A Larger Trust

“The crowning evidence that Jesus was alive was not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship.  Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
Clarence Jordan

In 1918 when my Mother was five years old, her father would lift her up on Old Maud, the big chestnut plow horse that would take her, that tiny girl, alone and determined, the two country miles from their homestead southwest of Fort Cobb, Oklahoma to the country school Mom wanted so much to attend.  The horse had to take her across Gawky (Gokey) Creek, a tributary of the Washita River, which could be chancy, depending on the weather.  Years later my Mom asked my Grandad how he had the confidence to trust such a young child for a safe journey to and fro.  Grandad, in his quiet way, said, “I knew you—but I trusted the horse.”

I thought of that story this week as we, the people of NorthHaven Church, take the next step in looking for a new pastor.  There are a few things I know, quite a few I don’t know, and a host of things beyond my intellect and imagination.

Here are a few things I know—a list far from comprehensive, so add your own:

  • People in this church want to follow Christ.
  • We have people who want to be taught, people who want to serve, and people who want to worship.
  • Church is a central, body, mind and spirit family for us—a vital community.
  • We are the church, here amongst others, and we’re looking for a leader who will care about us and help us as we slosh through reality searching for, as Ortega y Gasset says, God’s “elegant solution.”
  • We don’t need someone who is seeking prominence, or someone to idolize, follow blindly, romanticize, or sentimentalize.
  • We need someone who won’t pander to what will “tickle our ears,” preen our egos, or join the feel-good mentality that seeks its own cultural level.
  • We need a true follower of Christ who will preach the gospel purely, care for us, and provide solid leadership with practiced discipline.

Here are a few of the things I know I don’t know—some things that would define us members as a church with or without a pastor:

  • How can we be sure of someone and their motives?
  • How can we be sure of our own motives?
  • How do we know we don’t want the glory for ourselves or a place of prominence, or a venue for performance or preference for style over substance?
  • How can we ask the right questions as intelligent but limited people?
  • How can we intentionally choose values to hasten and cooperate with the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven without being dominated by cultural standards?
  • Are we a counter-cultural people of Christ followers or a people solely influenced by productivity, effectiveness, entertainment, and numbers?

However, here are some things beyond me—beyond my imagination and intellect.  I read stories in the Bible and in history of the way unrelated things, people, and events come together to accomplish wondrous outcomes. (“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’” Jeremiah 33:3 MSG [emphasis mine])

Who would have thought great rains would come to a parched earth from a cloud the size of a man’s hand?  (1 Kings 18:44)

Who would have thought a donkey might talk to stun Balaam in his purposed attack? (Numbers 22:22)

Who would have thought a man who denied he even knew Christ would later say, “I cannot help but speak of that which I have seen and heard?”  (Acts 4:20)

Who would have thought the promised Messiah would suffer and die?  (Matthew 16:21)

Who would have believed the “love your enemies” approach expressed by Mahatma Gandhi in determined nonviolence was the most powerful weapon available for marginalized people?

Who would think that the words and life of Martin Luther King Jr, exhausted, humiliated, and killed for his peacemaking would still resonate through continuing decades, changing the hearts of the oppressed if not the oppressors?

And who would imagine that we the unknown, common folks of NorthHaven Church would begin to bring Christ’s kingdom to pass through working together through the consequences of financial issues and different opinions, to step past the rigors and rules of enculturation, to believe God and love and act as one community outside the box of Western Christianity?

 

I still believe in the God of elegant solutions.  Regardless of any of our hearts’ motives or our limits or capabilities, I still believe God will bring all things together for our good. Marva Dawn says, “The difference between thinking and worship is that in the latter, God is the subject.” (From “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” ©1989 Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co, p 160)  So we continue to practice worship; exhibiting awe and reverence in God’s presence; proclaiming truth through the Word, music, art, and liturgy; expressing goodness and beauty from the inside to the outside as individuals and as brothers and sisters; and continuing our recognition of life’s needs in prayer and support.

 

We’ll need to be ready to give up self-interest, to maintain and work patiently on existing challenges.  Maybe that means I can have a larger and deeper trust, as I remember I am a responsible member of this community. I am vitally interested in this outcome, but I trust that the initiative comes from God, not me.  Maybe my larger trust will resemble at least in a small degree, the faith and example of my Grandad as he knew to trust Old Maud to carry precious cargo to draw forth and further the education of a remarkable woman.

 

 

A Call for Humility

A quick scan of social media these days will expose many fractures that exist within our world. Perhaps these cracks and breaks have been around for a while, and we are just now made more aware of them due to the incredible, and perhaps tragic, advances in technology. At our fingertips, we are able to navigate a world of political, religious and philosophical ideologies that would be taboo for most dinner conversations. Yet, they are shared freely now, as we live in a world where we are emboldened by the keyboard. We feel the invincibility of our screen, which gives way to nasty rhetoric, trolling and an abundance of hot takes which play on absolutes and extremes, and ignore the many different areas of gray in our oh-so not black and white world.

Social media today reveals a selfish undercurrent which is very much alive in our world.

The apostle Paul dealt with fractures between the people in the early Christian movement. These communities were trying to reconcile the world they knew with the one which was being revealed to them after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They were wrestling with traditions and laws which had always been. They were encountering people who were different than them as Christ had made way for followers from any background. There were nuances to what was required to follow Christ. There were arguments. There were definitely fractures.

If Facebook had existed at the time, Philippians 2 would have been the mic drop moment for the Apostle Paul. Since Paul did not have that technology, his post came from the medium of an epistle; a letter.

Here are his words:

 

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:1-8

 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.

I need to have a push notification with that verse.

Seriously, how much progress could we make in our world if we bought into this line of thinking.

We have an issue in our country right now that isn’t going to fix itself. There are heinous acts of violence. We have children and students who are dying at the hands of evil. We are at the point where this kind of occurrence has been normalized.

Really. I’m not joking. Think about the last mass shooting you heard about. Were you surprised? I wasn’t. It is a travesty that we find ourselves in a culture of casual onlookers of the growing infestation of violence and hate that exists all around us. We look on, yet don’t do anything to address it.

In fact, when the next mass shooting occurs, we will simply repeat the routine:

Thoughts.

Prayers.

Argue about Guns.

Throw out ideas that don’t necessarily confront the issue, but fit within our ideologies. These are ideas that are comfortable for us.

 

This issue is uncomfortable. It should make us uncomfortable. It should make all of us uncomfortable. It shouldn’t make us defensive. It shouldn’t back us into a corner where we feel the need to fight our way out. That is taking a serious problem and making it all about us.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

While this issue ultimately affects us all in different ways, it is not solely about us. This issue is one at the heart of who we are as a country. We have become something that we don’t need to be. We have reached a point where there isn’t an easy fix.

I have read arguments on all sides of this issue, and see truth and reality in most of them. The truth is that our country will have to take a step in the direction of humility. We must look for the areas of validity in others arguments and attempt to find solutions that aren’t simply one sided. We must work together for progress. For us to do this, we must stop trying to win an argument.

I don’t pretend to have an answer to fix our broken world. I try to rely on Christ as my source of wisdom and strength, but also understand that I am called to be an active participant in the care of this world. I am called to be a part of the body of Christ, which serves, cares for and stands up for those who are hurting in our world.

If you are still reading, perhaps you would participate in a challenge with me.

First: Can we admit that something has to be done? The status quo doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for a while. It won’t suddenly start working. Have you heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, it’s broke. It’s time to fix it.

Second: Can we agree that the solution isn’t going to be something easy? We don’t get to just make violence magically disappear from our society. We have to make tough compromises that move us to a better place. Part of this is guns. Part of this is mental health. Part of this is fixing the problem of nastiness on social media and in our world. Part of this is promoting goodness and kindness. The solution will be complex, and will take years to start seeing effects.

Third: Finally, can we agree that we need humble dialogue? We must start having conversations that include intentional listening. Maybe I’m naive to think this can actually occur on social media. If you can’t do that online, perhaps considering only engaging people in person. Meet over an incredible cup of coffee and talk to people who think differently from you. See what you learn; see what points you make that resonate with the other person. Who knows, maybe you will collaborate to make some tangible changes.

 

 

Lord Jesus, we pray fervently for the evil & pain that exist in our world. Please give us the strength and courage to actively pursue change and healing. Grant us wisdom. Give us guidance. Grow our humility. If we must suffer and sacrifice to make this world a better place to live, please walk with us on that path, as the One who suffered for each of us.

Amen.

Lives like Lent

Whether it was to give up sweets, run a marathon, learn a new language or lose a pound, chances are most of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions. After all, we’re six weeks into 2018 and that’s more than enough time for things to go awry. It’s also enough time to start considering the opportunities ahead.

If you were to take up a liturgical calendar, you might notice Ash Wednesday is roughly a week away and stands as the gateway into the season of Lent, which ultimately culminates in Holy Week and Easter. Traditionally the 40 days of Lent are used as an opportunity to reflect, prepare and maybe even abstain from a specific vice. In some ways — and to stick with our theme above — you might think of it as a time to renew worthwhile resolutions or even begin to see previous resolutions as an opportunity for worship.

As for me, I don’t think I’m going to give anything up this year. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of vices and things I ought to change in my life. But I want to go a step further, and I think Isaiah 58 may shed light on a more positive way of entering the season. You can read the whole chapter on your own, but I’m specifically compelled by verses 6-7, which read:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose — to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

In other words, the act of fasting and abstaining from something for 40 days may be worthwhile and have precedent in church tradition, but in many ways it can be individually minded and inwardly focused. What if, instead, we take a positive step by focusing outwardly on others and doing a little good in this world? What if we could exhibit God’s Kingdom in more tangible ways, both as individuals and as a church family? I mean, you and I can enter into Lent with a sort of “hippocratic oath” mentality and hoping simply to do no harm, or we can seize the season and do some good along the way. I hope you’ll be brave enough to join me in considering these options, and I hope I’ll be bold enough to join you, too.

Responding to Suffering

child holding a crossThe photograph is of Lance Corporal Pierre Mugabo, carrying a cross at the head of a funeral procession for his father, who died of malnutrition while in a prison camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This image represents much of the suffering that we find in our world today – hunger, war, violence, death, and a childhood robbed of its innocence. It is a haunting image, made more so by the knowledge that we are staring into the face of a child soldier who is carrying a cross. I may stare into his eyes, but I am the one who is confronted.

What should one do in the face of such overwhelming suffering?

One response is found in one a central work on the problem of suffering, the chapter titled “Rebellion” in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. In it, one of the characters, Ivan, argues that moral decency and the love of humanity demand that we should refuse to live in what he thought to be a clearly unjust world. The only decent thing to do would be to, in his words, “return one’s ticket.”

Ivan makes two related mistakes here. First, he believes that he can judge the world from an objective position. This, though, ignores the fact that we are embedded and entangled, part of the world that we presume to judge. Our very act of judgment is instantly turned back on ourselves, forcing us to recall Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” 

The second mistake is to assume that the world that we now experience is morally static. We do so when we assume that the suffering of the innocent has always, and will always, occur; and if God created this world, he created it to be an unjust world.

As I said, these mistakes are related. I am not an innocent, objective judge. The level of justice or injustice in the world is, in an important way, partly a function of my action or inaction. The world that we experience, then, is one of our own creation; not one that we have created ex nihilo, but rather through our perversion of God’s good creation. God, though, can redeem even that which we have corrupted. So, instead of maintaining, like Ivan, that we cannot accept this world of God’s, we should instead strive, by God’s grace, to make his world into that which he always planned for it to be. We do this, not by loving humanity, but by loving our neighbors, wherever and whoever they may be.

May God grant us the faith to be his redeemed people, who announce to the world, by word and deed, the miracle of his reconciling love.

Photograph: Lance Cpl. Pierre Mugabo carries a cross at the head of his father’s funeral procession, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55450 [retrieved January 25, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USMC–12469.jpg.

Equal Calling

As I studied last week, my attention was drawn to the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, verses 2-16.  As a female in ministry I am intrigued by scripture that, when taken at face value, might appear to suggest inadequacy of women in the preaching of God’s word.

“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just a I passed them on to you.  But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (vs. 2-3).

One could stop right there and declare that women are to be under the direction of men, as the man will receive his direction from God.  But hold on just a minute, and forward to “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.” (vs. 11-12).  So it is just that, man created from dust, woman created from man, both created by God.  Two beings that exist in community with the other, equality created.

This passage reflects on the customs of covering one’s head during worship, relevant at the time of writing.  A bit of a play on words, this is a shift referring to an individual’s physical head, rather than an order of importance.

“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man;” (vs. 6-8)  “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” (vs. 13-15)

Hair is the first issue of covering oneself and it is not about value or order, but instead about the social rules of the time.  Women were expected to wear their hair long, men to wear their hair short, nothing more or less.  Other times in history spoke to the length of hair as well…those crazy Beetles in the 60s with their radical long hair, Dorothy Hamill with her risky short hair in the 80s.  As we transition to the covering of one’s head with a piece of material.  This was nothing more than an identifying factor.  With a covered head, one would be identified as a woman.  She would also be identified as a married woman, acknowledging her love and commitment to her husband and her respect for him.

In the midst of right or wrong attire, one thing is clear in this passage, both men and women are leaders in God’s church.

“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is the same as having her head shaved.” (vs. 4-5).

This isn’t about what gender stands in front of a church it is about having respect for that position.

Birthdays, Racism, Heartbreak, and Hope

Saturday, August 12, was my birthday.  I woke up that morning looking forward to a day with my family and dreaming about what the upcoming year might hold.  Forty-seven years ago, on that day, my white mother and Native American father welcomed their new son into the world at the Indian Hospital in Claremore, OK.  My parents were young and poor.  Therefore, the natural place for them to give birth was the Indian Hospital where the bills would be low.

While grabbing my first cup of coffee on my birthday, I switched on the television to catch up on the news.  The images that first caught my eye were those of white supremacists marching with torches the previous night through Charlottesville, VA.  The news anchors informed their viewers the white supremacists were planning a larger gathering later that day to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue.  In addition, a gathering of counter-protesters was planning to be present to oppose the white supremacists.  I turned to my wife and said, “This is not going to end well.”

As my birthday continued, the news began to emerge that violence was erupting in Charlottesville.  Armed white nationalists were clashing with counter-protesters and police.    Alarmingly, news broke that a young woman had been killed when a white supremacist ran his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.  In addition, two Virginia state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed as they monitored the situation from above.  By the end of the day, America mourned the day of my birth with the reminder that racism is still very much alive in this country and three lives had been taken due to its evil presence.

There has been much said and written about the events of Charlottesville, from vague non-committal denunciations to full-throated condemnations.  Like many, I have listened to and read thought provoking responses over the last few days.  All of them add up to be part of a collected voice opposing racism and white nationalism.  Therefore, I have decided to add my voice to the collection.  Even though I am only one voice, I add my words with others so that together our voices will echo across the nation.

If I could pinpoint a few emotions that continue to re-emerge in response to this weekend’s events, they would have to be anger, sadness, and heartbreak.  America continues to hide our heads in the sand when it comes to the issues surrounding racism.  We love to pat ourselves on the back for the strides we have made in this country (which are positive).   However, we often neglect to understand how racism continues to affect us today.

We have truly never addressed the systemic problems of racism.  This neglect continues to cause vast divides and deep wounds, some which have been cast long ago but are manifested in today’s culture.  America can no longer afford turn our heads and ignore the dark stain of racism.  We must strongly, and without hesitation, denounce with words and actions all forms of racism that attempt to place one group of people over another.  As people of faith, we have been given a Holy Text that speaks about the evils of racism and the divine desire to bring races together under our human commonality.

Jesus was the great liberator of racism, classism, and gender biases.  Jesus welcomed everyone into his presence offering them a hope that transcended their circumstances, empowered them for the future, and attempted to transform a system that was biased in nature.  If Jesus was biased against anything, it was a system and culture that valued one group of people over another.  Jesus loved all people, leveling the playing field so that all can live as equals.

There are people today that do not believe in this equality, but believe that God has created an Anglo class to rule over others.  This is known as theological dominionism, a worldview based upon the exclusion, oppression, and extinction of other races and cultures by a “superior” people.  This was never the way of Jesus; nor should it be the way now.  The Lord’s inclusive example led the Apostle Paul to write, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

While humans display a vast array of skin tones, the blood that flows through our veins remains one color.  It’s the same color of blood that was spilt on Calvary…the same blood poured out on the lands of North America and in the hulls of African slave ships…the same blood staining the blue and grey uniforms of the Civil War…and the same blood that was shed on the streets of Charlottesville on August 12…my birthday.  My prayer this day is that a new birthday emerges from this tragedy, a new dawn where the world finally unites in condemning racism and throws their unwavering support behind the ideals of Jesus and equality.

Anyone defending the opposing ideals of white supremacists has no part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor should they hold a position of influence over others.  Let me be even more clear, there is no place for racism in a society that claims to cherish Christian values.  Jesus died for us all, breaking the shackles that divide us from God – and from one another.  While we have witnessed the ugly results of racism over the last few days, the truth of the matter is that racism has always been with us lurking in the shadows waiting to rise in force.   Therefore, anytime racism attempts to rise as it has done this past weekend, the faithful should collectively rise to denounce it and offer a righteous and holy path forward…a path traveled by Jesus…a path taken by many others before us…and a path we must now walk.  If there is to be any hope for our future, then we must step forward to make the dream a reality: the mountaintop where the beloved community of ALL God’s children dwell.

Predatory Lending OK HB 1913

Predatory Lending is NOT Good News

March 2017

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (4:18). Predatory lending is not good news for the poor. Predatory lending is an evil practice that should be regulated heavily or abolished altogether. Unfortunately, there are a few Oklahoma legislators that think otherwise.

On February 28, House Bill 1913, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kannady, was passed by the House Judiciary – Civil and Environmental Committee by a vote of 8-3. Known as the Oklahoma Small Loan Act, the bill would allow a new type of loan to be offered in amounts up to $1,500 at a 17% interest rate per month. This amounts to an APR (annual percentage rate) of 204%. Such unjust rates for poorer Oklahomans would force borrowers to make a monthly payment of $301 for an entire year. Those terms mean hard working Oklahomans would pay $2,108 in interest alone over the course of twelve months.

Obviously, this is not good news for working Oklahomans who find themselves in need of a short-term loan. Predatory lending has no place in a just society. Last year, Senator David Holt withdrew his support from a similar bill. Earlier this year, Senator Dan Newberry chose not to advance a nearly identical bill to the one that is now being considered by the House. Both Senators apparently recognized the dangers of supporting legislation that would further cripple Oklahomans and empower an industry with the objective of profiteering on the backs of our poorest citizens.

In the book of Nehemiah, the Jewish people returned from exile to rebuild their city wall. Their story offers an insight on the importance of stifling predatory lending practices. The poor retuned with nothing. Attempting to rebuild their lives, they were forced into crippling debt that was crushing their productivity. Nehemiah, acting as governor, chastised the nobles for charging a crippling interest rate. He condemningly said, “You are selling your own kin.” Modern day predatory lending practices are preying on the poorest of our citizens with many of them crying out from this crushing burden. By allowing this practice to continue, Oklahomans will be selling our kin to the highest bidder.

The Death of Truth?

Last Sunday, a 28-year-old man walked into a Washington D.C. pizzeria with an assault rifle in hand. He had one mission. He was there to investigate an online claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were running a child sex ring from the basement of the business. He was there to stop it. Now, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever to this online claim, but the young man wanted to believe it so much that he convinced himself it was true.

There are moments in history when large groups of people begin developing and accepting their own truth. These moments are not based upon solid facts or credible evidence, but rather given birth within a self-prescribed ideology that ignores factual reality to create a new ideological reality. There are two infamous examples in our modern era. In America, for most of our history, we accepted the false claim that blacks were inferior to whites thus justifying both slavery and Jim Crow. Prior to World War II, the Nazi’s created, distributed and accepted a similar distorted truth about anyone who was non-Aryan.

Now, there needs to be a shift in our understanding how these false ideas gained footing. There is a misunderstanding that the people who developed these ideas and those that believed them were somehow ignorant or uneducated. In both instances, that was untrue. On slave plantations and in the Jim Crow South, a vast number of citizens were educated and economically advantaged. In Germany, prior to the war, intellectual developments were on the rise. This was the era of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bonhoeffer. Therefore, ignorance and education were not the primary factors in the dismissal of truth.

A toxic environment was nurtured and fostered in both instances that gave credence to distrust natural facts and replace them with personalized truth. What we are seeing across the world today is very similar. Educated individuals are making a conscience decision to ignore truth, simply based upon a perception that it is biased against their ideological convictions. Even when confronted with evidence that validates truth, some choose to either ignore it, look the other way, or argue that truth is manipulated. When individuals and communities conclude truth no longer matters, then they have opened the door for any personalized mythological ideology to gain ground and thrive.

Jesus was once asked about truth. He responded, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). His inquisitors, however, prodded him further. He condemned the father of untruths, “(He) does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Because the people were willing to accept lies, Jesus concluded, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:45).

There is a growing consensus that we are entering a post-truth era. If this is the case, then the world is heading towards dark days. With the death of truth comes the death of justice. With the death of justice, love of others will be replaced with a lust for power. Therefore, speaking only for me, I pledge to be a bearer of truth. I pledge to keep fighting the good fight that sheds light into darkness. I pledge to extinguish lies and falsehoods built on personalized ideologies. I pledge to uphold the standard that Jesus held, always seeking a truth that liberated others and welcomed strangers into divine community. I pledge to follow Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

An Advent Theft

Last night, the winds changed. Instead of a warm, gentle, southerly breeze for a cold December day, northerly winds picked up bringing the first bitter bite into an early winter. During this change in weather, someone walked onto the property of NorthHaven Church with desperation in their heart. They pulled their truck up to two trailers that we had recently acquired for conducting disaster relief this Spring. The trailers were donated to us from the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma and First Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia. Our uninvited guests broke into one of the trailers, stealing a large generator that provided power to it. Leaving behind a mess for us to clean up, our uninvited guests pulled away with the generator and a little piece of our hearts along with it.

It can be easy to get angry at such bold and callus behavior. My head keeps telling me these thieves have no consciences, stealing from a church that is attempting to help people going through extremely difficult times. My emotions begin to boil over as I contemplate the thieves selling the generator for cash to buy drugs, booze, or for some other mischievous behavior. I get so worked up just thinking about it, but then Jesus shows up. He tugs at my heart, he touches my soul, and he clears my mind. His words reverberate in my ears, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. Love. Hope. The easy thing to do about this situation would be to react with anger and retribution, but God has called us to a higher standard. He has called us to rise out of darkness that we might shed light for others to follow.

In Victor Hugo’s masterful work, Les Misérables, Jean Valjean found his way to the Digne Parish in southeastern France after being released from prison. The parish was overseen by Bishop Myrel. The bishop was a small man, but as Valjean discovered, the bishop had a gigantic heart. Early the next day, Valjean leaves the generosity of the parish and steals the silverware. Caught by local authorities, he was brought back to the bishop to face his crime. Bishop Myrel, however, demonstrated the epitome of God’s grace. He commends the officer that brought Valjean back, but informs them that he has given the silver to him. Not only that, but he had forgotten the two most expensive pieces. Handing him two large silver candlesticks, the bishop leaned into Valjean and offered, “I give you this silver to become an honest man. God has raised you out of darkness.” While Hugo’s overall work emphasizes the French Revolution, the real story is about one man’s revolution to become a better man.

Therefore, as I drive myself to buy a new lock for the trailer, file a police report, and talk to our insurance company, I reject the anger trying to build up inside me. Instead, I am attempting to follow the words of Jesus and the example of Bishop Myrel. My hope now is that our uninvited guests find use for the generator. I hope it brings them prosperity that they no longer must steal from others. I pray that through their actions, they discover God’s grace, his mercy, and his salvation for their lives. May they rise from the darkness of dishonesty to bask in the light of glory. In other words, may they discover the hope of Advent through an Advent theft.

The Sacredness of Standing Rock

Over the weekend, the Army Corp of Engineers denied an easement permit that will prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being routed near the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corp said they will work with developers to reroute the pipeline, but developers vow they hope to finish the pipeline without having to reroute it. Over the last year, developers and protestors have collided over the safety of the pipeline and the possible danger it possesses for the environment and residents. Developers argue they have a legal right to continue the project, while the Sioux argue they are frightened of its possible dangers. They point to recent pipeline breaks across the country as examples of these dangerous possibilities.

This current conflict between developers and indigenous people is nothing new. From the moment Europeans set foot on the soil of North America, western developers have coveted the natural resources of this land. Claiming the divine rights of kings, later evolving into the divine rights of white men, American lands were conquered, its inhabitants killed or resettled, and western expansionism became part of the American psyche. From those first years to now, there has always been a sacredness to this struggle. Where does one person’s rights begin and another’s end? What are the larger priorities of humanity, progress or preservation? What is more important, making life better or making certain we maintain life? These are the sacred struggles of humanity, and possibly, at the heart of what has taken place at Standing Rock.

When the Prophet Jeremiah delivered an admonition against the leaders and people of Judah, he described their rebellion as a rejection of God’s fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). Modern day readers are left to wonder why he used such an illustration? For an ancient people whose sacred story was about finding salvation by the Red Sea, wandering in a wilderness for decades, and needing clean water for survival, Jeremiah’s metaphor was more than a mere image…it was God’s gift of life to the Hebrews.

Centuries later, the Prophet Zechariah offered these encouraging words to a conquered people, “On that day (of the Lord) living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” (14:8). When John the Evangelist introduced Jesus in his Gospel, he did so with an encounter between the rabbi and a Samaritan woman at a well. Their topic for discussion, living water (4:10-11). Jesus asked her for a drink. She obliged, but noticed he had no cup from which to drink and how odd it was for a Jewish male to speak to a Samaritan woman. His response comforted her, and comforts the world today, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:13-14)

Chief Joseph, 19th Century leader of the Wallowa tribe in the Pacific Northwest, once said, “I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more.” When the people of God open their hearts and minds to His ways, then we discover a sacredness to life. We discover that water is sometimes more than a refreshing drink. Water means life. Living water means salvation. The reason the events at Standing Rock are so important is not because a tribe stood up to a large oil corporation, but that they stood up for life. They stood up for God’s creation. They stood up for the sacredness in which God breathed into the world.

In closing, we need to seriously consider our responsibility as God’s caretakers in this world. I truly believe the oil company and their employees are not evil people, but individuals and families attempting to carve out a living and provide for a demand in the world. Therefore, my prayers and hope for Standing Rock continue to be that all involved can discover another way to achieve both progress and preservation. To find this way, we will need to open our minds to new possibilities. We will need to see each other as collaborators and not enemies. We will need to acknowledge the land is given to us by God, thus we have a sacred responsibility to care for her. We can find another way, but we must open our hearts to each other and fill our souls with Living Water.