, I was finally able to start setting it down. Sallie didn’t have some grand solution or prepared speech to get me through it. She simply held me. She let me cry. She reminded me that she loves me and will continue to do so no matter what. And when I finally stopped hiding from my fear and insecurities, they finally started releasing their grip on me.
People often say that marriage is meant to be a reflection of God’s love for us. Whatever anyone else might mean by that, the only thing I’m absolutely, completely sure is true; is that marriage is meant to create the space where we are seen, where we are vulnerable, where we feel safe enough to name the most intimate parts of ourselves that we so desperately hide from the world; and to be loved all the more for it.
So often, simply finding the words and the space to name our feelings gives us an enormous amount of power to get unstuck and start to move forward. Bringing the actual contents of our hearts into the light, refusing to hide it no matter how embarrassing or scary or anything else, letting someone we love see deep into who we actually are – is in itself a profound source of healing and change.
Being seen… and known… and loved by God is the starting point of every change worth making in our world. Through the grace of our God there is no reason to hide. We have nothing to prove, no test to pass, no possible way to separate ourselves from the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ. Before we are anything else, we are loved, we are accepted, we are enough. Each and every one of us. Each and every part of us.
Today, we are invited to give thanks for the steadfast love of our God. We are invited to celebrate the fact that God’s love endures forever.
God’s love endures when we pretend like we have it all under control AND it endures when we admit that we’re struggling.
God’s love endures when we are productive and joyful and feel like we’re doing exactly what we were put on this earth to do AND God’s love endures when we make the same mistakes and fall into the same old habits that we’ve tried to leave behind a thousand times.
God’s love endures through all seasons, in all places, for all time. AND yes, God’s love endures even if we’re so desperate to hide our insecurities that we mail off a love letter, stab a raw potato with a chopstick, or do any of the thousand other absurd things that people have been doing from the beginning of time.
Today, we give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. There is no reason to hide.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The following is a modest proposal to fix many of the most insidious problems with the US by envisioning the future of our capitalist economy reshaped by one simple conviction – our people are our economy’s primary and only unique asset.
1) Americans First
2) Unburdening Business
3) Investing in our Children’s Future
4) Liberty, Responsibility, and Freedom
- federal minimum wage and social security.
- income tax and any other federal tax on individual income.
- private health insurance and any requirements that businesses offer such benefits.
- in every US citizen living within the borders of the US with a monthly check from the federal government in an amount representing ½ of a livable minimum wage per adult and ¼ of that amount per dependent. Current focus on $15/hr as a livable minimum wage would imply monthly checks of $1200 per adult and $600 per dependent. Alternatively, the amount could be indexed on an annually updated federal definition of poverty. That amount would currently be about $1000 per adult and $400 per dependent.
- in the health of US citizens by replacing fee for service health care with a subscription model of health care that packages preventive, wellness, regular, mental, surgical, prescription, labwork, emergency, and other health care costs. That subscription cost would be paid on behalf of every citizen by the federal government directly to a hospital or network of physicians who would be responsible for covering or contracting out for the full cost of any necessary medical treatments, visits, or procedures; subsidizing any recommended treatments, visits, or procedures; and providing options for self funded elective care at the discretion of the patient.
- the liberty and freedom of every citizen to work and contribute their full potential to the economy by ensuring a) equitable access to K-12 education and associated resources (such school funding would be decoupled from location to the maximum extent allowable under state laws and public education funds would be restricted to publicly accessible school systems); and b) affordable access to technical or undergraduate college degree/certificate programs (individual out of pocket expenses per degree/certificate capped at an amount equivalent to no more than one year of the federal poverty income level for all public universities, with no interest federal loan options available for all who qualify for admission)
- American job opportunities by setting a high minimum wage for non citizen workers (anyone engaged in work on US soil that is not a US citizen) equal to or greater than the livable wage equivalent above (or alternatively twice the hourly wage equivalent of the annual poverty definition).
- The health and potential of non citizens by ensuring the availability of subscription health care as described above at all hospital systems or provider networks that offer federally funded subscription care, with cost capped at no more than the per person average cost paid by the federal government on behalf of US citizens.
- businesses on the dispersal of wages or other money and assets from the business to any US citizen or another worker living on US soil at a progressive annual rate (the more an individual receives each year through wages, stock options, and the like, the higher the rate at which the business is taxed on that transfer of wealth) that remains at 0% at least until the second half of an annual livable minimum wage is provided for that individual (or alternatively, twice the poverty wage).
- individuals on the profits made through the sale of stocks or similar business assets (including bonds, loan forgiveness, ownership share, etc) at an equal progressive rate to that in a).
- individuals on the transfer of their wealth to another individual, again at a progressive rate equal to that in a).
- non citizens’ income at a progressive rate equal to that charged to a business in a). (To maximize tax revenue, the system for documenting immigration status and work potential (work visa, green card, etc.) must be revamped through higher caps on immigration and a radical shift in emphasis from deportation to documentation for anyone without a criminal record.)
Kids don’t listen to you,
they become you.
Kids don’t appreciate what you do,
they do what you do.
The best way to pass on anxiety is to hide it from myself
and let anxiety define my parenting.
The best way to pass on joy is to find it for myself
and let joy sustain our relationship.
The more I feel compelled to sacrifice for my child,
the more necessary my child will view sacrifice for theirs.
The more I begin to trust I am enough,
the more able my child will be to trust in their worth.
To love from a place of emptiness
is to instill expectations of scarcity.
To love from a place of fullness
is to empower a life of abundance.
The more I mask and shame my brokenness,
the more I will pass it on.
The more I admit and correct my mistakes,
the more they will end with me.
I just finished a book and decided I should start offering a handful of reflections and/or quotes that are especially meaningful/significant to me from the books I read. This may or may not become a regular thing. Reflecting on this particular book, I’m surprised at how affected I was by reading the first page. Read the screenshot before you get any further.
This is the first page of a book by author Daniel Black, entitled The Coming. The book tells the story of coming to America from the perspective of the slaves who were captured, loaded onto ships, and sold at auction. Obviously there is no single, comprehensive, first hand account that could have recorded all that is found in this journey. But I think that is what wrecked me in reading the first page.
It’s so easy to collapse “slavery” to a single thing experienced by millions of men and women. But part of the cruelty and inhumanity of the institution is precisely its success in that very task. This one page upended a lot of what was unacknowledged in mind about slavery by merely pointing out the incredible diversity of cultures, languages, occupations, life stages, and so much more that was all funneled into a thing we call “slavery” – an institution into which diverse African cultures, languages, and persons were all reduced to a thing called “slaves.”
When I think about my own life, I don’t even know how to think about it without those identifiers that have defined my existence. I am a husband. A pastor. A father. An American. A guy who loves ping pong. An English speaker. An introvert. I could go on. To extract me from my life in such a way that I am only accepted as one unrelated thing would be one of the most disorienting traumas I can imagine inflicting. And yet that’s exactly what the institution of slavery was designed to do. Not only were prior careers and family ties not kept intact; people were intentionally placed with others who did not even speak the same language so that communication was impossible.
It is true that we are each individuals and that we all have worth and value that is not predicated on what anyone else thinks of us or does to us. It is true that we cannot define our self worth by the shifting sands of external validation. It is even true that I have skills and qualities that would be the same even if I were to never see another human in my life. But it is also (or maybe even more) true that we are relationally constructed beings. I don’t actually know how to conceive of my own identity, uniqueness, skills, or value apart from the inherently relational ways those markers take shape in my actual life and relationships. What is a preacher with no one to listen? What is an athlete without competition? What is an introvert without the energy drain and emotional necessity of human interaction?
Recognizing how completely relationally I conceive of myself while reading the first few pages of The Coming has been disorienting. If I cannot even conceive of my self apart from the relationships in which my individuality plays out, then I should never expect to be perceived as heroic (or even friendly) for being “difference blind” toward those who don’t look like me. My usual expectation or goal of trying to see everyone as ‘equal’ or ‘the same’ is, at best, deeply insufficient and, at worst, in harmony with one of the harshest traumas found in slavery.
Our humanity and dignity are necessarily born in and through (rather than in spite of) the incredible diversity of the actual lives we live. I find an especially profound importance within that message for the life of the church. Our work in church institutions typically plays out (whether intentionally or not) as an attempt to fit as many people within a definition of “member” that is as narrowly constructed as possible, in sometimes overt ways (like signing on to belief statements) and in sometimes unacknowledged ways (like sitting still in worship).
I don’t know exactly what, if anything, ought to be essential, but I am more and more convinced, especially in a season of change and amidst the breaking down of our usual habits and expectations, that we ought to start with learning to see the gifts and graces that are already present in the diverse lives of our churches and communities. We won’t become a healthy diverse church (much less break down racial divides) by assuming the more important goal is having diverse people squeeze into a narrow definition of faithfulness. We would all be better served by finding ways to honor the rich gifts that are waiting to be made known.
I am grateful for the disorienting push that I received from The Coming. I will never think of slavery or how I relate to other people in the same way. It is not an easy read, but I highly recommend it.