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Category: Culture

When the world rejects your prayers, pray anyway

It didn’t take long after the tragedy in Las Vegas for the bloviating and hyperbole to begin. While many expressed shock and sadness for both the victims and for the city itself, sadly others took the massacre as a call to arms to press their political agendas. In the name of compassion, this latter group rejected the compassion of a country that was shocked into momentary paralysis as though they even had right to reject it in the first place.

Armed with the principle of never letting a crisis go to waste, they insist, “No! Only action is compassion.” And so, they shame, guilt, and demand action even before the blood is dry.

This has always bothered me. While the nation is still doubled-over in shock, using intense grief to promote an agenda—no matter how sincere—seems to amount to little more than emotional abuse. Any grief or pastoral counselor will tell you, decisions made in the heat of emotion almost never turn out well. In seminary, I had a professor tell his class, “Never resign on a Monday.” read more

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With the world coming apart, the church still must be the church

I haven’t said much during this week following the violence in Charlottesville. I have followed the rhetoric on social media and have been saddened by what we have become. But I felt it unwise to say anything, even if it meant not expressing sadness. In truth, I really don’t know what to say that wouldn’t merely contribute to the growing cesspool that is social media. I have no idea how to fix this ugliness.

But my heart is churning.

Although I lean conservative, I am finding it impossible to take sides. I cannot, in the name of Jesus, stand with the white nationalist groups. Their ideology is repulsive and un-Christlike. Any attempts to hijack the name of Christ to their cause is an abomination. And nothing could justify the violence done. read more

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Changing our response to a violent world

We live in a violent world. Always have. And if I were a betting man, I’d say we always will. If humans excel — truly excel — at anything, it is coming up with new, exciting ways to kill each other. This will always be the case, as long as we exist in a broken, sinful world.

At the May 22 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a terrorist attack killed 23 people and injured 116. Days later, on a cross-town train in my town of Portland, Oregon, a white supremacist knifed three protectors trying to stop his hate speech toward two minority women. The women escaped, but two of their protectors died.

Acts like these obliterate the idea that this world can somehow overcome violence and achieve peace. We can preach platitudes, but does anyone really think Katy Perry can change the heart of ISIS by begging them to “coexist”? We can pass laws, but does anyone truly believe determined terrorists can’t circumvent them? And if we ask our governments to respond, virtually their only tools are sanctions (not always effective) or brute force (more violence). read more

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Why is the cross so hated around the world?

Last Tuesday, as I waited outside for someone to unlock my church for an event, a young couple walked by. As they passed, the woman read aloud, not once but twice, a sign on the door and gave a loud, exaggerated snort of derision. Then she actually turned around and came back to snap a photo of it. Judging from her sharp, sarcastic laughter, I was sure the photo would be posted online with a snarky comment — something about the stupidity of church people.

On the outside, I briefly made eye contact with her and gave her a nod and a smile.

But on the inside, I sensed the insult and felt a rush of snappy retorts. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit kept my pie-hole closed.

After she left, I turned to see what she had found so funny. The sign just said: “No woman’s [sic] Bible reading tonight.” read more

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How the church lost our prophetic voice in 2016 (and how we might get it back)

On Friday, our next president will be sworn in.

The 2016 election ended the most bizarre, unsettling campaign season I’ve ever seen. Afterward I felt great relief, not because my candidate won (I couldn’t vote for either major candidate) but because it was finally over.

Thankfully, mercifully, happily over.

Then the protests and riots began—the most violent of them in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. The losers threw tantrums while the winners gloated.

My heart hasn’t stopped aching about the 2016 election season. However, what troubled me most was not the candidates, but the body of Christ. I consider 2016 to be the year the church lost its prophetic voice.

Both progressive and conservative Christians took their eyes off God’s simple requirement: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Each side seemed to have a sickening case of tunnel vision, condemning vile behaviors in the other candidate while overlooking equally vile behaviors in their own. God’s people could have called for justice and repentance without scrambling down into the mud with everyone else. But we didn’t. So we lost our prophetic voice. read more

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Skipping thanksgiving: is selfishness snuffing out our thankful hearts?

The day after Halloween, I went to the store to pick up a few things. In the seasonal section, one side of the aisle displayed leftover Halloween candy. The other held Christmas giftwrap and ribbons.

Typically, this isn’t a surprise. After all, most stores started preparing for Christmas of ’16 way back in June of ’87. Each year, anxious to cash in on every second of the season, shops and stores await the earliest possible moment to roll out Christmas merchandise with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. That’s just the way it is in a consumeristic society.

20161101_1343431But as I walked down this aisle, I noted an unintended metaphor. One side of the aisle represented a holiday which calls for circling the neighborhood in a silly costume and extracting boatloads of candy (if you have charm, stamina, and a killer costume – pun intended). The other side of the aisle represented a holiday known for massive overspending on gifts which are often unneeded and unwanted (unless they’re really cool, like an XBOX). read more

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Seriously, what is going on with this presidential election, and what do we do now?

hillary_clinton_vs-_donald_trump_-_caricaturesIn the last few days – amid yet another outbreak of scandalous news items and a second debate involving the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates – traditional and social media continue to warn us that if the “wrong” candidate wins, the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.

Then there are thoughtful commentaries by Christian writers and leaders, trying to present biblical reasons why Christians should vote one way or the other. Theologian Mirasolv Volf says the policies of Hillary Clinton best represent Christian values; theologian Wayne argues that Trump is the better choice.

Christian progressives wag their fingers at Christian conservatives for being single-issue voters, without admitting that they themselves often are too. And don’t get me started on the old argument that “if you don’t vote, then X will win and the sky will fall, children will starve, and the Yellowstone caldera will erupt.” read more

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Will we ever find utopia in a broken world?

IMG_1201I just returned from a week in Helena, Montana.

It was utopic: silent mornings, sitting alone on a wide deck overlooking Hauser Lake; loud middays, talking and laughing with family under the big Montana sky; and brilliant evenings, watching the horizon erupt in a blaze of colors as the sun dropped below the western mountains.

The scenery was fresh and spacious. The air was tranquil and clean. And most important, I was out of the city.

The whole time I was there, I fought back dread of the day when I would have to return to the city where I live – Portland, Oregon.

But  before that day came, something worse happened. Shortly after the Fourth of July, the country exploded with violence, protests, and domestic terrorism. Two videos went viral, showing police officers shooting African-American men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge; then five officers were gunned down in Dallas. The nation cracked in two, and the schism spread wide. I knew—absolutely knew—the next several days would be filled with raging debates and groundless conclusions made from hundreds or thousands of miles away, based on a few seconds of unclear video. read more

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The virtue of saying nothing

ap_shooting_dc_160612_4x3_992-900x675It’s been quite an emotional week. If it weren’t so sad and tragic, it would have been absolutely bizarre. When news broke of the massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. America followed its new pattern: one millisecond of shock and horror, then an avalanche of finger-pointing and political posturing.

Before the blood was even dry, we jumped to exploit raw emotions, jockeying for any political advantage we could get. We blamed immigration, guns, conservatives, progressives, Christians, Muslims, homophobia, prayer, God’s wrath, and my favorite, the lack of safe spaces for the shooter to question his sexuality. We managed to blame everyone and everything but the guy who shot up the place. read more

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Reclaiming my identity in Christ, not politics

Especially during election season, politics make me crazy – and Facebook is the first place I show it.

Usually, it begins with news of some political action or position I find untenable. I sink into a funk and share witty quips to expose it – but too often I take personal aim at its supporters, devolving into biting sarcasm. Since my ultimate goal is to be loving, not biting, I’m constantly asking God to save me from myself (and constantly thanking him for the “delete” function).

One recent funk started on a Tuesday, the day of the Oregon primary election. All morning I tried to ignore my ballot on the corner of my desk, debating whether it was worth the effort to turn it in. I have never been so unexcited about voting in my life. read more

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