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ramadan kareem

Happy Ramadan! Encountering God’s Care through Islam

Happy Ramadan!

Ramadan Kareem means “Generous Ramadan” and points to the generosity of God in Islam. God’s generosity encourages Muslims to be generous people.

In the video below I discuss the importance of Ramadan. Ramadan critiques the popular misunderstanding that the God of Islam is a God of power, might, and conquest. Rather, Ramadan claims that the God of Islam is the God who cares about the poor, hungry, and marginalized of culture. Muhammad critiqued the pre-Islamic Arabian view that Fate was in control of life. The Jahaliyya, or Age of Ignorance, believed fate controlled who was rich and powerful and who was poor and marginalized. There was little incentive for the rich to care for the poor. Muhammad challenged this view, and fasting during the month of Ramadan forces Muslims to identify with and care for the poor, weak, and hungry by living in a generous way towards them.

I created this video during Ramadan a few years when Ramadan began in August, which is why I stated that Ramadan starts in August. This year it begins in June. The beginning of Ramadan changes each year because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar phases, not on solar phases.

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner's Twitter page.

A Transgender God: Reflections on God and Caitlyn Jenner

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner's Twitter page.

Screen capture from Caitlyn Jenner’s Twitter page.

 

 

The Internet is in an uproar about Caitlyn Jenner. And, if you’re like me, you have some Caitlyn Jenner fatigue. You may be thinking, “Not another Caitlyn Jenner story.” So, let me tell you, this isn’t another post about Caitlyn’s transgenderism. This post is about God’s transgenderism. God is transgender.

Why God is Transgender

Some may be offended by the idea that God is transgender, but it’s actually a theologically orthodox statement. “Trans” is a prefix that simply means “across,” “beyond,” or “through.”

God is neither male nor female. God transcends gender. God goes “beyond” the binaries of male and female gender. Thus, God is transgender and if we are created in God’s image, as we read in Genesis 1, then we are transgender, too. Remember the creation story:

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

The God who transcends gender created humanity in God’s gender-transcending image, male and female, not male or female.

God goes across the human binaries of male and female gender to include both genders and every gender identity in between. Gender identity is fluid and much of gender identity is dependent upon cultural norms to tell us who we are and who we are not.

We often use the dualities of “male and female” gender to create a distinction of who is included and who is excluded from certain roles in society. For example, I was born a male, but what does it mean to be a man? For many people, to be a man means that you must fight and protect yourself and your family. When danger comes, men must “man up” and defend themselves, their family, or their country. The manliest of men aren’t afraid of anything. According to many in our culture, that is the universal truth of what it means to be a man.

A Transgender Jesus

If that’s the truth of what it means to be a man, then Jesus wasn’t manly. He didn’t “man up” by protecting himself. Jesus was transgender in the fact that he transcended cultural standards of gender. Jesus’ culture had diverse messianic expectations, but many in his culture, including his disciples, expected the Messiah to be a manly warrior king who would free Jerusalem from their Roman oppressors. No one expected the Messiah to be killed. That just wouldn’t be manly.

If Jesus were manly by cultural standards, he would have led an army against the Roman occupiers. He would have defended his homeland, his family, his friends, even his Manly God against the Romans. But Jesus transcended any manly expectation that would have him lead a violent army against his enemies. Rather, he lived out his teaching to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” He didn’t fight back with violence. Rather, when this King was high and lifted up on his throne of glory, he decreed his final judgment upon those who killed. “Father, forgive them,” Jesus said from the cross, “for they know not what they do.”

Jesus Is Not the King We Were Looking For

Jesus confuses my expectations of gender roles. I don’t want Jesus as my King. I want a King who will man up. I want a King who will fall into the gender norm of being a man and defend his people against evil oppressors. I want a King who will reinforce gender norms and my desire to kill the bad guys.

But that’s not the King that Christians get. Christians get a King who nonviolently nurtures humanity into a future of love and compassion.

Does that mean Jesus had feminine qualities? Yes. And did he have masculine qualities? Yes. Jesus took upon himself the fullness of humanity. With a literal reading of Genesis 1, we can say that Jesus was the truly human one, whom God created to be male and female.

What about Caitlyn Jenner?

What does this mean for Caitlyn Jenner? God is transgender, which means that God crosses over our dualities of male and female to include those binaries and everything in between and beyond. That means that Caitlyn Jenner is part of the human and divine experience. But really, I’m not concerned about Caitlyn Jenner. I’m more concerned about our cultural responses.

Why are so many scandalized by her story? Some say it’s a publicity stunt that she hopes to get paid for. Others claim she is deliberately sinning against God’s will. Others claim she is just confused.

As Benjamin Corey states, none of us is in a position to judge Caitlyn Jenner. We don’t know her whole story; only God does. So we shouldn’t be judging her.

Rather, we should embrace her and all transgender people. Why? Because God already has. It is we humans who use categories such as gender to exclude and include others in loving community, but God doesn’t work that way. God seeks to include everyone, no matter anyone’s gender identity. In fact, God revealed at creation and through Jesus that to be truly human means to transcend cultural norms of gender. To be truly human means to be transgender.

I don’t know whether Caitlyn believes in God or not. But I do know this, the God who transcends gender embraces everyone, especially those who, just like God, are transgender.

For more, read my article Bruce Jenner and God’s Response to Transgender People.

adam bc 1

My Baccalaureate Address: A Life Worth Living: On Tragedy, Revenge, and Love

I was invited by Linfield College, my alma mater, to deliver the Baccalaureate Address to the graduating class of 2015. The text was based on Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 5:43-48. This was a great honor for me and I wanted to share the text with you –

My soon to be fellow Linfield graduates, it’s an honor to be with you tonight. It feels great to be back on this beautiful campus. I’m biased, but I deliver lectures on campuses throughout the country and I think this is the most beautiful campus in the US. The buildings, the grass, the trees, the flowers…The ground keepers do an amazing job keeping Linfield beautiful. I want to thank Chaplain David Massey and President Hellie for inviting me to talk with you tonight.

Tomorrow you will be a Linfield College graduate. And I want us to take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge this accomplishment in your life. Your family, friends, and loved ones have come to help you celebrate. Professors, staff, and administrators who have walked with you through your Linfield experience are here to continue the journey with you.

Here’s an important stat for you – Do you realize that only 7 percent of people in the world have a college degree?

Let that sink in for a moment. 7 percent. Congratulate yourself. And give your neighbor a high five. Say to your neighbor, “You are the 7 percent.”

I recently had a conversation with a Linfield graduate’s father. This man’s daughter didn’t actually want to go to Linfield. She was enticed by some other schools. He said something that rang true with my Linfield experience. He said that when he met with the administration at those other schools, they boasted about how great their school was. They each claimed to be well respected colleges and they bragged about the famous people on their Board of Trustees.

But when he met with the administration at Linfield, they didn’t talk about how great Linfield was. Rather, they talked about how great their students were and how much Linfield cared about them. The Dean of Students gave concrete details about how Linfield cares about its students and wants them to succeed in college and in life. This man was sold by a sense that Linfield genuinely cares about its students and with some persuading, his daughter attended Linfield. And I’m glad she did because during my junior year I asked her if she’d like to go to Taco Bell and then do some shopping at Walmart with me – because that’s how I show people a good time. Surprisingly, she said yes. I knew then that she was the one. Three years later I asked her to marry me. Surprisingly, she said yes again. I’ve been married to my Linfield sweetheart for 13 years. We still love Taco Bell, but now Carrie and I do most of our shopping at Costco.

But my father-in-law’s statement that Linfield cares about its students was proved true by my experience. I first walked onto Linfield’s campus as a student 18 years ago. If you are like me, the four years I spent at Linfield went by so fast. My freshman year I moved into Campbell Hall – did anyone here live in Campbell? – yeah, give it up for Campbell Hall everyone…My sophomore year I became a Resident Advisor. Any RA’s here? If you were an RA give yourselves a round of applause. Okay, the rest of you can boo. Please know that we RAs hated writing you up. It hurt us much more than it hurt you…

God, Suffering, and Answers that Matter

I began Linfield as a history major. I enjoyed history, but at the end of my sophomore year I experienced a personal tragedy. My mother died after a 10 year battle with cancer. I began to ask questions about God, suffering, and death. If God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world? Does God even care? Why is there cancer? Why do people suffer? And what, if anything, am I supposed to do about it?

Linfield didn’t so much offer me intellectual answers to those questions about my mother’s death. It offered me something so much more important. It offered me care. It offered me love.

I remember telling my friends at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when she died. There must have been 80 of us in that small living room. People gasped as I reported her death from earlier in the day. Then there were hugs. I needed those hugs.

My junior year I switched my major to religious studies. My professors Bill Apel, Bill Millar, David Massey, and Stephen Snyder were much more than professors. They were caring guides who offered a compassionate presence. They walked with me as I struggled through the emotions of processing my mother’s death. They allowed space for me to ask my questions, but they didn’t force answers on me. They cared. And that was the most important answer that they could have given.

My professors taught me how to care for others during our classes, too. For example, I took World Religions with Bill Apel. We got to the section on Buddhism and Bill said to the class, “Here’s what Buddhism is like.” He then stood up, left our classroom, and shut the door. That, in and of itself is very Buddhist, but after a few seconds, he reentered, looked at us, and said, “Hi. How are you doing today?”

I remember thinking in that moment, “Oh, that’s cool. Buddhism is awesome. I want to become a Buddhist. I think I’ll convert…” But I was too lazy.

My professors were very important to me, and staff members were just as important in being a compassionate presence during this time. Delaine Hein, Dan Fergueson, Dan Preston, Jeff Mackay, and so many others offered caring words and a shoulder to cry on. Even the president at the time, Vivian Bull, spent extra time with me as I grieved.

As I continued struggling through my personal tragedy, a national tragedy struck our nation. At the beginning of my senior year, on 9/11/2001, a group of religious fanatics flew a plane into the World Trade Center. I remember waking up on that horrific morning in our HP apartment and walking to the living room. My three roommates were already there with their eyes glued to the television screen as the tragedy unfolded.

Once again, in the face of tragedy, I witnessed Linfield’s care for students. David Massey performed a memorial service on the Oak Grove. Many students, faculty, and professors came to mourn. During the ceremony, David asked if anyone would like to make any comments. A commuter student from Newberg stepped forward. She was visibly shaken and in tears as she told us about a family member who moved to New York to work in the towers. He was killed as the towers fell. I remember her weeping in front of us. Her pain was so real and there was nothing we could do to take her pain away. And so we tried to care for her the best way we knew how – we listened to her story and tried to offer her a compassionate presence.

A few days later there was an all campus meeting in the basement of Melrose Hall to talk about religion and reconciliation. There were Muslim students there. They expressed deep sorrow that people hijacked their religion and caused such destruction and death. The grief on their faces was palpable. They were in pain. And in the midst of their pain my Muslim classmates didn’t need any condemnation or hostility. They needed care. They needed love. They needed acceptance. They needed a compassionate presence. And that’s what we tried to give them.

Life’s Most Important Lessons

It was at Linfield where I learned my most important lessons in life. It’s where I learned how to care about myself and others. It’s where I learned how to deal with tragedy. And you have learned that, too. You have gone through personal tragedies and tragedies that have struck this community. And in the face of that tragedy, Linfield has taught you one of its most important life lessons: how to care for yourself and others by offering a compassionate presence.

Since graduating from Linfield, I’ve learned that it’s not a matter of *if* tragedy will strike again. It’s a matter of *when.* For example, during the last year, I have worked as a hospital chaplain in Eugene. My first call to our Emergency Department was for a 23 year old patient who had a massive heart attack during a Ducks football game.

Unfortunately, he died. At age 23. My job in that moment, was to put into action what Linfield taught me – my job was not to come up with answers, but to be a compassionate presence and journey with his girlfriend, his family, and his friends as they grieved his death.

Listen, I don’t tell you that story to scare you. I’m telling you that story because life is fragile. Life is a precious gift.

As far as I know, we only have this one precious life. Your mission is to make this one precious life you have a life worth living. This is the wisdom I’ve learned from my elderly patients at the hospital who are nearing death. They don’t fear death. Instead, many of them fear that they haven’t lived a life worth living. By the phrase “life worth living,” none of these elderly patients mean such things as: Did I make enough money? Could I have bought a bigger house? Could I have exerted more political influences? Could I have won more arguments during my life?

No, what they mean by a “life worth living” is did they care enough for people. Did they love others enough? Have they reconciled with family and friends?

Because, you see, a life worth living isn’t based on worldly standards of success. I know many rich people who are consumed with their money. They’re unhappy people. They are isolated and lonely because they have alienated themselves from family and friends. They are bitter and angry because they live in fear of losing their worldly success.

And I know a lot of rich people who aren’t consumed with their money. They are generous people. They don’t live in fear of losing anything. Rather, they give their time, money, and talent to help make their community a better place.

A Life Worth Living

So, please hear this: The world doesn’t need any more bitter, fearful, and angry people in it. The world doesn’t need any more people who define themselves by their money, cars, houses or other material goods. Rather, the world needs more people to live a life worth living by being what Linfield has taught us to be: a compassionate presence as we care for ourselves and others.

Our Hebrew Scripture text this evening puts it like this: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We tend to rush to the second part of the verse that commands us to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s a crucial statement, but notice the first part of the verse – “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.” That’s so important because seeking revenge and bearing a grudge is what we humans tend to do. It is our natural default position. It’s often hard to be a compassionate presence because we tend to be reactionary when we feel someone has done us wrong. When someone insults us, we want to return the insult. When someone hits us, we want to hit back. Just look at the news. We see this reaction of revenge on a personal, national, and international scale every day.

Now, I don’t know from personal experience, but I’ve heard that even married couples get into bitter cycles of revenge. At least, I’ve seen it on television. One person might say something in the morning that the other person finds insulting. Then for the rest of the day, the person who felt insulted will think of ways to get revenge, usually by bringing up old wounds. She might bring up his ex-girlfriend. Or he might bring up how she got fired from her previous job. This cycle of revenge can consume any relationship, but especially a marriage, with a spirit of bitterness and hostility, as opposed to a spirit of love and compassion.

We know from human history that this cycle of revenge easily escalates on a personal, communal, national, and international level until real damage is done resulting in horrific violence and tragedy. But it doesn’t have to escalate. Someone can be courageous enough to stop the cycle of revenge.

And the world needs you to stop the cycle. The world needs you to live out the phrase, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.” We’ve been seeking revenge and bearing grudges since the beginning of human history. The human reactionary position is to blame someone else for our problems. We scapegoat others thinking that if we get rid of them our problems will be solved. Unfortunately, when we defeat one enemy, another one emerges to take its place.

That’s the nature of revenge and the wisdom behind our scriptural passage. Revenge never solves our problems; it only creates more problems and tragedies in the world. A life of revenge and grudges is not a life worth living.

Which is why the second part of our passage is so important. Instead of seeking revenge and bearing a grudge, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus even extends this message by saying, “Love your enemies.” I’m convinced that the world would be a much better place if a group of people actually decided that they would stop seeking revenge and instead seek to be a compassionate presence in the world as they love others as they love themselves. Whether your next step in life is a job, graduate school, travel the world, or move back in with your parents, to love your neighbor as you love yourself is your basic life mission.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you to solve the world’s problems. God knows we have some serious and complicated problems. If we try to solve the world’s problems we can begin to feel overwhelmed and hopeless about them.

Don’t begin by trying to solve the world’s problems. A life worth living begins by managing your own problems. You can’t control how others will react to you. The only person you can control is yourself. So, when you find yourself reacting by seeking revenge or bearing a grudge, stop. Don’t project your own problems onto others. Don’t scapegoat. Don’t blame someone else. Instead, remember what Linfield and our scriptural passages have taught you. Put down your verbal bullets and bombs. There are enough bullets and bombs in the world. We don’t need any more.

What we need are people who care. The world needs the 7 percent of people with college degrees to use our brains to find creative ways to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s what the world needs from you because the world’s transformation starts with each of us managing our own impulse to revenge and learning how to respond to tragedy and violence with love and care.

So, may you take your Linfield experience with you knowing that you have a mission. May you move forward with your life, refusing to participate in the ugly cycle of revenge and scapegoating. And in the face of tragedy and violence that you will experience, may you live a life worth living as you participate in the spiritual tradition that calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Amen

The Theology of a Biker Gang

 

Five rival biker gangs descended upon a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday. Hundreds of gang members began stabbing, beating, and shooting each other. Weapons included chains, knives, clubs, and guns. When the fight ended, 9 people were dead, 18 were sent to the hospital, and more than 170 people were arrested.

Waco police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton stated, “In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with.”

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the US.

And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:

God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.

Anthropology of a Biker Gang: Bandidos Don’t Forgive

Let’s start with the anthropology. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all much more like a biker gang than we’d like to admit. Take what happened in Waco, for example. A group of rival gangs come together to fight because they have a relationship based on hostility. They refuse to forgive because biker gangs respond to violence with violence. That’s the pattern that they have developed.

It’s not just biker gangs who have that violent pattern. We all do. Violence is a human problem. For example, our political and judicial systems are based on that pattern. The same principle of retaliation that consumes biker gangs also consumes our culture.

Biker gangs such as the Bandidos are a violent and evil menace to society precisely because they refuse to forgive. And whenever we refuse to forgive, we become just like a violent and evil biker gang that is a menace to society.

Bandidos don’t forgive because we don’t forgive. Whenever someone insults us, we tend to insult back. When someone hits us, we tend to hit back. When someone attacks our country, we attack back. That’s the reciprocal pattern we tend to fall into when it comes to violence. For example, will our society respond to Sunday’s biker gang violence with forgiveness? No, we will respond with violent punishment of our own – maybe even the death penalty. Which leads me to ask some question:

How would the biker gang situation be different if one of the gangs decided to respond with forgiveness?

How would my life be different if I responded to insults with forgiveness?

How would the world situation be different if on 9/11 the United States decided to respond with forgiveness?

We will never know the answer to that last question. But what we do know is that our violent response didn’t solve the problem of violence that we face; in fact, it may only have perpetuated it.

Theology of a Biker Gang: God Forgives

And here’s the good news: God forgives. The theological truth of the Bandidos slogan is that God isn’t like us. God doesn’t hold on to grudges. God forgives.

But please understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t make violence okay. Rather, it stops the cycle of violence by refusing to play the game. The best example of God’s radical forgiveness is on the cross. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God forgives.

That’s true. But the truth that the Bandidos biker gang doesn’t understand, and what we so often fail to understand as well, is that God calls us to participate in a culture of divine forgiveness, as opposed to a culture of human violence. The first step is to realize that we all have a tendency toward violence in thought, word, and deed; and so we are all in need of receiving God’s forgiveness. Then, as we receive from God’s well of abundant forgiveness, we are able to share that forgiveness with others.

There is an urgency in our current situation. What happened between 5 biker gangs in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation. Our hope in the face of violence is in following the God of radical forgiveness. As René Girard prophetically says in his book The Scapegoat, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time.”

Bruce Jenner and God’s Response to Transgendered People

jennerCaryn Riswold wrote a moving article about Bruce Jenner’s interview last night with Dianne Sawyer. In the interview, Bruce states, “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman. People look at me differently. They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything I do in life – it is part of me. That female side of me. That’s who I am.”

Caryn’s article is titled “How Should People of Faith Respond to Bruce Jenner?” It is a compassionate response to Jenner and all people who identify as transgendered. She states that all people are created in the image of God and so deserve our love and compassion. Sadly, many religious people disagree with Caryn, insisting that Jenner is confused, crazy, or just out for attention.

Caryn worries that Jenner will be mocked and ridiculed. She states that people of faith should not respond with ridicule, but rather with acceptance and compassion. Caryn writes

Pay attention to the one who isn’t laughing. The one who looks upset. The one who is desperately trying to escape the gaze and the mockery.

Pay attention to the ones on the margins. Whose image are they created in?

As I read Caryn’s article, my thoughts went to someone I met last year. A friend of mine asked me to visit his friend – a woman in her 50s. My friend described her as being depressed and questioning if her existence mattered to anyone. “Oh, and she’s transgendered,” my friend explained. “Her parents are conservative Christians and have rejected her. I don’t know how she will respond to a pastor, but she needs to talk with someone.”

My heart broke for this woman before I even met her. A lifetime of being rejected, mocked, and “on the margins” of her Christian family.

This was my first conscious experience with a transgendered person. Before I met her at our local coffee house, I said a brief prayer and I reminded myself of my job – to be a nonjudgmental presence as I “pay attention to the ones on the margins.”

Surprisingly, she opened up right away about her parents and siblings. She experienced rejection from her family and church, yet she had friends who introduced her to God’s unconditional love. She knew, deep in her bones, that while her family and church had rejected her, God hadn’t. God responded to her as a transgendered woman by accepting her and loving her for who she was.

Sometimes I take my role in ministry too seriously. I start to think that it’s my job to minister and heal people. But it’s in moments when I sit across from a transgendered woman who tells me about God’s unconditional love that I discover that I am the one who is being ministered to. Here was a transgendered woman who had been scapegoated, despised, and rejected. Yet she pointed beyond that hatred to the unconditional, unmerited, gracious love of God.

I found myself holding her hand. Man. Woman. Transgendered. Whatever. In the face of God’s holy love that this woman was mediating to me, those constructs didn’t matter.

What mattered was the truth that transcends our social constructs that divides the world into us and them – that God loves us as we are and for who we are. Period.

But it’s hard to live this way, isn’t it? After all, there are those people who continue to be judgmental, who do divide the world into us “good, normally gendered people” and those “bad, abnormally confused people like Bruce Jenner.”

And so, the question Caryn asks about how we should respond to Bruce Jenner is crucially important. Another crucially important question is “How should people of faith respond to those we think are judgmental?”

Here’s what I learned from the transgendered woman I met: You don’t respond by mimicking harsh judgment. You don’t mock the mockers, marginalize the marginalizers, or scapegoat the scapegoaters. Rather, you respond by mediating God’s unconditional love to them.

That doesn’t mean we ignore the pain of being marginalized. No, we talk about our pain because that’s the way we move toward healing. And as we talk and move toward healing, we begin to discover that those who judge us have their own pain and their own wounds that they project on us. What they need isn’t for us to mimic their judgment, but for us to be vessels of the love of God.

It’s in that love, the love modeled by a transgendered woman, that we are healed from our pain, our wounds, and our judgmentalism.

Repent For Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory – Holy Week (Poem)

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Dear Friends,

For a final “Repent For Lent” post, I offer a Palm/Passion Sunday Meditation that I delivered two years ago in the form of poem. These are some Girardian reflections on how Christ “takes away the sin of the world” by his death. The resurrection is crucial, but during Holy Week, I want to leave us in the dark and terrible recognition of our sin as we “look upon the one we’ve pierced.” Still there is the promise of forgiveness and redemption, and also the recognition that God is Love, which can only be recognized by looking back upon all of this from the perspective of Easter. I have enjoyed every step of this Lenten walk with you, my friends, and though this is the end of the series, it is not the end of the journey. During the Easter season, I am considering some posts on what it means to live into the Resurrection, although what form that will take is still undecided. In the meantime, I offer for your reflection this

Passion Sunday Meditation: 

In the beginning, there was Love.
And Love was joyful, and Love was playful.
Lover and Beloved and the Love between them danced in Triune Communion,
and where they danced, they left stars and planets in their path.
Their gentle footsteps made ripples on waters;
Their exuberant flourishes made waves upon the oceans.
Love made all things in the beginning, and the end for which all things were made was Love.

Love is the Alpha and Omega.
Love is God.

God molded humanity in the image of perfect Love;
Male and Female, God created them, breathed into them Love’s own Spirit
And taught them to live in the harmony of the Dance.
God gave to us humans in our infancy the world for a playground,
To be cared for and enjoyed in perfect Love.

The first image-bearers of God lacked nothing,
Perfectly trusting the Love that brought them into being.
That trust sustained their lives.

God warned them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil
But to keep their trust in God’s judgment.
For once we seek to judge for ourselves
Between evil and good
And bring that judgment upon others
Threads of trust loosen,
And the cord of love begins to unravel.

Envy slithered into the human heart
Tempting it with lies
Maligning God as a withholder and making of Him a rival.
“Take, eat,” it hissed, “for then you will be like God”
As if being Love’s embodied image
Were not enough.

And once we lost trust in the perfect Love of God
And presumed to judge for ourselves
A wedge was drawn between us and God,
And that wedge was death.

Death infected all the world
Throwing out of harmony
Our dance with God and each other.
Insecurity, envy, rivalry, scorn
Hatred and strife and malice were born.

For our judgment of others is born from deceit;
A failure to recognize God’s image of Love
In every human being
And a failure to recognize Love itself
As the ground of our being.

So we set ourselves up against one-another
Forming unions that exclude
Always an outcast; always an “other”
Never the perfect harmony as it was in the beginning.

Wars rage across lands and generations
People are taken by force or for granted
Land is laid to waste, blood poisons the ground
As we strive to survive and thrive in a world founded on death
Ever since our hearts expelled the Living God.

Into this broken world
Love emptied himself,
Poured himself out into flesh
To reconcile us back to Himself
To invite us back into the Dance.

By his very humility he shook our faulty foundation of one-upmanship;
By his very nonviolence he threatened to overturn our violent world.
He broke bread with sinners we had thought under judgment
And healed untouchables we had thought condemned.

Refusing to be caught up in the rivalry that kills,
He lowered himself, becoming a servant,
Stooping beneath our feet to wash them clean,
Putting himself entirely in our hands.

And in the blindness of our false judgments,
We put Love on trial;
In the name of the God we thought we knew,
We condemned God to death.

Yet he went to his death without protest,
Bearing all the pain of the broken world on his mortal shoulders,
He occupied the rift between God and humanity.
The space of death we created when we separated ourselves from God
He filled willingly, to rob death of its power,
Putting his body on the gears of violence to stop them from turning
Once and for all.

Redemption starts with the centurion and the dying thief
Who recognized Jesus’ innocence.
Guilty as they were of violence themselves,
They were not blinded by self-righteousness,
And false, finger-pointing judgment.

They looked upon him and saw his humanity
And in this Truly Human One they saw the perfect image of God.
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
The dying thief saw that,
by filling the space of the accused with his innocence,
Jesus was going to his glory,
And was not accursed by God
As he hung dying from the cross.

Redemption starts when we recognize our violence,
The log of arrogance removed from our eyes,
The fog of prejudice lifted.
When we see the mess of injustice in which we are immersed,
And know that we are not immune,
That we all play into the system,
When we recognize our violence for what it is,
And refuse to shift the blame.

We practice violence in the dark of self-deception
In this fragile world built on the faulty foundation of deceit…
We practice violence when we think we must rely on ourselves to climb social and economic ladders,
At the expense of others, every man for himself…

We practice violence when we fail to trust in the foundational Love of God
Who will fulfill our needs as he clothes the lillies and guides the sparrows.

That Love was on display for the world to see upon the cross.
For the day we tried Jesus, our false judgments also stood on trial
And the day we mocked our Prince of Peace, the Prince of Violence was exposed as a Liar and Murderer.
God became our victim to expose the violence within us
And show Himself to have no part in it.

Reconcilation takes place at the foot of the cross,
For it is there that the blinders fall away
When we look on the one whom we have pierced
And recognize in him the God who endured our violence and answered it with forgiveness.
Our hearts break open,
We unite in repentance,
And turn ourselves around.

Were you there when we crucified our Lord?
Were you there when we nailed him to the tree?
He still cries through the voices of our victims,
Saying, “My Child, My Child, why do you persecute me?”

Ted Cruz and God’s Political Subversion

Ted Cruz at Liberty University (Photo: screen shot from YouTube.)

Ted Cruz at Liberty University (Photo: screen shot from YouTube.)

Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare a presidential run for 2016. His formal announcement came this morning at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.

Cruz’s announcement at Liberty University was an important political strategy. Cruz is the poster child of the Tea Party movement. He wants to spread his influence by appealing to evangelicals. There is no better place to garner the evangelical vote than the largest Christian university on the planet.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says that Cruz’s message at Liberty was essentially this, “I am one of you; I will put my religious faith at the center of this campaign.”

Cruz put his religious faith at the center of his campaign by invoking God and American exceptionalism, while at the same time critiquing Democrats and Obamacare. Liberty students cheered as Cruz passionately claimed, “God bless Liberty University…God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet. I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to re-ignite the promise of America.”

Cruz is the first serious candidate to officially throw his hat in the presidential ring. Because he quickly invoked God, it’s a safe bet that future Republican and Democratic candidates will also invoke the blessings of God the Almighty.

So, let’s talk God and politics.

There is a good reason that we aren’t supposed to talk about those two topics at the dinner table. It’s because of the human tendency to claim that God is on our side of the religious and political divide. And, if God is on our side, that means that God is against our enemies. In this sense, the term “God” is merely a social projection of group identity that pits us over-and-against a wicked “other.”

A God who stands with us over-and-against our religious and political enemies is no God at all. It’s an idol; a mere function of human social projection. I would rather be an atheist than believe in that God.

Fortunately, that’s not the God of the Bible. The human understanding of God in the Bible moves from being a tribal god to becoming God of the universe. This God is infinitely bigger than our rivalries of group identity; in fact, the God of the Bible is on a completely different plane than our rivalries over-and-against one another. As such, God subverts our tendency to form group identity over-and-against a wicked other. As James Alison points out in his book Undergoing God, the great Hebrew insight, made first with the prophet Isaiah, is that of monotheism. Alison claims this is important because,

…if there is a God who is not one of the gods, who is not on the same level as anything else at all, then of course it is true to say that there can be no “as opposed to” in God. Or in other words, there is no rivalry at all between God and anything that is.

That insight begins with the prophet Isaiah and culminates in the teaching of Jesus to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus calls his followers to be like the one true God, who subverts the violent human inclination to form group identity in opposition to a scapegoat by modeling God’s love that embraces all people, including those we call our enemies.

But faith in God goes a step further. The Bible never, ever talks about national exceptionalism. Any politician or Christian who invokes American exceptionalism doesn’t do so from biblical faith. As opposed to national exceptionalism, biblical faith is based on national self-critique. Far from God being the one who shores up our exceptionalism, God is the one who comes in our midst and leads us to self-critique. Amos is the earliest prophetic voice in the Bible and other prophets follow his lead of critiquing the nation. Sure, as Alison states,

The first two chapters of Amos consist of a series of quick prophecies against the nations…But this is the build-up to the real criticism, which is of Israel. Where each of the nations gets a couple of verses of criticism, Israel gets ten, and then, from chapter 3 onward, the blast is entirely directed at the ‘we’ (Israel).

The prophets critiqued political institutions when they formed identity over-and-against a convenient other who functioned as the political a scapegoat. That scapegoat might have been a political opponent, another nation, immigrants, or the poor, weak, and marginalized within their society.

I do not want to scapegoat Ted Cruz for invoking the name of God, American exceptionalism, or for critiquing his political opponents. After all, Democrats will likely do the same. In fact, they are already uniting against Ted Cruz.

That’s because uniting over-and-against a wicked other has become the default mechanism of human identity formation. Fortunately, God has nothing to do with that kind of formation because God is not over-and-against anything at all. Rather, God is for us, all of us, finding new ways to develop social cohesion through the spirit of love, forgiveness, and self-criticism.

Is God the Biggest Serial Killer of All Time? – A Response to the Friendly Atheist

atheist and religious

Photo: 123rf.com

The Friendly Atheist is one of the most influential atheist blogs on the Internet. The website’s 10 bloggers have contributed to CNN, Fox and Friends, NPR, the Washington Post, and the USA Today.

You may be surprised to read this, but I owe the Friendly Atheist a personal debt. My atheist brother invited me to officiate at his wedding ceremony with this condition, “As long as you don’t say anything about God.” I’m very close with my brother, so of course I agreed. I wrote the majority of the wedding ceremony with no problem. I easily secularized everything else, but was stymied by how to secularize the final blessing.

Since Google has all the answers, I typed the words “secular wedding ceremony blessing” into my search engine. The first link that appeared was the Friendly Atheist’s article “A Secular Wedding Ceremony from Start to Finish.” The entire transcript for the secular wedding is beautiful. As I spoke the words of the Friendly Atheist’s final blessing, I experienced a profound sense of awe:

May the glory which rests upon all who love you, bless you and keep you, fill you with happiness and a gracious spirit. Despite all changes of fortune and time, may that which is noble and lovely and true remain abundantly in your hearts, giving you strength for all that lies ahead.

My brother and his wife expressed their appreciation for those words. My dad, a devout Christian, said it was the perfect capstone to the wedding. And all I could think were words of gratitude. “Thank God for the Friendly Atheist,” I said to myself.

Because I have great respect for the Friendly Atheist, I was deeply humbled when contributor Terry Firma responded to one of my recent article. My article is titled, “Don’t Tell Me that God is in Control: On Sovereignty, Tragedy, and Sin.” It’s about a horrific tragedy in my community where three children were killed by a car that ran a red light. In response to people saying, “God is in control” and “Everything happens for a reason,” I wrote that God isn’t in control of such tragedies. God isn’t sovereign in the sense that God causes such events to occur. Rather, God is “sovereign” in God’s ability to empathically suffer with us and lead us to suffer with one another.

Terry appreciated my comments about empathy, but couldn’t grasp the concept that God empathizes and suffers with us:

For real? He suffers? The Almighty, the biggest serial killer we’ve ever known, suffers – just like those parents of the three dead children do, you reckon?

An all-powerful, all-knowing entity empathizes? After either causing the accident or not lifting a finger to prevent it? He feels the parents’ pain?

I would more or less understand this if Ericksen were a Deist who thinks God created everything and then permanently retired, leaving his grand experiment to unspool according to the input and interaction of all human players. But Ericksen’s blog frequently refers to prayer, and he believes in the Bible, and he says that God’s greatest goal is to ultimately heal and console all of us.

I’ve had some communication with Terry since he posted his response. Terry is everything I would hope for from someone who blogs at the “Friendly Atheist.” But let me propose a friendly stop to my new atheist friend. For clarification, I don’t “believe in the Bible.” This is one of the biggest misconceptions about Christianity that both Christians and atheists make. Here’s the thing, Christians shouldn’t believe in the Bible. That’s a form of idolatry called bibliolatry. There is an important reason that we are not called “Biblians.” We are called Christians. That’s because we believe in Jesus Christ. Take Jesus’ own words for example, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that testify on my behalf.”

For Christians, the Bible is important in the sense that it points to Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God. Who is God? The Christian answer isn’t found in random passages of the Bible. It’s found in Jesus Christ.

In other words, God is not like the Bible. God is like Jesus.

Why does that matter? Because, as Michael Hardin points out, Jesus had an interpretive principle for reading the Bible. In Hardin’s words, Christian need to understand “How Jesus Read His Bible.” It’s important for Christians to know that Jesus was a cherry picker. He did not treat every verse in scripture with equal importance. In fact, he picked one strand of verses over another strand.

Those two strand of verses permeate the Bible. The first strand claims that God desires sacrifice. It claims that God is angry at human sin and that God’s wrath needs to be appeased. Sacrifice then becomes a “pleasing odor to the Lord.” Ahh, God is no longer angry. You do not need to fear God’s divine Hulk Smash after making a sacrifice. In this view, God is violent and humans are victims of his just wrath. If you read violent passages in the Bible with a violent view of God, then sure, you will conclude that God is “the biggest serial killer we’ve ever known.” No one can deny that there is horrendous violence in the Bible that is attributed to God.

But does that violence point to Jesus? After all, if Jesus is the full manifestation of God and God is violent, then why didn’t Jesus kill people? Because Jesus came to change our understanding of God. Jesus didn’t do that by going against the Bible, but emphasizing the second strand within the Bible – the non-sacrificial strand of love. Jesus firmly planted himself within this strand when he quoted the prophet Hosea and stated that God “desires steadfast love and not sacrifice.”

Jesus fulfilled the Jewish tradition that led to the theological statement that “God is love” and that God desires us to live in relationships of steadfast love and not violent sacrifice. Jesus never lifted a violent finger to his enemies because God has nothing to do with violence and everything to do with nonviolent love that offers universal forgiveness.

god is alien to violenceThat love was concretely revealed on the cross. The Atonement is where we see the answer to Terry’s question, “For real? He suffers?” Yes. On the cross we discover what has always been true about God. Rather than inflicting violence and suffering upon us, God absorbs human violence and offers divine forgiveness in return. God can’t prevent human violence. Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to drink the cup of human wrath and that there would be another way. That other way would have been the same way humans have dealt with violence throughout our history – with more violence. But Jesus revealed that the way of violence is not the way of God. Rather, God stops our cycles of violence by responding with forgiveness. And so in response to the wrath of human violence, Jesus spoke these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus, God-with-us, didn’t use violence to kill anyone. He didn’t pray for God’s vengeance upon his enemies. Instead, he transforms our understanding of God. And so, Terry doesn’t believe in a god who “is the biggest serial killer we’ve ever know.” And frankly, because of Jesus, I don’t believe in that god either.

So, yes. For real. God suffers. God empathizes with us. God has been in human shoes. God weeps with us. And God calls us to weep with one another.

Don’t Tell Me that God Is In Control: On Sovereignty, Tragedy, Sin

“God is in control.”

The statement comforts many people because deep down we know that we are not in control. We can do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families, but we know that despite our best efforts, tragedy can strike at any moment. And so it’s comforting to believe that if we aren’t in control, Someone else is.

But something inside of me recoils whenever I hear the phrase, “God is in control.” Many believe that God’s sovereignty means that God is behind everything that happens. But I find no comfort in that view of God. In fact, a God who micromanages and controls every event isn’t a God worthy of belief.

How to Respond to Tragedy

My community was struck by tragedy last week. A mother and her three children were walking to the grocery store. They waited for the crosswalk sign to signal that it was safe to cross the street. But it wasn’t safe. A driver ran the red light, severely injuring the mother, and killing her three children.

How does one respond to such tragedies? First, by mourning. The community held a vigil at the site to support the mother and father. People held candles, prayed, and sang hymns like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace.” Mourners turned the crosswalk into a memorial site with teddy bears, balloons, and other toys.

As the local paper reports, “There were children at the vigil, and parents held onto children tightly or kept a close eye on them. ‘Do not run!’ said one woman to a child near the street.”

Second, by empathizing. Every young parent knows that this tragedy could have happened to any of us. It could have happened to me or to you. I can do everything I can to keep my children safe and yet tragedy can still strike in an instant. Empathizing opens our hearts and minds to compassionately suffer with others as they go through their pain.

How Not to Respond to Tragedy

But there is a theological response that I find extremely pernicious. In the face of such tragedies, many people claim God’s sovereignty in an attempt to provide comfort, but it’s actually quite harmful. They say things like, “God is in control,” or “It’s part of God’s plan,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” But after experiencing tragedies like the one that struck my community, I can no longer believe in that notion of God’s sovereignty.

Please, don’t tell me that God is in control of such events.

Don’t tell me that they are part of God’s plan.

Don’t tell me that these things happen for a reason.

While these statements are usually delivered in an attempt to provide comfort in the midst of suffering, they aren’t comforting. They’re harmful because they actually minimize suffering. The statements imply that, since God is in control and tragedies are part of God’s plan, people should “just get over” their feelings of grief, suffering, and loss. But people don’t “just get over” these kinds of tragedies. The best way to manage the feelings that emerge from tragedy is not to repress them or get over them, but to go through them. The way to go through those feelings is to talk about them. Unfortunately, phrases like, “God is in control,” serve to stifle honest conversation about those painful emotions. Thus, it stifles the healing process.

Tragedy and Sin

But if God isn’t in control of those tragedies, why do they happen? The best answer I’ve found is summed up in one ugly word: Sin. The concept of sin has become taboo in many progressive circles, but I think progressives need to reclaim it. Sin says that there is something wrong with the world, that the world isn’t how it’s supposed to be, that a man running over three children is not part of God’s plan.

In his book, The Wounded Heart of God, Andrew Sung Park states that, “Sin is a conscious offense committed against God or neighbors.” To sin is to go against the desire of God for us to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Sin rightly puts the responsibility for such tragedies on humanity; it refuses to allow us to project our own responsibility for violence upon God.

Unfortunately, some Christians don’t intend to comfort so much as to blame when they say that “God is in control.” They claim that if something bad happens in your life, you deserve it because you must have sinned. In other words, God causes bad things to happen to bad people. Well, let me be as clear as possible – that’s theological bullshit. It’s an abuse of the concept of sin. This mother did nothing wrong to deserve such horror and neither did her children.  Any religion that blames victims of violence by piling on guilt and shame is a religion that should be thrown into the garbage dump of history.

This tragedy happened because a man decided he was in a hurry and so he ran a red light. My community is now turning against this man, but part of me empathizes with him, too. Who among us hasn’t been in a hurry? Who among us hasn’t ran a red light?

By all accounts, he’s not an evil monster. And so, along with the legal consequences of his actions, he will have to face the fact that he destroyed the lives of three children and their parents. He knows as much as anyone else that this was the result of sin. He knows that he should not have been driving recklessly. He knows that this tragedy should not have happened.

Sin names events that shouldn’t happen. The theological concept of sin is a protest that claims the world isn’t right. It claims that these tragic events are not part of God’s plan. Sin claims that God is not all-powerful and in control of these tragic events.

Of course, I want to believe that God is like an all-powerful superhero in the sky, keeping me and my family safe from tragedy. That might provide me comfort, but where was that god on the night those children were killed?

The fact is that God doesn’t promise to keep us safe from what’s wrong in the world – not from reckless drivers, not from cancer, and not from violence. But I do believe that God is sovereign in two ways.

Reinterpreting God’s Sovereignty

First, God is sovereign in God’s promise to be present in our suffering. As Park claims, in the face of suffering caused by sin, God’s heart is wounded. God suffers with us. In Jesus we discover that God empathizes with our suffering. God enters into the violence and despair of human sin and by doing so, God seeks to heal us in mind, body, and soul. It takes a certain amount of control to be present in the midst of suffering. The Atonement is God’s ultimate way of entering into the tragedy, violence, and absurdity of suffering caused by human sin. As Lindsey Paris-Lopez puts it, in Jesus God exposes “himself not as the commander of our violence, but as the victim of it.” The cross tells us that we are not alone in our suffering. It tells us that Jesus, God in flesh and bones, doesn’t orchestrate suffering, but rather goes through suffering with us.

But that’s not enough. God calls the church to be the Body of Christ on earth. The church is to receive its identity from Christ. As the Body of Christ, the church’s mission is to enter into suffering with our fellow human beings. The world needs the church to do its mission because sometimes the absurd happens. Sometimes tragedy strikes. In the blink of an eye, our children can be taken from us. And our best response is to walk with mothers and fathers and all who hurt through the immense suffering caused by sin.

Second, God is sovereign in God’s ability to heal, reconcile, and restore the world to himself. As the Book of Revelation claims, in the end God will wipe away every tear. Until then, God is working for the “time of universal reconciliation.” And, until that universal reconciliation happens, we have work to do. God is calling us to participate in God’s sovereign reconciliation of the universe because, as Second Corinthians claims, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

God’s sovereignty has nothing to do with causing violence, pain, and suffering in the world. Rather, God’s sovereignty means that in the end, sin doesn’t have the last word. In the end, everything that’s wrong will be put to right, every tear will be wiped away, and every life will be restored to God’s loving embrace. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for that day. We can participate in God’s universal, loving embrace of the world right now. Indeed, that is our mission. In the face of absurd suffering and sin, that is what God is calling us to do.

Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and Jesus: On Goodness and Love

I’m cringing as I write this.

That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.

Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loath about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.

I know that many of my liberal friends agree with me. And, maybe like me, they are taking some pleasure in the criticism he has received during the last week. Mother Jones reported that, a la Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly padded his resume by fabricating his war-time journalism. Mother Jones claims,

O’Reilly has repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during the 1982 conflict between the UK and Argentina…for years, O’Reilly has recounted dramatic stories…that don’t withstand scrutiny—even claiming he acted heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in.

As a reporter who fashions himself as being tough, O’Reilly has defended himself in good Bill O’Reilly fashion. He calls the journalist at Mother Jones who wrote the article a “liar,” says he should be put in “the kill zone,” (ouch!) and has threatened a reporter from the New York Times covering the Mother Jonses’ allegations by saying, “I am coming after you with everything I have.”

Which just reconfirms everything I loathe about Bill O’Reilly.

And so I felt a certain sense of glee when I heard rumors that Fox News may have to fire him for fabricating his resume. But, as I looked for information to bolster my personal opinions against him (again, that tells you something about me!), I came across this video of O’Reilly on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I was shocked as I heard O’Reilly defend Brian Williams,

Kimmel: What’s your take on this?

O’Reilly: Well, number one, I feel that anyone who is enjoying the destruction of this man…you gotta look at yourself here. And there’s a lot of people who seem to be real happy that his career is going down the drain. That disturbs me. He made a mistake. Is it a character flaw? I don’t know. If it is, then he’s gonna lose his job…But I could see that when you come on a show like Kimmel, or any other late night show, you don’t want to be a dweeb. You want to have something interesting to say. And that’s what happens, is that a journalist will say, “Okay. I was there.” And then this story to make it more dramatic and interesting will emerge. And that’s what he did…

Kimmel: Interesting…I think that’s interesting that you have compassion for him…

O’Reilly: Look, every public person in this country is a target. And with the internet…it’s a sewer…and these people delight in seeing famous people being taken apart. And I just think it’s wrong. I mean, we’re human beings just like everybody else…I don’t like this taking and destroying people for sport business.

I could easily take a critical view of O’Reilly’s statement. I could easily say that he’s being hypocritical because he plays the same sport that takes and destroys people. I could easily say that he’s in the sewer just like those whom he criticizes.

But I’m much more interested in his statement that, “anyone who is enjoying the destruction of this man (Brian Williams)…you gotta look at yourself here.” Again, I cringe as I write this, but the same should be said about anyone enjoying the potential destruction of Bill O’Reilly. So, I’m going to follow O’Reilly’s advice (CRINGE!) and look at myself.

My identity as a “good” liberal Christian is in a very real sense formed in opposition to people like O’Reilly. In other words, my identity as a “good” person needs someone else who is a “bad” person. I enjoy seeing the destruction of someone whom I’ve labeled as “bad” because their demise confirms my sense of “goodness.”

This form of “goodness” is a trap that I regularly fall into. I enjoy seeing posts on Facebook and Twitter that mock my theological and political opponents. And that’s a huge problem, because it erodes the Christian soul.

Christianity isn’t about being “good.” In fact, Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” That’s because being “good” isn’t the point of Christianity. Why? Because being “good” usually means being on the side of the crowd that accuses someone else of being evil. In this sense, liberals and conservatives are motivated by the same principle of “goodness” that unites us against each other.

The point of Christianity isn’t to be “good.” Rather, the point of Christianity is to follow Jesus in loving God and our neighbors, who include Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams, as we love ourselves. Why? Because deep down we know that we have also lied. O’Reilly and Williams are not the only people who have padded their resumes. To paraphrase Jesus, “Those of you who haven’t padded your resume, who haven’t told a ‘little white lie’ to get ahead of someone else, you throw the first stone. And remember this, throwing the stone is itself an act that pads your resume to put yourself ahead of someone else.”

But even more important, the reconciliation of the world depends upon this divine love. As I examine myself, I realize that maybe the line dividing me from Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly isn’t as thick as I’d like it to be. Maybe I’m more like them than I’d like to admit. The great thing is that God loves us all just the same and is working in the world to reconcile us back to ourselves and to one another through nonviolent love.