Monday, September 28, 2015

Giving naively.

I was in Los Angeles just recently traveling between one meeting and another when I saw at a stop light a man who was asking for money:

"Please help.  I have a daughter and we are homeless.  Help us in Jesus' name."

I quickly looked for something to give him.  I didn't have any cash on me that was accessible before the light turned green . . . and what is the deal with that "in Jesus' name" thing?  That was really manipulative.  Who puts that on a sign other than someone who is obviously trying to guilt you into giving money?  He is probably going to just use it on drugs or booze?

- so went my interior dialogue . . . long enough for the light to change - 

As I pulled away I remember Christ's Words "give to everyone who asks of you." (Luke 6:30)

Notice it doesn't say, "give to everyone who asks of you except if you know for sure that they are going to misuse your donated funds."  Or "give to everyone who asks of you unless they shame you into giving in the name of religion - in that case ignore them and drive right by."  No, it says simply "give" - to everyone who asks.

And it was about that time that I saw I had fruit in the car that I could have at least given him.

I was feeling pretty lousy.  

So I did the next best thing.  I asked God for a second chance.  I mean, God is a God of second chances, right?  The resurrection is a huge testament to the fact that once and done is not the formula.  Grace is the ability to keep coming to God "while we [are] yet sinners."

So I prayed that I would have a second chance.

Well guess what.  Two days later I was passing through the same neighborhood - completely forgetting about this guy and my second chance.  I was at a light and looked to my left to see some guy with a sign and it took a second or two but then it hit me - my second chance!

I looked around in the car and I grabbed a banana.

Wait . . . a banana?

God gave you a second chance for a banana?

Yeah, but the light just turned green . . . and the only other thing I have is a large bill and that is way too much for someone who will probably spend it on drugs.

A banana?  Seriously?

And then it hit me.  When Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks of us, it is a naive giving.  Yeah, he might be a fake with a nice car and a home somewhere.  He might just be a junkie, but that is not for me to figure out.  I felt like God took me at my word for a second chance and reaching for a banana would just ruin it.

So with the light green and five cars stacked behind me and someone laying on their horn, I rolled down my window and ignominiously yelled, "HEY!"

He ran over and grabbed the money and said, "God bless you."

He already had.  Lesson learned - give naively.

Give it without thought of return.

Even if you miss it, pray for your second chance.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Should I know what a pope is?

We are in full pope mania.

I was in a hotel lobby eating breakfast when I saw the news cover a full ten minutes of the zoomed-in shot of the pope talking with someone.  Now, I like the guy.  He has a lot of good work to immerse himself in, but this is a lot of attention for one guy which made me ask myself:

"Should we all know what a pope is?"

Here is my twenty-second quick history of what a pope is:

The word pope comes from a Greek word pappas which means 'father.'  In the early years after the resurrection of Christ, it was illegal to be a Christian and people who identified with Jesus were in some cases tortured and killed.  Despite the abuse, there were communities of believers that emerged from all over the world.  These communities looked to certain leaders in their area that helped people remember the legacy of Jesus and stay strong in their faith.  The official title of these leaders was Bishop but they were also referred to as pappas (or popes).

So the word 'pope' started off as not being a super-special title.  It just meant someone who was going to watch out for you in your faith.

Now, the Bishop of Rome was always regarded as a special Bishop because he was seen as the direct descendent of Peter the disciple.  Peter led the church in Rome and was eventually martyred there on an upside-down cross.  So people who came after Peter were always seen as something special - imagine Rome being the flagship of early Christianity and the leader there as someone who was directly descended from Peter (who the Gospels arguably depict as being the cornerstone of the church).

But then everything changes . . .

In the early 300's a ruler came to power in Rome that made the religion of Christianity legal.  No more torture (certain Roman emperors would roll Christians in tar and set them on fire alive to light their gardens at night).  No more martyrdom (Roman citizens would come to the Coliseum to watch Christians be devoured by wild beasts).  With their newfound freedom, Christian leaders met in a series of councils to make sure they were all in agreement as to what Christianity should look like.

They didn't always agree.

When they disagreed it seemed that the Bishop of Rome was able to intervene and help the two sides to come to agreement.  In fact, this happened enough to grant the title Pontifex Maximus to the Bishop of Rome (the great bridge-builder - it is a term stolen from pagan Rome).  This title as well as the earlier title of Pope evolved into a certain kind of prestige.  Pope became less of a 'dad' idea that evoked a protective image of regional Bishops and more of an official title that suited the leader of all the Bishops.  So around 1,000 AD it was made formal that the word "Pope" would only be used of the Bishop of Rome as a sort of "President" of the church.

You can kind of guess how a house-based and faith-centered movement lost it's way as it turned into this huge corporate enterprise.  But that is beyond this article.  We can only pray that this Pope helps it to return to its roots.

Monday, September 21, 2015

You probably agree with Ben Carson

Ben Carson.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . the man gave an opinion.  An opinion does not have to be right.  It doesn't even need to be popular.  

But it is, by the way.  Popular, that is.  The opinion that Muslims should not be in the White House is what many of us are thinking but don't say.

In fact according to the numbers, 45% of us are less likely to vote for a Muslim president.  Don't believe me?  Read it here at NPR.  

Perhaps you and I hold an opinion that isn't right.  But that is what makes it an opinion.  We might even agree that it is wrong but we just feel that way.  And guess what?  That doesn't make me a bigot or a racist or anything other than human (and maybe just honest).  

So everyone is wrong.

The right is wrong to assume that a Muslim can't be a good president.  Wrong, however, does not mean that you are a fascist (Read more here about how Carson is a fascist, racist, bigoted right wing bully).  Oh brother.  Can we get beyond the labels yet?  Is it 2015?

The left is wrong to play gotcha with such an issue.  It is also wrong to assume that we are so dumb as a people that we can't separate smart people from not-so-smart opinions.  Guess what?  Everyone has them.  I am pretty sure Steven Hawking has some really dumb opinions about culture, politics and life in general.  Noam Chomsky was known to lay an egg or two intellectually.  I am pretty sure Ayn Rand's opinions about music were dismal.  But guess what - we all have stupid opinions from time to time.  

It's called being human.

So everyone - step back from the buzzer.  Give some freedom for people to have their ideas.  That is most in line with the Constitution and Freedom of Speech and 'Merica.  If you disagree don't vote for them . . . don't start a petition to censure them.

We need free speech.  Remember all the people who died for it.

I wholeheartedly reject what Nihad Awad stated about Carson (even though I support his right to say it).

He called on Carson to:
"withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution."  

You can read more about that here.

Well I think that is a bunch of Horse Hockey.

And that is my opinion. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

How much longer?

This is a piece about human nature, not politics.  I am a firm believer that God has no use for politics.  He is sovereign – He makes pretty things out of our garbage no matter how bad we mess things up.

So this is about human nature – my human nature – about how I both love and hate that a guy has showed up in this political cycle and has just spoken his mind.  He has achieved a few firsts:

·      He doesn’t need a teleprompter. 
·      He speaks his mind (i.e.“we are led by very stupid people.”) 
·      And he doesn’t apologize.  Essentially he says, “get over it, I don’t have to agree with your views on tolerance or inclusivity or whatever other forms of political speak you want me to support.  This is my view and I am holding to it”

That is a breath of fresh air that a lot of people are really excited about.

However . . .

He also has a lot of dumb, sexist, sometimes racist and often times short-sighted things to say. 

And there are people who are trying to follow God the best they can who really like this guy.  But seriously – you can’t.  Well, I guess you can – I mean it is a free country – but you really can’t if you think through what your faith tells you about a wise leader . . .

A wise person . . .

1.     . . . holds their tongue.   When there are many words, sin is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. – (Prov 10:19)

This is so hard because I love that there is someone who says what they really feel rather than calculating the polling data and scripting something that appeals to the masses.  But the Bible is clear that people without restraint end up ruining the rest of us with their sin.  A true leader thinks a long time before they talk (if they talk at all).

2.     . . .  is humble.  Pride goes before destruction,
    and haughtiness before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

Yes, it is entertaining to see someone not care about the cultural rule-keepers.  But arrogance is not cute, it is immature.  The Bible says that a good leader is a servant.  Someone who endeavors to lead should consider himself the last to get attended to.  The “I look fabulous” gives them a chuckle, but we need leaders who operate out of concern for others outside the spotlight.

3.     . . . has a plan that includes seeking God.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:6)

One of the key criticisms of our political candidates has been how they have no plans.  The loudest ones are the worst offenders (i.e. “in my administration there will be so much winning . . .”)  But we need people who run their plans through the creator and sustainer of the universe.  Acknowledging God is more than a touchdown prayer – acknowledging God means that we take time in the process of leadership to ask God’s help in leading. 

·      Please understand, I know too well that some of the worst leaders are Christians – I am not talking about someone who identifies as a Christ-follower.  I am talking about someone who actually practices it in their life and their leadership.

So I admit – it is human nature to muse at the person who is different – who ignores the rules and succeeds.  But I am done musing and I hope you are done too.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tripping and kicking those fleeing Syria . . .

One of the biggest stories making news today is the Hungarian camerawoman who tripped and kicked the very people she was filming as they fled from Hungarian authorities.  

So to back up, thousands of Syrians are fleeing Syria because of the civil war there.  Isis has taken up residence in Syria and the latest is that the Russian military has sent ground troops and weaponry to the border.  It looks like this place is about to spill over.

 (but don't worry, Kanye West is going to run for president) - whew . . . relief.

The path of those fleeing what's to come takes them through Hungary - a country not too in love with the Syrians (who represent mouths to feed and jobs to obtain in an economy that is already in the tank).  Initially the immigrants were told that they can't move through the country but with some international pressure they allowed it.

But apparently the sentiment of Hungary's citizens is that these people should be rounded up and sent back home.  So this sentiment was reflected in a camerawoman tripping a man running with a child and then kicking a kid who was in a crowd of people running toward her.  You can see the footage here.  

We really don't know why she did it.

But we can guess it is because of the large number of Syrians that may displace those who have jobs already in Europe.  Germany is prepared to absorb as many as 500,000 fleeing refugees.

(France magnanimously offered to take in 24,000)

But just a small glimpse of comparison . . . the United States has taken in 11,000,000 people fleeing from economic or political conditions.  

Just an interesting figure - I wonder how Europe will handle this and future movements of people seeking the good fortune of a stable Europe.  How do we offer aid to those afflicted . . . and at what point does it destroy the stability that we are able to offer?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Good for the Goose . . .

Oh this is getting very interesting . . .

So we all know that last week a clerk went to jail for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her beliefs.  And we all have different opinions on this:

- Some people think she (Kim Davis) is totally right and see it as the 'shot heard 'round the world' that will help overturn the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

- Some people think Kim's views are the vestiges of hatred and intolerance that our modern culture will no longer tolerate - she belongs with the jerks like Fred Phelps that our society has deemed irrelevant.

- Some are indifferent - they support a woman who has acted on her conscience but probably should have resigned rather than obstructed a process she was elected to do.  

This is not going away anytime soon because of what happened last week.  Last week a Muslim woman (Charee Stanley) was fired from her job at Express Jet because she refused to serve alcohol because of her beliefs.  This story bears some semblance to the Kim Davis story in Rowan and it seems like it would have just gone away on its own . . . but then . . .

*Cue the lawyers.

Yes, it looks like this is going to be a religious rights issue.  

Lena Misri, lead council on the Michigan chapter of American-Islamic relations issued this statement on behalf of Ms. Stanley:

"What this case comes down to is no one should have to choose between their career and religion and it's incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely,"

There are some similarities here with regard to the Kim Davis gay marriage licenses but not as much as you might think.  Charee was not elected.  The central duty of a Flight Attendant is not to serve alcohol.  It might be different if Charee was a bartender who didn't want to serve alcohol.  The main job of Kim Davis was to furnish licenses.  Big difference.

However, what is interesting here is the phrase "it's incumbent upon employers to provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely,"

In principle I think we are all for that . . . but what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  Please understand, I think the Kim Davis situation is in a different league because of her elected status and the singularity of her job.  However, we should all - regardless of our position on belief or unbelief - be willing to accommodate people in the workforce in their beliefs.  

Let's accommodate someone not serving alcohol (which was fine with the rest of the crew for a couple of years).  But let's also accommodate someone who has a religious objection to a law that has changed under her watch.  I don't know how that works or what that looks like . . . but I am pretty sure it doesn't have a woman in jail.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Here we go . . .

So if you haven't heard, Kim Davis is a court clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who is responsible for issuing marriage licenses for people in her district.  She has worked in the office for twenty seven years.  Last November she was elected to the position of clerk - the elected position of her mother before her.  She is in the news because last Thursday she was found in contempt of court because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

You knew it was coming . . .

Cue the protests, lights, cameras, chants, prayer vigils, megaphones, organized rallies - the 3.5 minute "In Depth" on the news stations and then the accompanying political punditry that examines the broader issue of social division on homosexual marriage in our nation.

Oh - and next - the televised Presidential debates: "What is your take on the actions of Kim Davis, Mr. Trump?"  Or "Mrs. Clinton, what is your message to people like Kim Davis."  Gag and gag again.

Is it sad that so much of this is predictable?

The real issue is whether she is a hero for sticking up for her convictions.  In fact, the entire situation was flipped a few years back when the clerk of San Francisco was giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couple when it was illegal.  Some even painted this clerk as a hero.  For more on the history of that - read here.  I know I admired the chutzpah of a guy who just said, "I am going to do what I think is right" - even though I disagreed with gay marriage, I liked his spunk.  I mean, regardless of you particular views on this, don't we really like the fact that someone has convictions that they act on regardless of the consequences?

Look, she knew she wasn't going to change the system.  This woman knew it would get her 15 minutes of fame.  She may have even known it would dig up her past and parade it through the news (she has been married three times and has had children from different fathers).  She knew all this.  In spite of it all, she had a particular set of beliefs that she knew would take her to jail eventually. And for that I tip my hat.

I think she probably should have resigned - the law is the law.  If you have been elected to uphold the law, you have to uphold the law in spite of your personal views.  You weren't elected as a legislator, you were elected as a clerk that handles the paperwork.  So really your job isn't to inject your ideas into the situation.

However, I love the fact that she has convictions that are simultaneously ruining her career but burnishing her convictions.  Regardless of what you think about her views, please respect her voice and the way that she is standing up for what she believes in.  Even if that means she lawfully belongs in jail.

But lastly, take notes on this.  Because there may be a day that comes in which you feel just as strongly about a law that should never trump what you believe in.  I pray that when that day comes I am as resolute as this woman who cried in the courtroom but then thanked the judge after his sentence.