Monthly Archives: May 2017

When did we start to celebrate cruelty?

I suppose “liberals” are frequently derided as soft, “bleeding hearts” who take every possible insult too seriously, overly sensitive folks who are paralyzed by the pain of anyone, anywhere.

But these days, “conservatives” are starting to look cruel.

Cruelty is characterized by an indifference to the suffering of others, and even perhaps taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

Someone who is cruel sees no relation between themselves and the sufferer.   And these days I am struck by how quickly those on the right-wing side of things run to explain away the suffering of others as deserved, and therefore of no consequence to good people such as themselves.

Poor people?  Obviously they don’t work – why should we help them?  (The fact that a high percentage of those who receive “food stamps” or Medicaid are actually the working poor escapes them, along with the history of falling wages that make it impossible for a worker at minimum wage to survive on that wage alone.)

Sick people?  Ask Mick Mulveny – diabetics got that way just by eating improperly; they’re not our responsibility.  (Genetics plays a role here, but Mick doesn’t care.)

The Republican candidate for Congress in Montana lost his cool and beat up a reporter whose question he did not want to answer?  Well, didn’t the president SAY the press is the enemy of the people?  Even when FOX NEWS REPORTERS gave eyewitness testimony that was in conflict with the candidate’s version of events, his followers explained it away.  Now, it’s perfectly fine to beat up reporters from “liberal” media if you don’t like what they say.

Cruelty is certainly nothing new in the human condition.  Long are the histories of the brutality of tyrants, or of the imaginative ways tribal opponents have of making each other’s villages miserable, and of course we know the stories of torture and imprisonment of some of history’s worst.

But shouldn’t a nation that at least loosely holds a “Christian” history be just a little bit wary of the creeping cruelty of some of our public conversation?

I’m alarmed at the scapegoating of groups whose humanity we no longer need to consider.

I’m bewildered by the North Carolina Pastors’ Network posting a billboard about why we ought to have a Muslim ban, because “19 Muslims killed 2700 Americans on 9/11” – what kinds of houses of worship do they pastor?  Don’t we follow a Lord of grace and forgiveness?  Haven’t we been told our enemy is not flesh and blood?  Would Jesus post that – or would Jesus go have dinner with the Muslim neighbors because God loves the world?  Clearly the Muslim NEIGHBOR didn’t kill 2700 Americans!  When did PASTORS become rigidly angry and full of fear?

I’m angry, too, but at politicians and a president who dismiss other people so easily.  President Trump seems to think he can call anyone he wants a Loser, and then give them a nickname that dismisses them.  How can we respect a president who reserves respect, apparently, only for the most authoritarian of leaders?  (He thinks Philippine president Duterte, who is murdering his own countrymen without benefit of trial or sentence, is doing a “great job”!)

And I’m worried, when I hear stories of casual cruelty from strangers who have contempt for someone who is not white, or perhaps obviously gay – who then explain their behavior by pointing out that “Trump won.”

For whatever those who voted for Trump were hoping for in this new administration, I hope it was not that our society would devolve to being at one another’s throats.  Certainly we have problems we must act on, but blaming them on others and then taking out our ire on them is not American, and it most certainly is not Christian!

I am going to take a stand when I hear it.  I am going to get in the face of those who I see do it.  It is time, especially for those who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to call it out.  It’s not funny.  It doesn’t make the crueler person the winner.  No more.  Call me a bleeding heart if you will, but I would rather be that, than someone who has lost the ability to share another’s suffering.

When the World Around is Scaring Us

 

How should we proceed when there is ample reason to be afraid?

I’m not talking about the anxiety  that many people suffer from, the kind of thing where our brains search for things to worry about.

Nope, I’m talking about the days when North Korea shows a video of one of their missiles blowing up San Francisco, when it seems like our president is hiding something (why else beg the FBI Director to stop his investigation?), or when he leaks classified intelligence to the Russians and tells the murderous Philippine dictator who kills his people that he is doing a great job – and then tells him where our nuclear subs are?

I’m sorry, I don’t want to be too political, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks these are pretty scary times.

So as followers of Jesus, what should we do?

First of all, I think we need a sober analysis of God’s view of this world.  Those of us who keep saying God is in charge haven’t read our Bibles thoroughly enough. Yes, of course, God is sovereign and this world has a destiny of renewal in God’s time, a new heavens and new earth where God will dwell with his people (Rev. 21).  Amen!

But in the meantime, the Bible seems to say that the Devil is having his day.

Paul speaks of the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2), which is to say the earth, “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Satan seems to think he’s in charge – he tells Jesus so in Luke 4:  “The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give ti to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

The picture we get of the world and its people is that we are blind to spiritual things, and easily led astray in spiritual ways by a force that is hostile to our Creator.  Under those circumstances it is no surprise we choose badly, even though we are made in the image of God and are also capable of goodness, kindness, love and wisdom.

Satan, though, is a liar and the father of lies, and wherever there are lies he is at work.  That’s why it’s hard to believe that any president can be God’s “chosen one,” (or that God chooses our presidents!) since it is pretty difficult to get to be president in our current system while always telling the truth – although I have to say, at this moment our president has taken lying to new heights.

So, while there are real reasons for fear, we ought not really to be surprised – what else could we expect?

So what should we do?

Armor up!  That’s the Bible’s  prescription.  We should be very clear what it is we are dealing with and what our orders are.  We’re told to “put on the armor of God” – that’s a reference both to David and Goliath and to Isaiah.

It’s a reference to being defended by something better than we can arrange for ourselves.  We’re told to find our defense in things like our  faith, the gospel, righteousness – our relationship with God – and the word of God.  And then to stand firm.  God is actually fighting the real fight, the spiritual one, and we aren’t going to be consulted on how he does it.

We will sometimes bear the scars, however.

And when we are wounded, we need to go to the Healer and find our peace in Him.  It might take time before we gain his perspective on what’s going on, but it will come.  And then we can be empowered to do the difficult things Jesus commanded us:  if someone slaps us on one cheek, turn to them the other one and let them have another shot.  If they compel us to carry their burdens for one mile, volunteer to carry them two.  If they take our coat, give them our shirt, too.

Why would we do that?  What kind of nonsense is that?

It’s the nonsense of Jesus, which demonstrates that this battle has already been won.  We are supremely confident because we know how it ends.  What can the devil take from me?  I am eternally safe, and those I love are in the hands of God.  Evil will not prevail, even if it wins this skirmish.  And nothing enrages evil more than when we demonstrate that our faith has conquered our fear.

Sometimes I say things like this on Facebook and people who identify themselves as Christians say I’m insane.  Well, maybe, but what do they think Jesus was talking about when he told us to do that?  And we can’t say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about – he went on to do EXACTLY those things, as they humiliated him, beat him, spit on him and crucified him.  But he rose from the dead and they couldn’t keep him “gone.”   They can’t erase us, either.

The answer to our fear is not nice-sounding bromides but the real truth:  we have always been in a battle but we are wrong about who the enemies are.  It’s not “flesh and blood,” as Paul writes, but rather God’s Enemy, the spirit of evil.  We win by love.  We win by trust.  We win by standing, in the Spirit, with God.  That’s the only thing that ever wins.