A Week Without Social Media – A Review

Last Friday I made a radical, and some might add, too hasty decision. I had spent a sleepless night fretting over an argument I was having with someone I don’t even know regarding an issue that neither one of us had any inkling of the truth of the matter. Now, stop and think about that. We did not know each other. We were both making assertions the other thought was wrong. And, in perfect honesty – neither one of us was in a position to know any of the facts of the case. All we had was some quotes and a lot – I mean A LOT – of speculation and incendiary accusations.

When I finally woke up on Friday I thought – phooey with this. Why am I losing sleep over an event like this? So when I got to my office the first thing I did was to deactivate my accounts with Facebook and Twitter. I still have one “social media” account, but I have to admit it is about as useless as it can be. But it doesn’t cause my blood pressure to go ballistic, so I’m keeping it for a while.

Anyway, what I was getting to was this – here are some reactions to a week without Facebook and Twitter.

  • I really, really miss some aspects of Facebook. FB was how I kept up with many of my friends and professional acquaintances. That was how I learned about their joys and their hurts – and got to see some pretty hysterical pictures of pets. Cutting off all of that is pretty disorienting. I wonder if anyone is missing me – but that in and of itself reveals that much of my social media interaction was all about ME, so maybe God was letting me know how selfish I was becoming.
  • On the other hand, I do not miss the political posturing and hate memes at all. I had friends that were all over the political spectrum, and it was pretty distressing to see the vitriol expressed by people who I knew to be good and thoughtful friends. I could not care less who they supported or what issue they hated, but their FB posts made it impossible for me to keep up with them and avoid the drama. I know there was the “unfollow” and “unfriend” options, but then how was I to keep up with them?
  • Twitter, on the other hand, has become a garbage dump. I realized at one point that I was following certain persons – leaders within the Church of Christ with a large following of both real and “internet” persons – who were posting comments that were blatantly unchristian would have infuriated Jesus. They were not just border-line comments that could be excused as opinions or feelings – they were outright scandalous in nature and revealed the most bitter and hateful heart. I now have zero respect for those leaders, and I even question those who support them.
  • I have realized that I am going to pay a pretty steep price for deactivating my accounts. A purely tangential benefit of my FB and Twitter accounts was that I was able to keep up with the newest books and trends in theology. In the past week I feel like I have just had my left hand amputated. Somehow I will need to figure out how to stay abreast of this information via other sources. I just have to find those sources.
  • Another price to be paid – FB and Twitter were two avenues that I used to broadcast my blog posts. Now millions of my devoted readers are bereft of my profundity. “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind.”
  • You might be tempted to argue with me that all I have to do is to focus on the good and ignore the bad. The only problem is – FB and Twitter posts were created for the very specific purpose of NOT being ignored. No one posts a meme or tweet and then says, “boy, I sure hope no one pays attention to what I just said!” That is the big lie of social media. You can’t argue, “it’s just my opinion, get over it.” When you disparage a public figure, when you blindly accuse someone of murder, when you post bitter, hurtful words that are clearly intended to cause someone else to hate what you hate, you cannot just say, “I’m entitled to my opinion.” You may be – according to the US Constitution. But since when is being legal being right? Since when were the words of Jesus rescinded – “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” When was it that Jesus retracted his statement that the two greatest commands were to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and the second greatest command was to love others as we love ourselves? If we would not physically treat someone with such disrespect if they were in front of us (and with Jesus standing nearby), why do we think we can get away with treating that person shamefully just because we are “anonymous” on social platforms like FB and Twitter? I confess – I have stooped to the very behavior I am condemning, and it is primarily for that very reason that I deactivated my accounts. “If your FB or Twitter feed causes you to sin – CUT IT OFF!”

I won’t lie and say the past week has been easy. On way more than one occasion I have been tempted to restore my accounts “and just listen,” but then I realize my self-control when it comes to “just listening” is about as useful as putting up a stop sign in front of a hurricane. My FB and Twitter accounts were changing me – and I assure it it was not for the better. You can only drink poison for so long before it takes its effect. I know there are many good things about FB, less so about Twitter. But sometimes you have to put up barriers around your spiritual life to protect that which is the most important to you.

On the positive side, some of my guitars have seen the outside of their cases for the first time in months . . .

One Second

It is terrifying how quickly our lives can change. No matter how much we plan, no matter how we protect ourselves, no matter how many layers of padding or insulation we wrap around ourselves, our entire life can be irreversibly changed in the time it takes to blink an eye.

In what can only be described as a horrific and unimaginable tragedy, a police officer shot a man in his own apartment. There is no “sense” to be made here – reason simply fails us. There are times in this world where all we can do is hang our heads and cry, “Oh God!” That is why we call them tragedies. Tragedies are unexplainable. They break our hearts and they devastate our lives, but trying to make “sense” out of them is hopeless.

And in that exact moment when disciples of Christ should be the most circumspect, the most hesitant to jump to conclusions, the most reticent to assign guilt or blame, we have “Christians” screaming for the blood of the officer. The hatred that has been expressed by those standing in or in front of churches is, quite frankly, repugnant. It seems, according to these “Christians,” that even the very lowest bar of justice – that of “innocent until proven guilty” is WAY too high for them to consider. The words of our Savior in the sermon on the mount about praying for one’s enemies, about walking the second mile, about loving as God loves – forget that. “I know I say I am a Christian, but that does not matter in this case. I can hate cops – its my right.”

I think I know why this case troubles me so deeply. A number of years ago I was involved in a car accident. I say, “involved,” but I should really say I caused it. I carelessly did not see a warning sign. No one was hurt, although to this day I don’t know why. One second earlier or later and there would have been serious injuries if not death. I was careless. I was negligent. I could have been criminally charged were it not for that blessed second of time.

I do not know what went through that officer’s mind as she entered that apartment, why she did not step back, why she drew her weapon, why she decided she had to shoot. None of us do – except that officer. Which makes it particularly important that we not assign motives to her actions without knowing more of the story.

It may very well turn out that she knew exactly what she was doing. She may have staged the whole event. She may indeed be guilty of a crime far worse than negligence. I am not omniscient, I do not know. None of us do. Right now I know she took the life of an innocent young man, my brother in  Christ. He was washed in the same blood that washed me, and it is that reality that pushes me to my knees when I think of the many times in my life when I have done things that have hurt other people – sometimes physically but much more often emotionally – and through that blood I am promised that I stand forgiven. Honestly, I don’t understand why.

One second. When I remember that accident I break out in a cold sweat. I think of the way I could have been treated. I think of the way I was treated. I had no excuses, I had no defense.

I just wonder – how many of the people who are screaming for the blood of this officer have been one second away from a similar tragedy – senseless, inexplicable, indefensible.

Almost 2,000 years ago a man stood in a Roman courtyard and received the whipping that I deserve. He died the death that was reserved for me. “By his wounds we are healed.”

I am terrified by the thought that only one blessed second separates me from the position this officer finds herself. If her story is true – if there is even the smallest possibility that she has faithfully and honestly reported her impressions and her actions to those investigating this case – at the very least she is guilty of negligence. In such a case there is no doubt in my mind but what she wants that one second back – would give anything to have that one second back. It won’t happen.

As I sit here hundreds of miles away from Dallas, I wonder: of all the thousands of “Christians” who are demanding that this officer be punished to the very extent (or even beyond) of what the law allows –

Is there one Christian, one disciple of Christ, who is willing to reach out to her?

One second. Dear God, I am so guilty.

9/11 – 17 Years Later and We Still Have Not Learned

Every anniversary of 9/11/01 is difficult for me. I was a pilot that day, in the air as those two planes were used as missiles to strike the World Trade Center towers one and two. To this day I get queasy as I relive the events of that day and the days following. I remember as if it was yesterday taking off and flying back to my hometown a few days later. Never before or since have  I experienced such conflicted feelings.

That was going to be the topic for this post, but another, much more recent event, has brought all of those feelings back to me, albeit in a much different manner. As I write this (9/11/18), it has been less than a week since a young man was shot and killed by a police woman who, according to her story, mistakenly entered his apartment thinking it was hers. The young man was my brother in Christ, according to all who knew him he was a great disciple of Christ. The young police woman was also highly respected by her peers, earning the right to become a part of a special unit to combat crime in her city.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions. There simply is no good way for this to be resolved. Botham Jean will never be brought back to life. The young officer will always have to deal with the fact that she took an innocent life. It simply does not matter at this point if she is convicted of a crime or not. If she was a conscientious officer – and by all accounts she was – this event will traumatize her for the rest of her life. It should.

Seventeen years ago we learned what hate can do to a country. It is obvious as I read what people are saying about this tragedy in Dallas, that we have not learned a damned thing about hate. And for those of you who wonder, yes, I thought long and hard about using that adjective. There is nothing about hate that is not damnable and damned. And, those of us who hate will share in that damnation.

When I told my wife about the events, her response was that she hoped the young man was not black. He was. She said she hoped the police woman was not white. She is. Those two facts are apparently all that some people need to know. People of another race are to be hated. Police are to be hated. Hate, hate, hate.

I do not want to suggest that the officer is not guilty of a horrendous crime. At the very least she is guilty of a gross negligence that deserves some penalty. I am simply not competent enough to know all the laws of Texas and to know what punishment is appropriate for her crime. She is guilty of taking an innocent human life, in his own apartment, where he should have felt the most safe.

But as I write this – less than a week after the events unfolded – there simply has not been enough facts of the story released for ANYONE to know what happened, except, of course, the officer. So much misinformation has been distributed as to make any decent understanding of that night almost impossible. Some claim there was a verbal exchange between Botham and the officer. There was at least one report that she was returning home after a fifteen hour shift. True? False? We as the general public simply have no way of knowing for sure.

One response that I have seen from a number of people is that, because the officer was off duty, she was no longer a “police officer” and should not be accorded any of the protections that come with her position. I simply want to ask: at what point does a person cease to fulfill his or her occupation? Does a doctor cease to be a doctor when he or she leaves the hospital? If he or she were to come upon a person in distress or having been wounded does the doctor say, “I’m sorry, I clocked out – I’m not a doctor anymore?” Does a fireman simply walk away from a burning house with the excuse that, “My shift is over – I’m not a fireman now”? A police officer, especially in uniform, is a police officer. In the event of an emergency, if a person is in distress, if there is a crime being committed, that officer is bound by their oath to respond. To suggest that the officer not receive the protections also afforded to those who put their lives at risk every day is simply absurd – and full of hate. Yes, she is also thereby held to a higher standard – especially when it comes to drawing her weapon. Is she to be exonerated simply because she wears a badge? Absolutely not! But as I understand the situation, the Texas Rangers have handled her case with all due respect and dignity. They did recommend charges be brought against the officer while carefully investigating her story. That should be enough – but apparently it is not.

I have been deeply touched by the response of the family. Botham’s mother has been the picture of grace – extending forgiveness to the officer while at the same time demanding answers for the death of her son. On the other hand, the interjection of lawyers has inflamed an already emotional situation, and the charges of racism have roiled the city. This was not, and is not, a question of racism. It is a deeply disturbing example of human weakness, even recklessness, that resulted in the death of an innocent man. As a city, as a state, as a nation, we need answers. As the grieving mother has stated – there are just far more questions than answers at this point, and that has to be almost impossible for the family to bear.

As I drove to work this morning I noticed that both sides of the main road of my little town were lined with American flags. I almost had to pull over (and probably should have) because of the tears in my eyes. I remember so clearly why those flags are out today.

Hate.

Seventeen years later we have not learned a thing about hate. We have a president who spews hate with every word he utters. We have a ruling congress that views each little opposing (D) or (R) as a symbol of execration. We have a culture in which polite discussion has ceased to exist, and in it place all we have is blind and deaf shrieking and screaming.

A sensible person would think, on this day of remembrance of one of the most horrific examples of evil this world has seen, that we as a civilized culture could put down our weapons long enough to realize the catastrophic end of a culture founded on hate. An eye for an eye works only until everyone is blind.

Jesus died because of hate. Our hate. Our hatred of God, our hatred of each other, our hatred of ourselves. If there is a symbol of hate that we should all recognize it is the cross.

It is not insignificant, then, that one of the last things Jesus said while hanging on that cross was, “Father, forgive them . . .” Jesus was nailed to the outside of the cross – he never let the hatred get inside of him.

Just a question – If Christ fills our heart – where is there room for hate?

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

When Your Sacred Cow is Gored

I believe that one of the real “acid” tests for our profession of faith in Christ comes when one of our “Sacred Cows” is gored. By that I mean a cherished belief is questioned, a matter of absolute life and death is declared to be nothing more than mere opinion. Let me illustrate with three examples, one from Scripture, and two from Christian history.

The first is the well-known conversion of the Pharisee Saul to the disciple Paul. Saul was convinced with every fiber of his body that the sect of the Nazarenes had to be extinguished. So convinced, in fact, that he devoted his life (or at least a major part of it) to the persecution of that sect. Then, on the road to Damascus, Saul learned that this mission was, in fact, directly opposite of what he thought it was. In fact, he learned that his prior life as a Pharisee was the false religion that he believed the Christian Way to be. His “sacred cow” was gored to death. He spent the remainder of his life proclaiming this Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God, and called all men to accept that Jesus as both their savior from sin and Lord of their life.

The first example from history would be the combined efforts of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, and their many co-workers. Both of the Campbells and Stone were raised in and promoted the Presbyterian (Calvinist) interpretation of Scripture. At varying points in their lives, the Campbells, Stone, and others had this “sacred cow” gored. To their everlasting credit they made the decision to follow Scripture where Scripture led them, and they allowed that “cow” of denominational creedalism to pass away.

The second of my historical examples is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian educated in the most liberal of theological universities, and the heir of the other major church reformer, Martin Luther. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Bonhoeffer had his theological “sacred cow” gored, and he would eventually suffer death as a result of his passionate efforts to reform and renew the German church.

What did Saul turned Paul, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer all share in common? Not a theological background – Saul was a Jew, the Campbells and Stone were Calvinist Presbyterians, Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran. Not a historical epoch – Saul died in the mid first century AD, the Campbells and Stone in the mid 19th century, and Bonhoeffer in the mid 20th century. Not geography – Saul in Palestine, the Campbells and Stone in America and Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany. What united these pioneers of faith?

Perhaps many things could be listed, but the one thing that stands out to me is their willingness to be open to the Word of God as it was revealed to them. Saul (Paul) had a miraculous revelation of Christ, the Campbells and Stone were caught up in the fires of the Second Great Awakening, Bonhoeffer was caught up in an entirely different kind of fire. The biblical Saul, the ante-bellum Restorers and the Nazi resister Bonhoeffer were faced with unique and world-changing situations, and each responded to the call of Scripture in almost the exact same manner: they listened to the Word of God and rejected their former beliefs, even up to and (in the case of Saul and Bonhoeffer) including the sacrifice of their own lives.

These all ascended by climbing lower.

I don’t think our Christian mettle is proved when we sit in an auditorium and hear a sermon, the content of which we have heard hundreds of times before, and with with we agree completely. We are not proven to be disciples of Christ when we demand that every word that we hear, or read, comes from a “sound” gospel preacher (whatever in the world that means). We do not “study to show ourselves approved” when we never allow ourselves to be challenged or have any of our “sacred cows” gored.

I am thankful for all the faithful preachers and teachers who have been influential in my life. I am especially thankful for those who have demonstrated to me the ability, and in fact the necessity, of the strength of character to have my own “sacred cows” gored, so that I can decide if the voice I am following is that of the Good Shepherd, or that of the accuser of mankind.

May we all be blessed with that strength of character!

 

Walking With a Limp

This past weekend was an unhappy anniversary for me. It was one year ago that I broke the femur bone in my right leg. The next day I had surgery, and a titanium rod was inserted inside the bone. I did not know the extent of the surgery, and still to this day have many questions, but the surgery led to two weeks in the hospital followed by a week in a rehab hospital, followed by weeks of physical therapy. The surgeon told me it would be a year before I felt good as new again – and so far he came close, but I am wondering if I will ever feel “as good as new.” I do not experience constant pain (although sometimes my leg lets me know it is through cooperating!), but I think there was some other damage to my leg, as I have very little lateral strength in my knee joint. Although it is not as pronounced as it once was, I still walk with a limp.

I feel somewhat peevish complaining about my little limp. Just call me the wimp with the limp. My wife battled cancer, and has had much more to deal with than me, and I know a number of other people who have to battle severe pain each and every day of their lives. My battle is with a mole hill compared to their mountains. Still, just over a year ago I walked just fine, and today I walk with a limp. I fear I always will.

I am reminded of Jacob who wrestled with God and had a dislocated hip joint to prove it. He always walked with a limp to remind him of his struggle with God. Why did God not just heal the wound after the lesson was learned? The apostle Paul was blessed with a “thorn in his side” to convey the message that God’s grace was sufficient for him. Why did God not remove the thorn after the lesson was learned? It is not like Paul was ignorant or anything – I think he would have remembered the thorn, and what a great object lesson had the thorn been removed.

Jacob had to walk with a limp. Paul had to feel the “thorn in his side” regardless of how many times he prayed to have it removed.

My limp was not caused by wrestling with an angel, or as a result of being called into the third heaven. But I have learned some lessons during the year that I was confined to a wheelchair, hobbled on a walker, cripped along with a cane, and now get along with only a knee brace in the most stressful of situations. Mostly, I have learned that my little limp is hardly something to complain about when compared to cancer patients struggling with chemotherapy or arthritis patients just struggling to get out of bed every morning.

I wish I did not have my limp. I wish it would go away. I wish I could be “whole” again just as I was on August 1, 2017. But I’m not, and it won’t. What I can be is thankful that I have two legs, that I have my wife who is a cancer survivor, and that I can greet the morning sun each day.

I think walking with a limp is a pretty small price to pay for all of God’s other blessings in my life. And I apologize for so often making it sound so much bigger than it really is.

An Imperative and a Challenge

The subtitle to this blog is “Living the crucified life in the 21st century.” I want to build on that ideal for a few moments. Nothing, in my opinion, is more critical for the health and vitality of the church today than the goal of each disciple of Christ to surrender his or her self and walk a crucified life. I do not think that is an option. I believe that to be an imperative. Cultural Christianity is dead, and with it the scores of churches who sold their souls to the god of the moment. We have “crossed the Rubicon” in terms of what is real and what is fake in Christianity, and if Christ’s church is to survive, it will be due to the witness of those who have surrendered their life to the cross.

So here is my challenge: make a list of what you believe the world considers to be important. Here is my short list – power and money. If you have the power you can enrich yourself, and if you have wealth you can purchase (or at least influence) power. These two worldly goals coalesce in the realm of politics – the very reason to be involved in politics is to gain power, so that ultimately you can gain wealth. Those who have wealth are frequently those most interested in politics, as they want to ensure their wealth remains protected.

Now, compare that to the life of Jesus, and that of the early church. Was Jesus focused on the acquisition of power, or the accumulation of money? NO! In fact, he repudiated the subversive nature of both power and money and instructed his disciples to do the same. To the extent that the modern church is focused on either power or money (or both), it is rejecting the plain and simple teachings of the One it claims to follow. I cannot stress that point enough. Focus on power, or wealth, and you deny Jesus.

So – how do we purge ourselves of this lust for power and money? Try this simple (yet painful) task. For the next thirty days, consciously remove yourself from every source of media that attempts to persuade you to act in a way that would demonstrate the use of power or wealth. Do you follow certain political sites on Facebook? Mute them. Do you follow political sites or politically motivated people on Twitter? Mute them. Better yet, try a 30 day Facebook and/or Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat fast. Just stay off of your favorite social media site for a month. Call it 30 days to purify your soul. Notice what happens.

I am going to make a statement here that I know many Christians will disagree with – that’s okay, I am gracious enough to let everyone be wrong every once in a while. It is impossible to wallow in the filthy depths of power, prestige, and money and not have your soul corrupted. It is just impossible. This is why (among other reasons) David Lipscomb was so adamant that disciples of Christ abstain from any form of political activity, up to and including even the act of voting.

If you think I am crazy, just stop for a moment and ask yourself why you think it is valuable, or even appropriate, for a disciple to crave political power or the wealth that drives the political system in America. If you say that if Christians are not active in the political system the other side will “win,” you have just identified your god – power. We elect certain people to give them the power to do things – things we want done. Our opponents elect certain people to do things – things they want done. If our guy or gal wins, we say our god won. If their guy or gal wins, they say their god won. And, to be blatant, both sides are right – power has won.

Jesus told his disciples to renounce power. He told us not to be like those who lord it over their subjects. His greatest example of leadership was taking a towel and washing the feet of his apostles. He then surrendered his life to be lifted up on a cross – the ultimate victory over the “power” of this world.

Can his disciples claim his name and refuse to follow in his steps?

I don’t think so. Renouncing power is an imperative. Challenge yourself to see if you have what it takes to deny the god of this world his grip over you.

Let those who call themselves disciples of Christ start living a crucified life.

The Fractured State of America

Some rueful thoughts after several weeks of silence.

This is probably just an anecdotal observation, but to these eyes it seems that the “United” States of America are more fractured now than at any point in our history except immediately before, during, and after the War between the States. (Just an aside, but I was going to type “Civil” War, which is perhaps the most moronic of oxymorons. How can you have a “civil” war??) I do not foresee any states seceding from the union, but philosophically the landscape does appear to have a massive gulf that separates the “progressives” from the “conservatives.” Not only is that gulf wide and deep, but the voices which identify with each side appear to be more shrill and vitriolic with each passing day. Neither side can claim very much of a moral high ground – too much of their ground is being thrown at the other side in the form of mud.

I think of Mordecai’s message to young queen Esther, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” We cannot choose the epoch in which we were born, but we can certainly choose whether we are going to allow that epoch to rule our life, or whether we make every effort possible to influence the world around us.

One thing I feel very passionately about – disciples of the crucified Christ cannot afford to lower themselves to wallow in the muck and mire of the current political morass. Yes, we are to hold our convictions. Yes, we are to be “in the world.” But we cannot afford to be “of the world,” and we most certainly cannot afford to allow that world to be “in” us. Sometimes I wonder if God is not allowing this political firestorm to fester simply to test the hearts of those who claim to be his followers. The acid test would be for us to declare – by words or actions – whether we are more Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Libertarian or whether we are willing to be lifted up on the cross of Christ because we refuse to follow the ways of the world.

The apostles of Christ addressed virtually every issue that is causing so much hatred in the “cultural wars” of today – sexual perversion, marriage and divorce issues, just plain old progressivism vs. conservatism – you name it. But, and mark this, every discussion was framed by the question of obedience to Christ or the lord of the world. Obedience was commanded, not to some political party or philosophical orientation, but to the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus himself said it – you cannot serve God and the world at the same time. At some point you have to make your “pledge of allegiance” clear and loud.

As a preacher and amateur philosopher, I am tempted to passionately address each and every issue currently on the “critical” discussion list. Occasionally, I give in to that siren call. But increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that what is needed is not my opinion (which, despite my most fervent desire, does not matter much anyway), but my obedience to the call of Christ, “. . . he who would be my disciple must take up his cross, and follow me.” In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. Maybe not physical death (although, for Bonhoeffer, it did), but a death to this world, to worldly passions, to participation in a system that is spiritually corrupt, and corrupting, at its very core.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see the right moving further to the right, and the left moving further to the left. What I want to see, and what I think I should be able to see, is the disciple of Christ moving more to the foot of the cross. It is simply impossible to hate your enemy when you look into the eyes of the one who died for you – and for them too!

Yes, dear Christian, Jesus’s blood was shed for your sinful enemy every bit as much as for your (un)righteous self.

Let us remember that as we begin to climb Mt. Moral Superiority.

Let us ascend by climbing lower, and serving those with whom we disagree.