Author Archives: sgillesp

A shocking Christian

Every day, I surprise someone I don’t know on Facebook.

I do it when I respond in a way they didn’t expect from a “Christian,” much less a pastor.

I hasten to correct any misunderstandings; I am not shocking them by being rude or naughty (at least, I don’t think so!).  No, I am shocking them because they expect me to make excuses for hating Muslims, fearing Sharia, or condemning gays.  They expect me to be angry and defensive against cultural change, and mostly involved in trying to shut other people up.

They think that what Christianity is really about, is shoring up a culture that is slipping away, where men were men and women were at home, where everyone knew their place and stayed  in it if they knew what was good for them, and that of course meant that black people stayed on their side of town, Spanish-speaking people lived  somewhere else and NOBODY’S kid was gay, much less “transgender.”

They think that is what my job is, to teach people to passionately defend that world, and so they are  prepared to sneer at me, at my church, at dumb Christians who believe fairy tales, in general.

So I surprise them, by agreeing with them on a lot of things.  I surprise them by telling them that Jesus agreed with them on a lot of things.  I surprise them by sharing their disgust with that other picture of Christianity.

I’d like to think that makes a difference, but of course it is more fun for them to disparage people they don’t know than it is to have to consider my challenge to their suppositions.  I understand that.

And of course there are enough Facebook posts and cringeworthy interviews to underscore that there ARE Christians who think that above paragraph is the most essential thing for them to care about right now.

And, after all, I can always argue that Jesus told us we would be misunderstood and rejected.

But let’s be misunderstood and rejected for actually loving and caring for our neighbors, no matter who they are.  Let’s be prepared to care for the one in need of mercy on our way, no matter who they are.  Let’s be misunderstood for being too compassionate, being too willing to listen to other people, being foolish in the way we are generous.

Let’s be regarded as being dangerous because we do NOT uphold the status quo, just as Jesus wouldn’t.  Let’s let the  empire start to worry about us, because we just will not fall into line.  The minute our hearts start to close up toward someone, let us pray for an emergency action of the Spirit, that we would be good listeners.  (We don’t have to agree to listen).

And let’s surprise everyone by our willingness to love, even if they mock us for it.  Even if they threaten us for it.  I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus  had in mind.

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.

A Very Advent Month

It’s been an especially appropriate Advent.

The church season of Advent insists that while the stores and commercials are playing “Jingle Bells,” we discipline ourselves to reflect on what it’s like to wait for Jesus to come.  What it was like for the Israelites to wait for Messiah the first time, and what it’s like for us now, to wait for his return the second time.

The next time Jesus comes, everything gets set right.  He comes as king, and there will be no more dying, mourning, pain…no more tears.  No more injustice.  No more thievery.  Things as they were meant to be.

Some days, the waiting for that is more poignant than others.

But when the Israelites awaited him the first time, they were also acutely aware of their need for that promised Messiah.  They were on the bottom of the totem pole.  The Romans had all the power, and all the money, too.

There was nothing they could do to change their situation, no matter how much they wished it were different, and things weren’t looking good.

And as we entered Advent, just a few weeks after our election, I have to admit I felt the same.

I claim no special knowledge, and I might be very wrong – in fact, I hope I am.  But I do think we elected the wrong person president.  I do think this president-elect is utterly unfit.  And the kinds of choices he’s made since the election do nothing to dissuade me so far.

I don’t know whether we are headed for a presidency that has very little power because it will be so chaotic and uninformed, or a presidency with too much power because the president is so impulsive, and surrounded by people who want to break the government, not lead it.

Whatever happens, I’m pretty sure we’ll be worse off at the end.  (And again, I do hope I’m wrong and will gladly admit it if I am.)

At this moment, many people in our country feel a new insecurity.  Non-white people feel as though they are under extra scrutiny just in case someone thinks they’re an immigrant.  Scores of people somehow feel liberated to make threats against others, and women and Muslims have been especially targeted on sidewalks, on public transit, in stores.  People have discovered a new hatred in their neighbors!  It’s a bad time.

And so in this season of Advent I feel more acutely what I imagine the fears of Israelites were.  The world does not seem as safe as it did two months ago.

Still, the answer to Advent is not unknown!  We do know Jesus did come, and when he came he was completely different from what those who were consciously awaiting him expected.  That’s why he was opposed by some – they were expecting a military leader, a charismatic rabble-rouser, someone who could raise an army and chase the Romans into the sea!

They did not expect a nobody from Nazareth, with his one robe and his motley crew of fishermen and others.

But then, those folks didn’t yet know what God was doing.  How could they have known?  It was too hard to figure out, even though the clues were there.

I suspect the clues are around us now, too, that will show us how God will lead us in the next few years to be peacemakers, those who love our neighbors, those “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”  I can’t see it yet, but I know there is a role for those who want to follow Jesus INTO messes, even if it’s scary.  And maybe there is a way that God himself is going to use those now being called into the government, no matter what they think their agenda is, to do justice, and mercy, in ways they do not expect.

Waiting on the Lord is never easy.  But it’s what we are often called to do.  I’d rather take control of the situation, but that’s just about never what I’m supposed to do.  What I know we have to attend to now, is the word of God and the disciples of prayer and worship – the things that lead us into God’s presence – so we’ll be equipped and sensitive to his leading, when it’s time for us to act.

You’re invited to join me.advent_wreath-week-1


What We’ve Lost

Recently I wound up talking with someone online who was a friend a long time ago in a church context.  It was the most devastating conversation I’ve had in four years, since I was having conversations with Hospice about my mother dying.

It wasn’t just that this person was voting differently from me in the upcoming Presidential election.  I have strong opinions on this one and it is hard for me not to try to persuade people, but the real problem was that my friend believed ridiculous things.

The things my friend accused “my” candidate of are first of all, ridiculous but second of all, easily researched and discovered to be untrue.  If we are told a candidate did something in college that is unseemly, that might be hard to find real evidence on…but if you are accusing someone of murder, it’s not too difficult to get real info about how the supposed victim died!

And not only that, but most of the accusations are hackneyed – they’ve been brought up before, intoned by audience members and rallies and spelled badly on signs.  These things have been taken seriously and researched by serious people, since they keep coming up.  And they’re not true.

My friend believes them fully, though, because of his sources of “news.”  My friend is surrounding himself with information that comes from just one direction, and unsurprisingly, those sources corroborate one another (if they don’t one-up one another).  But he’s so in this bubble he doesn’t realize that his sources are akin to those tabloids we used to see at supermarket checkouts insisting that some celebrity had married an alien (and what he believes to be true is just as credible).

My friend isn’t uneducated.  He isn’t dumb.  But he sure is angry, and unwilling to even take a peek at whether or not he might be misinformed.

And that, to me, is the most dangerous thing about this very dangerous election.  Yes, I do believe one of the candidates is dangerous.

But the death of facts is far worse.  An inability to know or find the truth – but worse, a disinterest in critical thinking, in challenging ourselves over what we think we know to be sure that what we know is the truth – is devastating not just to this election but the very idea of self-government.

Once it’s not just my opinion but my facts and they are irrefutable because I won’t listen to anyone refute them, we’re in big trouble.

I can walk away from a conversation with my friend but that doesn’t really solve the problem.  I’d like to think that perhaps he will be disabused about his bubble when “something” happens, but maybe not; confirmation bias is a strong force.  But we can’t really walk away from this whole problem and hope it solves itself.

I am taking the conversation to heart as a corrective to be sure that I’m not flagging in my own efforts at double-checking what’s true.  There are all kinds of echo chambers, after all.

And I am going to take refuge in firm foundation, that my destination is secure in Christ, and that Jesus has promised never to leave us.  We aren’t navigating this alone.  And while I do believe that God won’t negate how we vote to save us from ourselves, he will by His Spirit guide the steps of those who love him, giving us good work to do no matter what we all decide as Americans.  May the Lord have mercy on us.

Why God Won’t Rescue Us This Election Year


Yes, it’s going to be a memorable election year, no matter what happens…and unfortunately, it will be memorable for lots of anxiety and anger, along with whatever other milestones are reached.

In response to all that unpleasantness, I frequently see one of my Christian friends’ Facebook feeds sport a meme that reminds us all that “Jesus is Lord” or that “God is Still on the Throne” or “Jesus is King of kings.”

Now certainly those things are all true, but why are you bringing them up now?

If it is to point out that God’s ultimate will shall be realized, then carry on.

But if what you are trying to say is that It’s all good, God is in control and he will save us from ourselves…I have to say I don’t think that’s true.  And to say that isn’t to besmirch his sovereignty!

One of the things revealed to us in scripture is that God is omnipotent…but he voluntarily limited his power when it comes to us, by giving us free will.  God doesn’t override our choices.  God will lead us and guide us by his Spirit if that is what we want…but if we are bound and determined to make foolish choices, he isn’t going to stop us.

And so when it comes to our election, we’ve been given plenty to work with to choose as wisely as possible – we not only have the Bible, we have the Holy Spirit of God within us to guide us into all truth!  We have been given wisdom and God will give us more if we will ask in faith.  We have been educated and know how to read and how to look things up and fact-check and know what a candidate really said (and we even have helpful fact-checkers who will help us know what they said last year!).  We have been taught that the priorities are to love our God and then to love our neighbor (who is anyone in need of mercy)…and even to love our enemies.  We have been taught to be suspicious of fear and anger and defensiveness as our motives, and to seek first the kingdom of God so we can proceed from peace.

We’ve got what it takes to choose well.

But if we persist in believing what is not true, in operating out of outrage or fear or tribal identities other than the kingdom of God, if we insist that only one issue is important to God and therefore we won’t bother to learn about anything else, if we find ourselves empowered by hatred…and THOSE are the elements of how we choose who to vote for, well…God isn’t necessarily going to rescue us from a terrible mistake.

God is going to let us have what we choose, with all the good and bad consequences that come from our choices.

Enough Old Testament history ought to demonstrate that bad kings got chosen and they then chose badly as kings…and the innocent were hurt.

So yes, God is on the throne, for sure…and he has promised that this world will come to an end and his own kingdom will come.  And when it does, there will be no more tears, no more mourning…and no more sin.   Jesus is King of kings and one day all nations will acknowledge his Lordship.  But this isn’t that time and he isn’t on the ballot.

So in my opinion, we need to take our right and privilege to choose our own leaders in this country very seriously.  And if we are followers of Jesus, we ought to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  We need to understand that we can’t vote into existence the kingdom of God on earth – that’s not how it will come.  We can’t vote or in any other way coerce people who aren’t Christ followers to behave like they are.  But we sure can vote and in other ways influence our government and culture to be just, to be wise, to care for everyone and to do what is right, as much as we can in this world.

And we need to put in the time and effort to choose well.

God isn’t going to rescue us if we choose to do it badly.  He will let us have what we think we want.


How Christians Should Vote….



I have a few political opinions.

But this isn’t the place where I am going to air them.

This is, however, the time and place for Christians to start thinking about what it means to follow Jesus as a voter.

The original writers and readers of the New Testament could not have imagined a world in which everyday people got a say in who their rulers would be!

In their world, rulers came and went and one could only hope they’d be just sometimes…at the very least, that they would not make things worse.

So our system of government, however warped it may be, would have been a shock to them.  And for that reason, the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us how to vote.

Loving your neighbor

But we should vote the way we do everything else…loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Who is our neighbor?  The one we can have mercy on, as Jesus taught us in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus demonstrated for us how to live in this world, as “citizens of the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus wasn’t afraid, and he wasn’t defensive.  He treated the weakest, the most needy, and those who were objectionable to the religious folks with the same respect he gave everyone.

And he wasn’t at all impressed with power – not the devil’s offer of the “kingdoms of this world,” and not Rome.

Nor was he troubled by Rome and their occupation or even their taxes – looking at the Roman coin with Caesar’s head on it, he said “give Caesar what belongs to him, but give to God what belongs to God.”  Caesar’s coin with his image?  The king can have it.  People made in God’s image?  They don’t belong to anyone but their Maker.

When we vote….

When we vote in the USA, we need to vote with our neighbors in mind, and their needs – not just about what is good for us and our families.

When we vote in the USA, we must not just vote for what is good for Christians – Christians are sent into this world that does not know God to show them God’s love.  Sticking up for our own interests first is the exactly wrong way to go about it.

When we vote in the USA, we must avoid the temptation to vote with only one issue in mind.  Our neighbors (and us, too) need more than one thing from government.  Love deals with the real world, and one-issue-voting is a shortcut.

In the USA, the church has benefited from surprising things, like the “separation between church and state” and the First Amendment which not only protects our religious practice and speech, but also has prevented the government from establishing any one state church or religion.

Freed to practice our faith without government entanglements has grown the American church.  We must not give that away, even at the “cost” of offering the same freedoms to others.  In a free marketplace of ideas, the gospel shines – we don’t have to be afraid.

When we vote in the USA, we are voting for people to take office.  Every person is flawed; everyone is a sinner.  If we are looking for someone sinless to take office, we will wait a long time!

So, in my opinion, we need to look for someone who is responsible and who is interested in looking out for all Americans as government does its work.  Anyone who writes off part of our population is, in my opinion, not a safe person as president.  Anyone who “will say anything to get elected” might say anything to get whatever they want…or their friends want.  If that kind of practice can be proven, it’s a big problem.   Anyone who appears not to believe in both justice and mercy is probably not going to do us good.

Love one another as Jesus loved us

Sincere Christians sincerely differ about political parties and candidates.  We are commanded to love one another as Christ loved us, so those things cannot be allowed to break fellowship among us.

However, sincere Christians who want to love their neighbors need to be willing to listen and learn, and like any good candidate, not write off swaths of their neighbors or enjoy cruelty to anyone.

In my opinion, certain kinds of political speech found on Cable TV and radio stations wears down the soul and teaches us hatred of our neighbors, and ought to be avoided.

In the Spirit, let us not be afraid and do for others what we would want for ourselves.  Vote like that.


Next time, why it’s not enough to say, “Jesus is King”


Listen to your brother’s blood

“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’

‘I don’t know,’ he replied.  ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

The LORD said, ‘What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground…..’”   Gen 4:9-10


I am getting numb, and I know that’s wrong.

Today the blood of 80 more cries out from the ground in Nice, France, and I can’t watch anymore.

There is nothing new under the sun, the Bible says, and I know there is nothing new about bloodshed and murder and justifying killing for all manner of reasons.  I doubt I share any of the killer’s rationale in this situation, but I’ve been in situations where I did – I certainly felt like I wanted Osama’s head as I stared at the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2011.

Some people respond to this violence with a wish for more and better violence from us, from the “good guys.”  Everybody needs a gun.  We need to declare a war.  We need to build a wall.  We need to get them out of here before they do it to us. 

But just for a minute, before we arm up and build up, can we listen to the words of God here?

“Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

Jesus really did call his followers to some radical obedience.  He told Peter, after he took off Malchus’ ear with a sword, that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  He told us to take it when someone wanted to slap us around, turning our other cheek to them, too – not because he was a wimp but because there is no war when the other side won’t fight.

I think from Jesus’ point of view the things we lose from not fighting are temporary, and the things we just might gain from surprising enemies with love and prayer are eternal.

No, I’m not quite mature enough to instantly feel that way.  But I am getting to the point where I just hate guns, and the contempt that leads to death, and the blood thirst and the death wish and the idea that we are just so strong and clever when we can kill other people.  Because as this guy with a truck proved, it’s not really all that hard – you just have to be hard on the inside.

The Bible tells us our enemies are not flesh and blood.  What if we are just killing each other and delighting the Evil One, because that was all he wanted?  What if we saw with better lenses, that even the one who wants me to fight and kill him because of his absurd ideas about God, is a victim of Evil and not really my enemy.

I’m not quite mature enough to instantly feel that way.  But I want to grow to that place.


The blood is crying out; it’s got to be deafening in heaven.  Lord, have mercy on us.

“Looks like there is no safe place anywhere.”


I’ve heard that a number of times this week, as we all process the terrible mass shooting in Orlando last weekend.

This event causes pain to a number of communities, but no one moreso than the LGBTQ folks everywhere, but especially in Orlando.  The club for them wasn’t just a venue for drinking and dancing; it was a zone of safety, where everyone expected them to be just as they were, and they did not have to hide any portion of themselves to fit in.

This was even more especially true for LGBTQ folks of color, especially for “Latinx” – Latinos, Latinas, and those of Hispanic heritage who don’t identify with –o or –a, for whom that evening’s theme made it a really perfect safe place.  They thought.

“Pulse” was added to the list as one more among so many places of public accommodation that have been now demonstrated as not safe from a shooting, including movie theatres, the workplace, school, the mall, and even churches and synagogues.

For gay folks where home isn’t especially safe, some of these “third places” have been a source of life – but now …”there is no safe place anywhere.”

There is more than enough blame to go around as social media discussions have made clear:  there are lax gun laws, hateful religious speech, mental illness (and failure to provide care), the FBI letting the guy go, and ISIS and all other “radical jihadists,” not to mention one commentator blaming the victims for not fighting back!

But if I withdraw from the debate for a moment I remember what I have learned.  Along with whatever blame I or my group may share for what we did or didn’t do that contributed to such hatred and such violence, I must remember how the situation on earth looks to God.

It’s not popular to say so, but Jesus certainly demonstrated that there is a personal source of evil, that this evil being opposes God and everything God loves, and loves it best when we will do his bidding without even crediting him.

The Bible tells us our real enemies are not flesh and blood, but spiritual – the “principalities and powers” as the Apostle Paul put it, in a spiritual realm beyond our senses.  Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came among us he would prove the world wrong about judgment, because in Christ’s death and resurrection it was not people who were condemned, but “the prince of this world.”

Yes, Satan loves our willingness to hate people who are different from us, and he loves it even more if we will couch that hate in religious language.  This event was a two-fer for Evil:  some blame the gays while others blame the Muslims!  He loves the paralysis of our leaders who can’t give up the money that comes from the gun lobby even while people who clearly beat up their family members can get a gun, along with people who are on the no-fly list because they might be terrorists!  Satan loves how we like to play at being death-dealers, with video games and movies and shooting ranges all decked up to show us as bad-asses, even dressing up the target to look like the sitting President of the United States, because the gun folks don’t like him.  Satan laughs when we spend our money to stock up on MORE guns because any day now the jackbooted thugs are coming for our guns.  Seven and a half years and they still haven’t shown up – better buy another one.

Satan also enjoys it when nominal “Christians” get angry when we remind them that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek when our enemy slaps us one time, to get slapped again, or to give up our shirt when a thief takes our coat.  When we tell them Jesus said to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies, they laugh at us and declare that surely God loves someone who knows how to kill in self-defense.  And then they declare as “Christians” their hatred for Muslims, being very sure that God wants them to defeat the Muslims in order to defend the minority Christians in their lands.

Are we so sure that’s God talking?  Because Jesus predicted Christians would be hated for loving him, and never gave them a word about self-defense – instead, they as we are promised an eternal home and that one day Jesus would make all things new.  This world is our place of witness, and there is no safe place.

No, there is no safe place here.  We are however already safe in the hand of God.  We have “already died” in Christ and we have “already” been seated in the heavenlies with him, too – our place there is reserved.  In this world we are merely ambassadors, sent with a message of reconciliation to everyone else from God.  We demonstrate this reconciliation from God by refusing to be anyone’s enemy, since after all our enemies are not flesh and blood!

Therefore it may not be welcome in public spaces right now, but we can even have compassion on the shooter, no matter what confluence of evil suggestions filled him up to the point of carrying out his nefarious deed.  We are not his judges; God is.  But we also know that God visited all sin on his Son on the cross, even this one.  We are not too sure that God’s justice even on him may be grace.

And may there yet be grace on all who in God’s name have visited hatred on gays, and on Muslims…hatred and “walls” just makes for militants.  If God is love, why did we think it was up to us to decide who is not invited?   It pleases the devil when we thrust a hand in someone’s face rather than hold out a hand in introduction.

No, there is no safe place here.

We weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn.  And sigh because knowing that it is Evil personified at work, doesn’t make it any better.   Knowing that the devil is defeated is nice but with all humanity we cry out, come Lord Jesus, come – come and make all things new.  Come and make a safe place in a new heavens and a new earth.  We have made such a mess of this one.


Brock Turner and the “Journey of Ascent”

Father Richard Rohr does workshops* for men and women using a helpful theory about the spiritual formation journey for each gender.
Traditionally, he says, at puberty the genders’ journeys begin to differ – in fact, they go in opposite directions.
Young men begin to learn their power – they begin the “journey of ascent.” For the next decade or two their bodies will teach them they are strong and vigorous and with this power, they can dominate or protect. They can rule. They can produce. In a conflict, they can win. Later, as their physical strength and virility fades, men begin the “journey of descent,” which can lead to humility and wisdom, but will not automatically lead there.
Young women, however, begin to learn something different from their bodies at puberty – they begin to learn that their bodies at least in some ways are for the service of others. They begin, at puberty, their “journey of descent.” Traditionally, in young adulthood, women married and began to give birth and care for children. In those situations, women naturally learned to delay gratification of their own desires, to submit their strength to the needs of others, etc. For them, the “journey of ascent” begins later in life when the children are raised! Women and men often cross paths at this time of life, when women can begin to pursue more of their own interests and use their strength outside of strictly the needs of their families.
These paradigms are of course shifting in our current setting, but there is something to be learned in observing these patterns. Father Rohr points out that in most cultures (but not ours), young men at puberty were taken by the men of their culture into some kind of challenge, which was meant to demonstrate that their strength and virility was not just meant for themselves, but for the good of the community.
I was thinking about all this in relation to the story of Brock Turner, the “Stanford rape case,” and the social outrage over his lenient sentence.
I understand his (and his father’s) bewilderment over everyone else’s insistence that Brock is a rapist who deserves more jail time, when to them it seems like he’s a good kid who made a mistake. Of course I don’t know them, but I’ve known people who they remind me of – privileged, powerful, with all the schooling and coaching and experiences that a well-rounded 1%-er will need to dominate society.
He was only doing what he’d been brought up to do, only doing what everyone else does. The problem, it may be, was that he never had that experience of learning that his strength, virility, power, prestige and privilege were not just for himself.
He never learned the elements of the journey of descent…only ascent. And so people have been pointing out that he thought everything he wanted…even a woman…was his to take, and the idea that someone like him might be called to account for it is…confounding. After all, he didn’t really rape her. He knows where the boundaries are – the boundaries that suit him. But he doesn’t know that the way he sees the world is not acceptable.
I hear a lot about more “complementarian” forms of Christian doctrine and how they set people and churches up for this same kind of thing. These are the folks who infer from the few things said about gender in the Bible that God says all men rule over all women, that all men are given the task of protecting and guiding all women, and all women were made to serve men.
To them, this kind of thing can be avoided when women stay home, marry young and are protected by their fathers and then their husbands. And that certainly is one way to solve the rape problem…unless the men involved, with their worldviews so skewed about their place in the world, instead learn that they are dominant, powerful, privileged, and can take what they want from women. Then, even marriage won’t save that woman.
Instead, I see Jesus, who looks at men and women far differently than any of these paradigms have taught us to see each other. To him, each were individuals. Each needed a “journey of descent” into humility before God. Each needed to see with God’s eyes that we are both wonderful and a mess, made in the image of God and yet torn up and driven by fear and desire and sin.
Each needs to trust Jesus for forgiveness and real power…and then a much better “journey of ascent” begins, one hand-in-hand with the living Christ who never used his power for himself at the expense of others, who never took what he wanted but gave what others needed…who never would have seen an unconscious woman as an opportunity for sex. Neither does he think just women are here to learn humility and service!
As a culture we need to stop asking kids who’ve been taught to sharpen their individual strengths all their lives for their own benefit to suddenly understand others with an empathy they never learned. As a culture, it sounds to me like we need to teach young men and women that their power and strength and intelligence and even their virility are not toys for themselves but tools for not just them but their village. They will not always be strong. Everyone is going to need some help. And we are responsible for more than just ourselves.
That’s not the only answer to the Brock Turner sentencing outrage – no, not at all. We need to ask ourselves why we put young people of color away for many times more of sentence, for much less of a crime. Much has been uncovered in this situation.
But I’m reminded that rape has been and is still often used as a tool subjugation and cruelty over whole populations. Dominance is an ugly desire, unless it is tempered with love and empathy and responsibility. If we’re not teaching that to our kids, we are growing up monsters without knowing it.