Search

Words Have Weight

Thoughts from a young husband, father, and pastor

kavanaugh and the question

The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was met by entirely predictable responses. Conservatives gloried in their moment to undo all that is unholy in the courts. Liberals warned of Brett Kavanaugh marching house-to-house and ordering women into slavery. The hysterical praise and hysterical opposition was as surprising as the forces of gravity that act on every body, including our politics, which are careening towards destruction.

I found the confirmation hearings to be so blatantly theatrical as to be totally unremarkable. Senators gave speeches and put on their happy/angry/smug faces as they basically were just banking B-roll for their campaign ads. Totally disgusting. Totally predictable.

And then something else happened.

Allegations of sexual assault.

That wasn’t predictable at all. Sadly, everything that has followed is just as predictable.

I am relatively strange politically. I’m mostly centrist, with odd very conservative and liberal divergences. This is mostly born out of particular Christian convictions coming to bear on specific issues. I have no political party, mostly because I find all of them opposed to the Kingdom at some point. I’m comfortable with this reality. If you must know, I generally lean right on the spectrum.

Judicially, I’m less fuzzy. I think strict interpretations of the law are better. I think words mean things and they mean what they mean. If you don’t like what the laws mean, change them. Until then, read them for what they are.

That being said, it seems like I’m inclined to like the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

I say “it seems like” because I’ve basically ignored the circus. I find it all depressing now. So I wasn’t passionate about it and don’t have strong opinions on him.

The questions provoked by these charges, though… those I find interesting.

It’s interesting to ask how far into our lives the failures of our youth should follow us. And are there different tiers of crime that should or should not follow us?  Why do we seal youth criminal records if they should follow us? Those are interesting questions.

It seems that Professor Ford notified people of her accusations long ago but her accusations were not acted upon and then leaked at the most opportune time. Why? If political operatives can not be trusted to handle such accusations, are the accusations they deliver themselves trustworthy?

For conservatives, is his nomination worth the effort? He is surely not the very last conservative, strict constructionist in the judiciary. Why not just drop him and find someone whose views may be objectionable to progressives but does not have this stench about them? I am entirely for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I think abortion is unethical. Evil. A perpetual act of coercion against the most vulnerable aided by persistent moral blindness rivaled only by some of the worst atrocities in history. But I recognize that’s a point of view shared by only half of the country. If/when that decision happens, need it be accompanied by the stench of this? Why not just find someone else?

These are all interesting questions. (For the record, “What will happen to all the men now?” is the least interesting of all the questions. Give me a break [insert the largest eyeroll emoji in history]. Men will find a way to be fine.)

To me, none of these questions should be the first question, the most important.

The question really should be: Is it true? And that question should be asked in good faith, absent uninformed and reactionary antagonism.

The question of the truth of the accusations is really what matters here. If they are true, then Judge Kavanaugh has almost certainly lied, on top of doing something terrible many years ago. He could have been so blackout drunk that he does not remember. That is its own piece of information that we do not know.  If the allegations are true, than a horrible crime was committed and there are untruths swirling around a man appointed to a very powerful position. The truth would be devastating.

If the accusation is not true, then someone has leveraged the worst kind of lie to harm a political opponent. It’s a lie that endangers women, who are often accused of lying but almost 100% of the time, are not. The falsehood would be devastating.

As someone who is inclined to want to see someone like Kavanaugh on the bench, I have to say that I wish people on “my team” would ask this question more clearly and without objections like “But it was so long ago!” and “Who will be accused next?!” Frankly, I don’t wish this because of all the men they’re worried about. I wish they’d take the accusation seriously because I have three daughters and a wife and female friends and a congregation with lots of women, too.

I want to live in a world where, if one of these women that I love came forward and said that a powerful man did something dastardly, they would be listened to with concern and care.

“Why did it take so long?” That’s a bad question. Sexual assault comes with immense trauma and shame. If someone says anything, it requires a heroic level of strength and determination. I mean, for crying out loud, look at all that is coming this woman’s way now. You think people hunger for the glamour of being pilloried in the press?

Behind bad questions like those is a fundamental mistrust amongst all political people today that the people with whom they fundamentally disagree could possibly have good motivations. And I think this is a terrible state of things. Like I said, I think abortion is evil. But I don’t think that people who love abortion love murdering babies. I think they love women and want to see them break through systems of poverty and oppression. Now, I think they’ve miscalculated the nature of the other Person involved (the baby). But I think their motivations are good.

To assume, without examination, that all progressives are perverts (I’ve read this on people’s social media) and that this is transparently a power play is a real disservice and not a way I would like to be treated. Therefore, I don’t think people should think/act that way towards progressives (see: Rule, Golden). In addition, to fail to see that progressives hate false accusations of rape precisely because of how it hurts the cause of many many real victims, which they would care about more than Supreme Court seats, is to fail to see the remnants of Good left everywhere. Even on the Political Left.

In addition, to assume that, because a man is conservative and possibly anti-abortion, he is incapable of moral evil is a failure to apply the doctrine of Total Depravity. Not everyone is as depraved as possible, but every person is touched by depravity at every level of our being. We should view ourselves, even the ideologically “pure,” as capable of real moral evil. We should be suspicious of ourselves at all times. And of our tribe.

I have no idea if Judge Kavanaugh did this thing. I know that this woman has several indicators of telling a true story (Boz Tchividjian runs an organization that fights and protects against sexual abuse).

But I want to know the answer to The Question.

He may be a much better man now. He may have been very drunk and did an evil thing and he’s grown up and become a much better person. That’s entirely possible.

That’s not what I need to know right now. The most important question is not what happens to all conservative men running for high office, or judicial philosophy, or questions of the crimes of others or how this relates to sexual progressivism or any of those other things.

The question that’s most important is really very simple:

Is it true?

Imagine, if you would, the terror of the scenario described. Try to imagine being a 15-year-old girl, pinned down by a larger, older male student. Imagine onlookers who could help, but won’t as it seems like your body will be violated in the must intimate and disturbing way. Imagine the raw terror of that and then getting away but knowing that this closed, elite little society is more likely to tell you you’re crazy or were drunk or do anything but believe you because “He’s not that kind of guy.” Imagine only being able to describe that trauma years and years later to your husband and therapist. And then imagine that guy somehow, improbably, becoming incredibly powerful and important. And you finally feel you have to say something about what happened.

Is it at least theoretically possible, is it feasible, logically possible that such a scenario could have happened? It’s at least possible, right?

Did it? Is it true? I don’t know. No idea.

We should be asking that honestly and seriously, though. And we should aim to find out the answer if at all possible.

Is it true?

Advertisements

on car camping and accepting limits

When I was very young and just beginning to read chapter books, I vividly remember reading a series of stories revolving around dogs. They were adventure stories that usually centered on one human protagonist and their dog. I’m almost certain this was the first one I read. I read a lot of these. Maybe all of them. All of them that were available to me, certainly.

I was a kid growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, reading about freezing cold winters and mountains and wilderness. All of these things were foreign to me. I wanted them so badly, though. My chief ambition in life at that point (I was in elementary school), was to somehow become rich enough to buy a mountain, ride around on horseback and hunt, alone except for my very awesome dog.

Yes, my chief ambition was to live alone in the woods. So yeah… I’ve always been like this.

Eventually, my family moved to a place where we could actually see snow (all the way north to Atlanta) and I grew closer to my dream. I went to college and, lo and behold, it was in the mountains of North Carolina. I got to see all the seasons. I went hiking. I went sledding for the first time ever.

And I went backpacking. I would never have done this in Florida because Florida is flat and hot and disgustingly humid. But I went real backpacking in North Carolina. Two nights. Then a week or more in northern Wisconsin in the winter (it was frigid, yes). Then three weeks in the wilderness of Western North Carolina.

I loved it.

Being in the wilderness is good for humans because it reminds you what is real and what is fake. You’re also reminded that you’re small and fragile. Death isn’t too hard to come by. Peace and quiet is.

I graduated from college and really wanted to make sure that my family went backpacking for the rest of my life.

Then I actually had a family and I stumbled upon a different reality: I was tired. I was too tired to not sleep in my bed. I had to work every day and make money and pay bills and when the weekend came, I was trying to survive children who didn’t really care about “weekends.”

Backpacking was a fantasy.

But then some friends introduced us to the world of car camping. We could sleep outside in a tent that we didn’t have to carry. We could use coolers and camp stoves and have bacon and eggs and hot coffee for breakfast. We could eat well and be relatively comfortable and still be disconnected from a life lived inside. This… this was doable.

We just went camping for a second time at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. We’ve gone camping lots of other times. It’s still work. I’m still not quite sure how we fit all our people and stuff inside our family vehicle. But we did it. And we enjoyed it as we almost always do.

We’re not backpackers. We’re car campers.

We had to accept what we are in order to enjoy it. And we have.

This, I think, is much of what the most recent years of my life has been about. I’ve had to learn to accept where the boundaries of my life are, the fences, and accept the safety and shelter within their borders.

For much of my early life, I had people telling me I was the best preacher they’d ever heard.

The truth? I’m fine. Some people really enjoy my preaching. Some people really don’t. Most people fight hard to stay focused and/or awake every Sunday.

I’m not amazing.

For much of my life, I got the best grades in the class, or nearly there. I had ideas that I was really something special.

The truth? I was above average at school. I was not really special. I’ve been around really special minds before. I’m not them.

I can list for you a dozen areas where I had expectations of extreme greatness or pleasure or experience for myself and my family. And because I’m sufficiently imaginative, I could very easily (and often did) live in these fantasies for days and weeks and years on end. But the fantasy of it all, the self-delusion, did not make my life better. It made it disappointing in all these silly, annoying, powerful ways.

I am naturally inclined to believe I’m a backpacker. But I’m not. I’m a car camper. And car camping is awesome.

Of course, the flip side of this season of my life is finding ways to understand that I’m also more capable than I tend to believe. On one hand, I am prone to have grandiose assumptions about myself. On the other, I am prone to take lazy cop-outs. I am both at the same time.

Physical training these last few years has taught me: I can probably do more than I first believe. I can do a little more than is comfortable. At least for a little while. I can push. And usually? It works out. I can do that little bit more than I first thought possible.

Or I can decide that doing slightly better, reading that little bit more, that one day extra is truly better than settling for what’s comfortable. It turns out that better may not be “best” but it actually is “better.” And in that way, I can take one step closer to “best.” I can grow up a bit. I can grow.

These are dynamics at play inside me all the time. The tension of seeing the benefits of some limitations and discerning when those limitations are only temporary descriptions of the present.

Sometimes, life is better inside the fence. And sometimes the fence needs to be knocked down. Maturity is learning the difference.

It is difficult work, this “maturing.” I’m not sure I’m very good at it.

One immense comfort to me as I weave, ineptly, between these two poles, is the growing sense that God is unsurprised by my scattershot relationship with these fences. And more than that, God is patient with me. As much as anything else about this process, I have learned that God changes people very slowly.

I was born into a tradition in which people changed immediately, miraculously, entirely. I do believe God chooses to work that way sometimes. But I’ve learned it’s far more likely that his miracles will be unveiled a millimeter at a time, with all the frenzied pace of a glacier. Much of the time, you can only see he’s been working when it’s all over, you look behind, and you quietly whisper, “Oh so that’s what you were up to.”

I try to take my spiritual life seriously. I try to not rest back into complacency. I experience fits and starts at doing this successfully. My confidence in myself is not very high. However, I’ve never been more convinced of Jesus.

God is a good hero to my story. And I have increasing confidence to be a hero for others as well. Where before I may have wanted to shout someone onto the right path, now I find myself pausing and thinking, “I wonder what God might be up to here.” Maybe sometimes I should say something. Maybe sometimes I should say less.

Weaving left and right. Between the poles. Fence post to fence post.

I am a car camper.

But maybe God might make something out of me after all.

I am what I am right now. But it seems like God is who he is forever.

We’ll see what he’s up to.

It’s bound to be good.

unexpected gratitude

I recently watched the movie About Time again. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched it at this point. Probably five or six. Maybe more. I was on an airplane where I could stream a film via my phone. I was going to watch a newer film that I’d been wanting to see, but I knew the run time was longer than the flight and I wasn’t keen on being left hanging. I knew this one, I watched it. 

If you read my blog when it was hosted on tumblr, I reviewed the movie when I watched it several years ago. And if you remember that review, kudos to you. Also… you should probably read more so that your brain won’t force to you to remember rubbish like that. 

I’m not going to review the film again, but rather review my response to it.

If you don’t know what it’s about, About Time (by Richard Curtis, who has several more famous film credits to his name) centers on a man named Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men of their family can travel back in time, specifically the times they have lived in, not beyond in either direction. Tim uses his abilities, or hopes to, in order to fall in love. 

On balance, the film is not a romantic comedy. The crescendo of the plot is not Tim finally getting married to The Girl, Mary (played by Rachel McAdams). The romantic portion of the film occupies perhaps 40% of the run time. The last half of the film is about more than romance, though not less than love. 

This is not a technically astounding film. It’s not challenging or Oscar-worthy. It’s overly-saccharine at times. The logic of the time traveling falls to pieces, so you have to let that one go. There are moments when it’s hard not to wonder if Tim is actually being kind of gross. He’s definitely being manipulative at some points (though those are unconsidered questions).  

But, as I watched this movie again, I realized that I… I love this movie. I properly love it. I watch a decent number of movies, more than many people I know, and I know when I’m watching “good art.” I know this doesn’t rise to the bar in many respects. But I love the performances. I love the charming secondary characters that do just enough. I love the lighting, the settings. The music gets to me. 

More than anything else, what I love this movie for is the way that it makes me reflect on what should be the most important things in my life. It makes me think about my mother and father and feel grateful that I’m their son and that I had a childhood with them that I largely do not remember (who can remember all of their childhood?), but has filled me with trust that I was loved. It makes me realize that when my time comes to have to say goodbye to them, I will do so wishing I could be small with them, just one more time. Many people will not feel that when their parents die. 

As a father, it makes me want to stare at my own children and try to consume every molecule of them, breathing them in through my nose, and letting their fragrance, their essence linger. I love my children. The tricky thing about having kids, at least for me (and I admit I could be a particularly bad father), is that while raising them, you can lose sight of the love because you’re working so hard to keep your head above the water, trying to make it to each bed time. The moments when your child is unveiled before you and you suddenly say, “Good Lord. They are amazing. I would die for them in a second,” those moments are not every day. They are not all day of any day, really. And, somehow, this film can provoke that in me. 

And of course, when I watch this film I do think about the great romantic high point in my life: My wife. My wife, who deserves to have music played over her smile, so brilliant is its light, so magical and illuminating. My wife is the real-life version of a lot of characteristics in fictional love interests. She really does take a stiff like me and drag me into joy. It must be a tremendous amount of work for her all the time. I’m such a stiff. But she seems truly carefree and disposed towards the good and the lovely in a way that seems almost fictional. I watch About Time and I’m amazed because… I have a real-life movie plot. I’m ludicrously, wondrously prosperous in love.

Now, life is not a fairy tale, of course. As mentioned above when talking about my kids, loving these people is hard. Incredibly difficult at times. Shouting and tears and heart-break. It’s all part of my picture. Movies like this one take the highest high points and make them occupy the bulk of the run-time and breeze through the difficulties of stories. And of course, life is not like that. That’s what makes sappy films so irritating at times.

The value of this film for me is the way in which it reminds me that my story contains far more reasons to be deliriously happy and grateful than I often realize. It’s actually not  as hectic and tense and hard as it often appears. Time speeds past me, often with my chin in my hands, a frown on my face, staring at the ground. Spinning all around me, everyday, is evidence of a very good story that I should be grateful for.

That’s what lurched out of me when I watched About Time again. It left me… crying. Like, real crying. Tears (plural!) rolling down my face as I tried not to ugly-gasp in my empty house. I was so surprised and caught off-guard by what this stupid movie was doing to me, but so grateful for the way it made me grateful. 

My suggestion for you is not to watch this movie and fall in love with it like me. It very well might not even work for you like it does for me. You may watch it and have a very simple response: “This is stupid.” I get that. Truly. 

My suggestion to you is instead to find the things (movies, books, activities, photos, whatever) that provoke this kind of joy and gratitude. Pay attention to the things that make you love and give thanks. And you know what? You should just put it on your calendar: Pay attention to that thing. Whatever it is. Force yourself to regularly be reminded. Allow yourself to be provoked by even a cheesy movie so that you can think about things that are bigger than its silliness. 

There is something of the heart of spiritual disciplines to this. Our hearts, my heart is naturally in a state of drift away from the place where I give thanks to God for all his gifts and respond sorrowfully to the fact that I spurn them. But spiritual formation is about the pathways God uses to quietly pull me back. Sometimes, most of the time, this does not involve me sobbing on the couch. But I know there are certain ways that God has used again and again to get my attention, redirect it, and cause me to see. Walking in the woods. Reading. 

And now, I think that I’ll probably add “watch About Time” onto my list of occasional practices that I should keep up. It seems unexpected and inexplicable and more than a little silly. But I’ve found that God is more like that than we realize. Sometimes he’s so gently, wonderfully sneaky. It would be like him to use something such as a movie like this to make me, an overly-serious, self-aggrandizing person, cry (not so) quietly on the couch. Grateful. Grateful to God for all of his goodness and kindness. Who knows how long he has been trying to get that through my stony heart lately. But he cracked me with a movie. Finally pierced my armor of self-importance. Finally shook my gaze of all that I do not have. Finally got me to remember to give thanks and take heart. Finally.

And honestly… it’s about time.

do hard things

I am 33 years old and sorting through the various threads that have woven themselves into my life from the very beginning of things. We’re all in this process, I guess. The older we get, we realize the things that are inside of us are even older than we realize. Those of us who have even the best of home lives (which I think I do) realize that there is no way of life without its baggage.

The same is true of life in the church.

I grew up in what we’d call “charismatic” churches. For those outside the Church world or entirely unsure of what that word means even though you heard it a bunch, I grew up in churches where The Scary Things happened. Well… not exorcisms and snake handling. Not that. I mean the things that freak out safe, modern, rational Americans: speaking in tongues, prophecy, visions… that kind of thing. It wasn’t some weird spectacle in our churches. It was pretty normal.

It turns out I’m not a very good charismatic, though. I always felt like a weirdo (and to be clear: I am a weirdo) and wasn’t quite sure why I felt drawn to sit quietly and meditate on the Bible while all the louder, showier things were happening. Maybe my heart is especially hard, but I always felt like I was being profoundly moved in church. Just… not on the outside. My experiences with God were intense, but they were quiet.

That always made me think there was something wrong with me.

As I grew up, I met lots and lots of people that connected with God in these quiet ways that seemed more centered around quietly thinking and praying through the Bible. There’s lots of tribes of them, but Presbyterians is where I landed and… I found fellow weirdos. I felt more comfortable and at home in church than I thought I ever would.

I do not regret growing up in charismatic churches. In fact, I’d like to extract some of that DNA and inject it into every Presbyterian I know. I mean, just like a little slice of it. I think we’d be better off. But that’s a different story.

One thing about growing up in charismatic churches was that it always seemed like God was interrupting people’s lives with mystical experiences. I mean, some people seemed to be popping into visions like a dude lost in a strange hall, looking for the right door to go through. Or they spent hours in prayer, shocked that it had indeed been hours. Or they’d just erupt into ecstatic prophecy. My impression was that this happened all the time and that these people really loved Jesus correctly.

Those kinds of experiences weren’t mine. I always figured something was deeply wrong with me.

And you know what? Some part of that doubt about myself has stuck with me.

I know now that spiritual growth, spiritual formation is more often about the quiet endurance of waiting for Jesus and slowly, painfully growing into grace. I know this through a more careful reading of the Bible and greater attention to the writings of the Church through time. I know this.

But some piece of that doubt, some kernel, some strand… it’s stuck with me.

What is wrong with me?

Now, there really could be/kind of is something wrong with me. I’m an imperfect person who often doesn’t fan the flame of loves in my heart like I should. I’m up in my head to a fault. But I also think I’m relatively normal. Rationally, that’s what I believe. I still often find myself asking myself and asking God, “Ok but… are we sure I’m not a freak?”

I’ve realized that one of the pieces of baggage that I picked up with the way I grew up is that I somehow believed that following Jesus would be ecstatically easy. That spiritual experiences would descend on me like the rain and I would climb ladders of rapture until I died surrounded in some spiritual glory cloud. None of this would require effort except perpetual days and nights spent lying on the floor waiting for the Glory. I somehow learned to believe that spiritual growth should be automatic and easy.

That’s a nasty lie.

We have no account of that kind of spiritual life in Scripture. We don’t have it in church history. Shoot, those people that I got that impression from probably would say that I didn’t get that from them!

But that’s what I believed. And that’s why I always thought I was messed up. It was never easy for me.

And here’s the other tricky thing: Many people, exposed to this kind of thinking and the shame of not measuring up to attaining the Glory, react into an attitude of “screw you, grace means that there’s no ladder and I’m full accepted and I don’t have to do anything.” There’s a great deal of truth in that statement except that one bit, “I don’t have to do anything.” Like grace means you’re delivered out of mystical accumulations into grace-secured spiritual ease.

Oddly, the kind of attitudes I’ve seen in both camps often leads me to the same place: Expect the easy.

Spiritual growth will be through mystical experiences that just fall out of heaven on you: EASY!

Spiritual growth is about doing nothing but believing the right things: EASY!

I’m trained both by culture inside and culture outside the Church to look for the easy road and my expectations have been shaped to the point that I really do believe that following Jesus should be basically (or literally) effortless. And, again, that just isn’t the testimony of Scripture or of the Christian people. The truth? Spiritual life flows graciously from a gracious God and demands that you, aided by the Holy Spirit, relentlessly murder all the little parts of you that demand to be King. That is a lifelong, slow, painful process that involves a lot of work. It is monstrously slow work to be molded into the image of the Son.

It turns out that when Jesus talked about losing/giving away your life to follow him, he really didn’t mean “Oh this will be a breeze, a lark.” He meant that it would be a slow and difficult journey.

And you know what? It’s still better than all the easy ways out.

Can I give you an example? This week is Vacation Bible School week for us in my town. Confession: I don’t like it. I don’t like doing it. I am still someone who likes the quiet room, and this is three and a half hours with 12 dozen noisy children. There’s singing out loud with motions (hate that), silly games (I’m the worst silly person), and times to talk to talk to these kids in their vocabulary about things that I would normally use at least high school vocabulary to discuss (Johnny: FOCUS UP. PLEASE). VBS is hard for me.

Everything in my past tells me: If it is hard to do, it’s not God. Don’t do it. You don’t have to do that. Grace. Experiences. Don’t.

The Truth: Figuring out how to shed my baggage, my self-importance and love kids who are not my own and be silly and play, those things murder all these parts of me that demand to be King. It’s good for me.

I dread VBS every year. And by the end of Day One, I usually say, “Well. That wasn’t awful.” By the end of the last day, I legitimately love all the kids I get assigned to and I’m glad I spent time with them. And even though I’ve learned this lesson for something like seven years now, I go through the same process. Every. Year.

Because following Jesus can be hard for dummies like me.

If you’re out there, laboring under the impression that this all should be easier by now, let me just encourage you: do the hard thing. You’re not broken or weird because it’s hard. It’s hard for all of us. But do the hard thing.

Is it hard to confront the people who have hurt you? Yeah? Do the hard thing.

Is it hard for you to go to church this Sunday because it’s been a long week? Yeah? Do the hard thing.

Is it hard for you to pull out your Bible and read it? Yeah? You too? Do the hard thing.

Jesus has put you in the position where you never have to earn his love, his favor. You are already well-beloved. You are! That’s amazing. Now you’re busy trying to convince all of you to believe that. It’s hard, hard work. It really is. You’re not alone. I’m with you. Lots of other people are with you.

Most importantly, Jesus is with you. He’s not going to give up on you or change his mind about you because this thing is hard. Run to those hard places and find him there waiting for you, delighted in you despite your hard-headed ways. Go to the hard places just so you can find him there waiting to surprise you.

Do the hard thing. It’s what we’re called to and it’s where we find Jesus.

they are kids

Monday afternoon, I came across this video, a reenactment (based, I think, off transcripts of actual events) of children representing themselves in immigration/deportation court. This is, to one degree or another, something that actually happens.

This is a dramatization of sorts, designed to affect you emotionally and to get you to act. I’m sure the organization that made the little film would like you to donate to their cause (note: I know nothing about the organization, so I’m not telling you to do that). And I know that this kind of thing has apparently been happening for some time. Problems with immigration certainly precede the current administration. We’re maybe just catching on to what’s been happening for a disturbingly long time. I know I first became aware of the differences in immigration proceedings and the broad powers to detain more than two years ago, through the story of an immigration proceedings in Georgia. What was described troubled me then. I had never heard of this kind of thing.

This… this is different. These are kids.

I know that anything related to the world at large becomes political. And I know that politicians win when they can cast themselves as heroes and the other team as villains. Both parties do this. This dynamic feels more real now than any time I can remember in my life. Partially because current politicians, including and especially the politician-in-chief, are using this tool so vigorously and proudly and loudly. So I know that any mere whisper of this issue immediately tempts people to walk into a room in their head labeled “for” or “against,” with accompanying political logo attached.

I’m not an expert on immigration law and policy. I know there are complications here. I know that border security is important, as is the rule of law.

But… these are kids. There are kids separated from their mom and dad. They are lost (temporarily misplaced?) in a system in a country that a) largely does not speak their language and b) is physically vast. These are parents of young children. Maybe this hits me so hard because I have two children under the age of 5 and I just… I cannot handle the thought of them ripped away from me, sitting in a courtroom, feet swinging in the chair as they try to figure out what’s going on. Without me. Without their dad to hold them and reassure them.

I’m not saying we need open borders or that this political team is on the side of the angels or the demons. I don’t know enough to get into any of that.

I’m just… they’re kids. They are kids. They’re real and actual children being traumatized and scared. Even if they are being cared for wherever they’re going. They’re kids. They need their parents.

It seems like too many of us are getting tricked into thinking that these are imaginary non-people somewhere out there. They’re too hypothetical. And if they’re not hypothetical, they’re criminals. Sure, sneaking into the country IS a crime. That’s technically true. But imagine being so desperate that you’d try to cross a desert with children or you’re pregnant (and that story is its own kind of horrifying). Can you imagine being that desperate? I really can’t.

So yes, one simple answer is, “Get in line and don’t be a criminal.” But what if the line’s not moving (proportionally, it really isn’t)? And what if violence is closing in on you (violence that may or may not have links to the destabilization the US helped perpetuate in the region)? Or raw poverty? And what if things are so bad that trying to sneak through a desert into a country where you know you’re not really that welcome is more desirable than staying where you and your parents and your grandparents, your whole family’s history is from?

I’m not saying we have to say “no one is getting deported.”

I’m saying… they’re kids. They are kids.

Kids should be with their parents. Kids should be safe and cared for with their parents. If kids are to be deported, they should be deported with their parents. If they must be detained while asylum procedures are initiated, they should be detained with their parents.

Have crimes been committed? Yes. Should we ignore Law? No.

But I sat in my office and cried for a little bit on Monday because they are kids. I felt so helpless. I emailed my representatives and asked for action. I prayed. I felt so powerless and overwhelmed.

They are kids.

And I’m grieved. I’m grieved that my country’s government can’t seem to see this and act on this in any sort of sustainable way. I’m grieved at the confusion and the fear of those kids. I’m grieved at the agony of those parents.

I’m honestly a little scared, too. I’m scared because I think God sees this stuff. I’m scared because the minor prophets tells me that God holds powerful people accountable. And he’s often doing so on behalf of the poor. I’m worried at what those prophets said.

Because they are kids. And God does not forget them.

He will not forget his kids.

 

 

Illustration by Justin Renteria found here. It is worth noting that this source shows that it is not just the USA that has faced this predicament.

 

 

free

I watched my great-grandparents land in America from Cuba.

Not in person, of course. I never met my great-grandfather. But it was a digitized copy of the video of their plane landing in the 60’s. My father wandered through the frame, a small boy at the time. My grandfather (who also died before I was born) and my great aunt and others greet them there on that Florida runway.

My dad showed me the different houses around his neighborhood where families gathered on the weekends, celebrating the end of another long work week. Immigrants (the legal version, in case you’re wondering) who transported a bit of their old neighborhoods into Tampa. Cuban food. Cuban dancing. Cuban traditions. In America.

My father’s family, before they came to this country, was poor. They grew what they could to survive. When they got here to this country, my grandfather worked like a dog to have more for his family. My father worked like a man while he was still a boy, unless he was busy playing baseball like a man. He worked and worked and worked like every man in his family before him.

And… America happened. My father stood on his father’s shoulders and boosted me and my siblings to a different kind of life. Everything is different now for my line of Rodriguez’s.

It’s truly the fairytale American dream. Courage and tremendous hard work and a little luck= success.

I really do think there are very few places on Earth, in relatively few times in history, when this could have happened. But it happened for my family in this place. I’m grateful for this country. I’m grateful this place, this strange, delightful providence that placed my family here. We are profoundly privileged. I am, of course, very grateful for the buckets of sweat that the men of my family expended for me, someone that almost none of them would meet. This special place was a part of the formula that none of them could have sweated into existence. Their sweat dropped like seeds here. And the seeds grew.

I’m very grateful.

And I’m sad.

I’m sad because within the documents and ideas that forged this special place has been woven strands of qualification of that hallowed statement: “All men are created equal.” The laws of this country, the courts that interpreted the laws, the social institutions… they consistently said, “All men (who we decide are actually men) are created equal (or as equal as we’d like to allow).” July 4, 1776 is a day I’m grateful for. And it’s also a sobering day. How blind we can be about ourselves. How easy it is to delude ourselves.

“All men are created equal… except those men. And those. And those.”

I’m sobered, today.

And I’m worried today.

It seems an increasing number of people in this country are ready to adopt, again, an increased mistrust of people with a last name like mine, if their skin is a couple shades darker than mine. There seems to be a fear that those border-hoppers are just criminals which are all pretty much MS-13 members which are invading which are changing which are stealing which are raping which are overrunning….

There seems to be a fear these days.

“We’re a nation of laws and that’s what this is about,” we’re reassured. But what about the fact that the laws themselves have a sordid, embarrassing history? Are we not even a little bit worried about our dark love affair with the Law?

I’m worried because, instead of cleaning up immigration laws and collaborating on reasonable border security measures and rethinking how we control the normal flow of people in and out of our country (which every nation must manage), politicians have, for decades, passed immigrants back and forth like a stick to beat each other with, currying favor and scoring points with their voters. They’re more intent on crushing each other than writing just laws, ensuring just enforcement.

And I’m worried for all the families that might be like mine. The stories that are being squashed. The specter of losing sight of that refrain again. “All men are created equal.”

“All.”

We have a hard time with those words. We have a hard time knowing what they mean. And it feels like more people today are disinclined to see the possibility of families like mine. Instead, they just see invaders. Criminals. We’re on pace to let in a historically low number of refugees this year. Refugees are not illegal immigrants. And yet it seems like we’re afraid of them too.

I actually believe this country is really great at a lot of things. I think there’s a good reason that so many people want to come here. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have goals for controlling immigration flow. And I think that enforceable, just laws are a good thing. I believe we can believe all of those things and still see something different than what we’re seeing right now.

We don’t have to be afraid. We can do justice and love kindness.

I hope my country is around for a long time. I hope we take a turn here soon and we see numbers shoot up for refugee acceptance and we figure out the immigration system thing. I hope we keep moving towards that “All.”

But for all the people who are scared in our country, whether because they’re afraid of the invading army of foreigners or afraid of how the Law will work, there is a kingdom out there, in here, that won’t be shaken. There is a kingdom that promises to crush all that is sinister and fearsome in the world. All of those allied with the powers and authorities that oppose the kingdom of God, they’re on notice. Only for so long will God allow such evil in the world. Why one second longer? I don’t know. I know that empires have always fallen and someday every other empire will collapse in the dust. I don’t know why that day isn’t today.

There is a citizenship that transcends this one. There is a place where you can grow and flourish by virtue of, not your sweat and effort, but the blood and death of the Head of State. He extends citizenship to all who trust his all-conquering life and death and resurrection. He takes account of every twist and turn of injustice and evil and he will not let it pass by unpunished, uncorrected. He establishes an identity and a place for you that cannot be compromised by any law, any invasion.

We have so much freedom in this country and I am so, so grateful. But this isn’t the land of the free.

That other country is the land of the free.

We fall so short of those ideals, that all people are created equal.

But in that other country there is no difference between man or woman, slave or free, native or immigrant.

It is right and good to give thanks for all that is here in America. Just don’t be confused today. The thing you crave will not be satisfied by this president or the next one or the court or the politicians or the Law.

We want good things. We crave them.

But you’ll only find them in the Land of the Freed.

women bear the image

I have written some version of this post several times over the past year or so. I kept trying to decide if it’s really necessary to comment on what should be obvious. I’m just some guy at some small church in North Carolina. 

But as the stories of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movement have rolled on and as some parts of the Church world have watched everything that has gone down with Paige Patterson (a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist world), it has seemed depressingly necessary to say what should be obvious. These are all things that Christians should (and most probably do) agree on. These should be obvious. 

But apparently they need to keep being re-stated. I’m so tired inside just thinking of my daughters growing up in a world where we have to go over this. I’m tired and sad thinking that this needs to be said. But this is where we are.

-Women bear the image of God equally to men. Equally. That image is not diluted by their gender, nor would they attain more of the image of God were they to attain maleness. 

-Women are not sexual objects to be used (mentally or emotionally) and cast aside. 

-Women who have been victimized and abused do not need to repent of their abuse, as if they invited it upon themselves. They are the victim, not the instigator.

-Women who report crimes against them, even if after a long time, should be believed. Statistically speaking, if a woman reports abuse to you, you have very good reason to believe she is telling the truth. She should not be treated with suspicion and antagonism.

-Men in power who leverage their power for sexual pressure and manipulation should be exposed and brought under church discipline for their sin. They should be fired. If they have violated the law in any way, they should immediately be turned over to legal authorities. Without question or exception. 

-Women are not sexually dangerous creatures who need to be viewed with fear and suspicion any more than men. 

-Women have valuable insights into the character of God and the Church has need of their voice. One of the best books I’ve read on Christian living in recent years, is written by a woman. One of the most thorough and lyrical books on the Crucifixion I’ve read in a long time, is written by a woman. These are not anomalies. There are many brilliant thinkers, brilliant writers in the Church who are women, and I’m profoundly grateful.

-Women are not accessories to the life of the Church. In very many circumstances, they have carried the life of the Church biologically and metaphorically. They have carried the Church in prayer, funded it with their money and their blood and their love. Women are not relegated to the sidelines or the sidestage. This is true historically. This is true currently. We need women if we are to continue with Jesus in His mission in the world. Not just to make our meals and hold babies. But as full participants.

In 1 Peter 3, Peter famously tells men to honor their wives as “the weaker vessel.” Peter here could be referring to many things. He could be merely referring to the bare basics of physiology which, in general, allow men to lift heavier objects than women. Although any man who has seen a woman give birth must surely doubt their own strength. Surely he does not mean that women are, by their nature, weak mentally or emotionally or spiritually. The church was filled with women who were courageous and brilliant. The same is true now. So what does he mean?

Some years ago, I went to a conference in Chicago. I attended meetings all day and then had to walk my hotel that night. It was dark. I walked through a not-sketchy-not-nice corner of the neighborhood. I had to walk under an overpass that wasn’t very well-lit. I was relatively on guard, taking note of what was going on around me. As I returned to my hotel room, I suddenly thought, “If I was my wife and not a 6’1″ man, that walk would be a little different.”

It’s not just that I’m bigger and (theoretically) stronger than my wife. It’s also that women live in a world that has people in it that don’t hesitate to view them as pawns for their pleasure, sexual or otherwise. Peter, I don’t think, was denigrating women in his instruction, but rather describing a reality: Men have more power. That was very true in Peter’s day. It remains true in our day. Not only do I have physical power that my wife does not (again… at least in theory), but there are real advantages to being a man. My wife is in a weaker position. As we have heard repeatedly over the past year or so, even in this “modern society” that believes it is advancing beyond all this, this is still true today.

Unfortunately, dark alleyways follow women into places of business, places of influence. And, very tragically, into the Church. And this is not right.

Women bear the image of God. My sisters in Christ should be honored as image-bearers. The Church must be careful to actually believe what we say we believe. We have to banish every dark alleyway that has crept into our sanctuaries, into our seminary halls, and into too many of our homes. Women should not be dismissed or used and silenced by predators. Not anywhere, and especially not in the Church. That is the stuff of deep darkness. That darkness has no place in the kingdom.

For the sake of the mission, for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of my daughters, that stronghold must fall. Women fully bear the image of God. And for that, I am so grateful.

kevin durant, lavar ball, and life

Anyone who knows me personally (which is pretty much everyone reading this blog), knows that I love sports. I will watch almost any sport. I cruise ESPN3 broadcasts for chances to watch rugby or cricket or powerlifting competitions. I watch soccer a lot (and read about it… and play it). I really enjoy baseball.

I really, really like basketball. Soccer is my favorite, but basketball and baseball are right up there behind it on my list. Watching the NBA, watching these phenomenal athletes fly around and move the ball and do crazy, creative things… it’s so much fun.

If you didn’t know, the Golden State Warriors have been kind of a big deal for a few years now. They formed this electric way of playing, mostly built around spacing and shooting at historic levels. And then, after going to two straight Finals, winning one and losing one to Lebron (who is an alien force that will probably play for another 100 years), they went and got maybe the second best player in the league: Kevin Durant. Who is perfect for them. And they won another Finals the year he got there.

Kevin Durant is an interesting guy. I mean, he’s an amazing basketball player that doesn’t fit into any boxes. The guy is 7-foot and plays… anywhere his team needs, basically. His jump shot is pure poetry. And those telescoping arms are suddenly defensive nightmares waiting at the rim. He’s fun to watch play. But he’s also interesting off the court for any number of reasons.

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a long podcast that he did with the Ringer’s Bill Simmons. It’s broken into two parts because of length (and clicks/downloads, I’m sure). Around minute 43 of part 2, he is asked about Lavar Ball. If you don’t know who Lavar Ball is, you can Google him. Let’s just say he’s the father of an NBA player that, for a long time, got more press than his very talented son. He talks a lot. And loudly.

Most of the media is very annoyed by him. I find him very annoying. Braggadocio has never been my preferred means of communication. I prefer arrogance be a little bit more PR friendly. Like I how do all the time. I figured Durant would use the opportunity to express either total disinterest in this off-court noise or dismissive annoyance at such a loudmouth.

Turns out KD loves Lavar Ball. I thought, before he explained, that it must be because of their matching business ambition. But that wasn’t it. Durant explains that he has seen Lavar Ball all his life. He’s an AAU dad, stalking his son’s game and thinking he can coach and run the team with his son as the star. That guy has been on the sidelines of KD’s games for years.

In his initial explanation, you can hear him start to say what he wants to say: “I grew up with- I grew up watching dads like him. I appreciate what he brings. I wish…” He then goes on to say precisely what he means. That he and his father are close now but not when he was younger. “I wish I had a dad like that growing up. A lot of players wish they had dads like Lavar.”

I’d never thought of Lavar Ball like that before. All I could see was the noise and the craziness and the arrogance and, honestly, the foolishness (because I think he’s helped his sons make some unwise decisions). I didn’t read all that in the most obvious way it was there to be read: Lavar is on his sons’ side. I found KD’s fondness for that so refreshing.

How many people out there just wish they had someone taking up for them, being unabashedly on their side, loudly believing their son/daughter/friend was the best in the world? How many people wish they had a fanatically involved parent in their life? How many people look at what I take for granted, either with my kids or with my father, and feel the ache of what they never had?

Lavar Ball is still terribly annoying to me. But I don’t think I’ll ever think about him quite the same. When I view him as a fellow father, as a son, and not just through the lens of sports media, I can’t help but see something different now.

His antics are still deeply annoying. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll never act like that. But I don’t think I’ll be able to look at him without hearing Kevin Durant, one of the richest, most gifted, accomplished people on the planet, saying they wish they’d had a dad like him.

I hope my kids look at me when they’re older and are grateful I was there for them, however I manage to do that. I know I’m grateful for my own father’s presence in the past and now (and hopefully long into the future). And I hope I can provide that kind of voice, that of a fanatical supporter, for others who need it. I hope my colleagues and friends and people in my church and people who will take my job… I hope they see me on the sidelines, making posters and pointing out how great they are.

If I can get my kids and other people I love to roll their eyes because “there he goes again. That’s just my dad/friend/mentor,” I’ll consider myself well-accomplished in life. The fewer people that we have in the world saying that they never had someone like that, I think the better off we’ll all be.

I guess we all need to take some cues from Lavar Ball. I never thought I’d say that, but… here we are. What a world.

 

The image attached above was from a New York Times story found here. If you’re wanting a story about how unique and interesting Kevin Durant is off the court, it’s not a bad place to look. 

the good news about wrath

Today is Good Friday. Many Christians, perhaps most Christians, lose sight of the very obvious misnomer of the day. To people who are not Christians and are unfamiliar with the Christian story, it seems very confusing to call a day “good” that centers around the torturous execution of a good man. You may not have many friends in your life anymore who are not Christians (which isn’t a goal to shoot for, really), but if you are a parent, you can pick up on this from the little pagans that live in your home. Several times, I’ve had to look at my children’s confused faces as I explained that, yes, Jesus is good, and yes, it is sad that he dies, and yes, we’re still calling this Good Friday.

The Cross is the centrally beautiful thing about Christianity and remains a bit shocking, if you take the time to stare at it. It is also a moment of faith as we try to understand all we believe about what’s happening there but ultimately cannot fully comprehend. The Cross is not merely a place for your intellect, but your heart.

Perhaps one of the more difficult things to understand about the Cross is how Christians have so often surrounded it with the language of “wrath,” and yet still come away with ideas of God and His goodness. It is increasingly common, even amongst Christians, to scoff at this “wrath” idea and pretend like some nasty old theologians introduced this idea a few minutes ago because they were generally just miserable people who needed everyone else, including God, to be a bit miserable as well.

But of course, the idea that the Cross is where we find God’s wrath and love joined together has been around for a long, long time and seems quite apparent in the Scriptures as well. Paul’s question about how God must be “both just and justifier” (in Romans 3) is tied up in this idea. Of course, we take the language of wrath today and make it about a hissy fit in which God needs to kick something or is like some demon-monster that needs to be appeased by blood.

Neither of these, I’d suggest, is what we’re talking about on Good Friday. We are, in fact, talking about a Good Father on Good Friday. And a wrathful Father is precisely what we’re hungering for these days.

Cast your mind back on the #MarchForOurLives demonstrators. They are working for a better world, longing for peace, which is commendable even if you don’t want anyone touching the 2nd Amendment. The kids who are so forceful in this movement (and please remember that, as much as you may think of them as puppets of adults that you disagree with, they are in fact children), were launched into action by the violent loss of their classmates. They are dealing with a world torn apart by what we Christians call “sin,” this horrible, destructive force that tears people apart within and without. What they are hungering for is a justice that will make right the death of so many innocents. And yet even if all the guns were melted down and all the jail sentences were rightly administered, something in them would still be hungry. Violence was done and life has been extinguished. All the pushing and changing in the world will not fill their appetite for justice. Infinite justice.

A justice only found in a just God.

Wrath is not God losing control. Wrath is the love of God set in angry opposition to the destruction of the world, the people that he made. If God was not wrathful towards this terrible, destructive evil in the world, we would rightly wonder if he loved us at all.

His anger tells us that he does.

The Cross is the intersection of his anger and his mercy. God wants to obliterate the thing that ravages his children and yet he does not want us, conspirators with that darkness, to also be obliterated. So the Cross is the place where he can be infinitely just in a way that we long for and infinitely merciful in a way that we need if we’re ever going to survive into a world that is as beautiful as we crave.

When Jesus spreads his arms on the cross, he embraces the forces of darkness that assail us from without and from within and he collapses into the grave with them held tightly to his chest. On the Cross, the Father and the Son and the Spirit fulfilled their eternal plan to undo what unmade the world.

I am not afraid to say that it was wrath that raised the Cross. It does not mean that God is twisted or mean or bloodthirsty. It is the wrath of a Father who hates what is killing his child, the desperate violence of a mother bear who must protect her cubs. That wrath is the mark of a love stronger than death that cannot stand the sight of the Beloved Ones choosing to die.

When God let his enemies extend their swords into his side, he disarmed them, taking their weapons forever. He crushed what ever only oppressed.

Somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, at the Cross, something happened that was what I always feared and what I’ve always craved. Somehow, at that place of violent execution, what happened to one man, 2000 years ago, has something very much to do with me. Something violent and terrible and wrathful and dark and bloody. A loss, a defeat, a conquest.

And yet, on Friday, somehow what happened was Good. So deeply and purely and brilliantly good.

All our fears resolved. All our hopes surpassed.

It was and will be forever Good Friday.

“God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑