Revisiting May 23rd.

I’m not even certain how to begin writing this, but perhaps sincerity will do the speaking.  Three years after the Isla Vista shooting, I’m finding myself thinking about what transpired in my beloved college town.  This is the first time I’m finding myself not in Santa Barbara thinking about what happened, and the sorrow, shock, and surrealism of a tragedy striking far too close have been replaced by a longing to understand.  Frustrated confusion mingled with silence are all I have left this year.  The obvious question then was: why? But the more compelling question now is: how?  How did a life become so distraught, so self-consumed, so unrecognizable to humanity?

On the night of the shooting, I found myself reading up on what had happened, watching the intensely disturbing YouTube video, and reading the “manifesto” that had been written, and I remember thinking that this was the work of a person who deeply misunderstood the source of value in life.  Tonight, I re-read many portions of the manifesto, and I still think that intuition was correct.  Perhaps the more religious among us would be inclined to chalk the enormity up to “man’s fallen nature,” and I don’t disagree.  Nevertheless, I’m not certain that I’m fully persuaded by a description that seems so bereft of the utter darkness that we witnessed.  It just doesn’t seem like a complete enough description given the implicit resignation of the phrase; it seems more like the manifestation of radical despair and unmet desires.  Upon reading the manifesto tonight, I was met with conflicting pity and disgust, yet there was also a part of me that wondered if our world hadn’t groomed such a tragedy from the beginning.  Obviously I am not trying to justify what the killer did nor am I pinning the blame on society; this was truly a case of senseless, hopeless violence.  Yet, the questions are overflowing.  Did he have friends to help him through these troubled thoughts?  How did his parents not perceive the issue from an early age, when he seemed to have begun his deviation from living a full, vibrant life?  What could we collectively have done differently?

I’m not entirely sure I’ve had enough time to understand – it may very well be the case that his story is not one to be understood.  But more than anything, I find my heart broken once again for the families who lost their loved ones in the most unnatural way.  I will never know the depth of suffering that the friends of the deceased endure every year around this time.  All I can do – all we can do – is be faithful each year to honor the memories of those whose lives were claimed and be reminded to love those around me with kindness and with respect.  I believe that the end is drawing ever closer, and so I must believe that a loud voice from the throne will eventually say, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And yet, in the middle of an especially dark night, I am finding it difficult to bear the burden of tears that have yet to be wiped. 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Hangover.

After the end of a long,

longer than usual day,

I closed the garage and climbed

up the stairs.

There was some shuffling.

Dad.

Hi, Dad!

Hello! You’re back?

Yeah, I am –

finally.

Even as the weight of our

collective society bore down on me

all day, there was beauty in just

saying hello.

And it was good –

And it was enough.

Election Day 2016.

I was fairly certain that I was going to write a post when (and I say “when” because I had an odd gut feeling that Trump was going to win) Trump won, so here it is.  I’m hoping to keep it as short and as accessible as possible to spare an already grieving public the grief of sifting through something barely intelligible.

Brothers and sisters, I hope we’re all awake now that Trump is our incoming President.  The thought should terrify us – some of us, at least – but it should also be something we invite into our lives.  As I’ve said before, this election has exposed how far away many of us have fallen from full reliance on God.  How can we be gracious when the result is so obviously disappointing to many of us?  There’s a challenge here for all of us.

For those who proudly supported Trump, I must gently request that you re-examine that pride in the light of Christ.  For those who supported Trump believing he was the lesser of two evils, do not be arrogant, and rejoice not in the rulers of this age. Do not be boastful except in Jesus Christ, who is your Lord.  Now that the election is over, be reconciled to your brothers and sisters.  I have seen many examples of unsavory language from both camps, and so now more than ever, we as the Body of Christ ought to let love reign in our hearts.  I don’t know enough about Trump to assume anything about what will come from his term as President, but I do know that we have not been called to revile one another, boast in the policies of a temporary government, and increase division in His church, so may we be faithful to attend to loving deeply and radically as Jesus did.

For those who proudly supported Hillary, I also humbly suggest that you re-examine the grounds of that pride in light of Christ.  For those who supported Hillary believing she was the lesser of two evils, do not be self-righteous in your decision.  Do not allow yourself to be tempted to keep an account of the sins of another.  Do not continue to rail against your brothers and sisters who voted in opposition to you.  Righteousness is not on account of man’s works; if a man had indeed worked for his righteousness, should it not be his rightful wages?  However, we must believe that it is the gift that comes from an undeserved sacrifice.  We may believe that we voted for Hillary because we voted in the name of love, and yet I say to all of us that God alone is love.  To stand in the shadow of the Cross alone is to realize the eternal manifestation of love.  Let us love our brothers and sisters who voted for Trump because they are not any less deserving of salvation that we are; are we capable of dying to self in view of God’s infinite, unconditional mercy?  We must.

If there is any activism to participate in, it is only on our knees in faithful prayer.  Pray not in judgment that others would see the light of Christ; may we pray instead for our own hearts to joyfully submit to the sovereign will of God, recognizing these times as times in which His glory and love may boldly and richly be displayed in our lives.  I understand that the heart and the mind are inclined towards arguing for morality on both sides of this election, and yet will we continue to stifle the Spirit within us that calls us into deeper fellowship with Himself and one another?  In disappointment, call on Jesus’s name.  In sorrow, call on Jesus’s name.  In triumph, call on Jesus’s name.  Regardless of where we stand, may we find the grace to kneel before the throne of God and ask to be consecrated again unto Himself.  May God have mercy on us all not because the times seem bleak, but because we all lack the strength and the faith to serve His Kingdom in all aspects of our lives.

“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Fractured Faith.

Something that has invariably been flooding everyone’s news feed as of late is the constant stream of politics – “Ten Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton,” “Five Ways Trump Could Actually Make America Great Again,” and “Innumerable Explanations for why the United States Seems Headed for Disaster.”  Admittedly, I have never been the most informed political observant ever, but something about this particular presidential race is troubling.  Not only has this specific election threatened the unity of Americans in how they perceive themselves and those around them, but it is also common to see disunity among brothers and sisters in the Church, and this latter point is what draws my concern. In as measured and equitably as I can manage, I’d like to make a few cases for how our faith has been trumped by our politics and why we mustn’t let this be the case.

A popular approach to politics for quite a while has been the tactic of “mudslinging,” or the tarnishing of an opponent’s reputation. The ammo ranges from policy scoffing to personal insults, and it is, in my eyes, a decidedly un-Christian maneuver.  I recognize the naïveté in trying to apply ideal Christian standards to a staunchly secular arena, but my point is that we as brothers and sisters have partaken in the mudslinging.  Many times, I’ve witnessed brothers and sisters discrediting one another’s intelligence – even faith – for their political position.  So I ask: is this in keeping with what we as Christians believe? Is this what it is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as described in Ephesians 4:1-3? There is something deeply disturbing about how Clinton-supporting and Trump-supporting brothers and sisters, once so eager to say “Judge not” and “Speak the truth in love,” now jump at the chance to exercise their bookkeeping of either candidate’s (and possibly the candidate’s supporters’) sins. It’s almost as if we, who are desperately sinful and in great need of grace, believe that our choice of presidential candidate rests on the less sinful person!  As Christians, we seem to have been leaving our theology on the doorstep of political debate instead of seeking first the kingdom of God.

Now, it may seem like seeking first the kingdom of God, as Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, is both taken out of context but also ill-fitting in regards to the present context.  After all, one might argue, Jesus isn’t making a political statement when He’s saying that, or else we as Christians would have to want a kingship instead of a democracy. Yet why is that so objectionable? Is not the Kingship we seek (denoted with a capital K even!) a higher and richer governance? Even the Israelites of old had the desire to be ruled by a king, and it is not without considerable weightiness that we call our Lord the King of Kings.  Yet it seems that we, in our desire for self-preservation, our longing to be heard, and our pursuit of what we think is just, have chosen to extol the virtues of a system that reflects, in part, our relationship with Christ.  This is not a knock on our system of democracy or this country; those who know me know that even while in Canada, I missed my well-beloved United States of America.  However, what I am getting at is that taking our political system as fundamental to our beliefs over and above how we ought to walk in our faith, which I hold to be ideally fundamental, is problematic.  In a submissive relationship between a perfect and benevolent King and His obedient servants, it is clear whose will is to be carried out, for there is only one will – that of the Lord.  But if we treat our relationship with God as we treat our politics and come before God with a list of requests that we demand to be met, if we approach Him believing that He ought to honor our perceptions of what is just and what is fair, if we elevate ourselves to seeing eye to eye in terms of governing our own lives here on Earth while claiming to look ahead to the next life with Him, have we not indirectly affected our proper view of Himself as well?  I ask these questions to draw nigh to what I think is part of the proper context of Matthew 6:33; it is a matter of anxiety.  In our anxiety about the present situation and the future terrors, we as Christians have, I believe, lost sight of the kingdom of God.  This is manifested in our heated debates with believers and non-believers alike, how we think about people when they reveal who they’re supporting, and all the other avenues in which we could be choosing instead to seek first the kingdom of God.  I am choosing to be so bold as to say that who we vote for will not affect the kingdom of God at all.  How we treat one another, if we consider the set of believers to be citizens of the aforementioned kingdom, does affect the kingdom of God.

So, in closing, I’d like to encourage us to reflect on the boundaries of our faith in light of politics. Have we been cordoning off how seek the kingdom from how we practice politics? Are we treating one another with grace, despite heavy disagreement?  Are we allowing the human construct of politics to compromise the way we walk before one another and the world? Certainly it seems like our political future is at stake, but so is our testimony as Christians.  There’s a lot to be said about the fact that we as believers can’t stand united on the topic of presidency; we don’t even need to necessarily all believe that one candidate is the right candidate. However, we are failing to even relate to one another in love during the process, and I am strongly persuaded that it is because we don’t seek the kingdom of God through and through – we only seek it when it’s convenient for us. Let’s learn to love deeper and put anxiety aside during these times of political turmoil; let’s seek His kingdom and His righteousness in full confidence that our tomorrow is in His hands.

Revelations 22: Glory.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

I have been greatly enjoying this portion of the last chapter of the whole Bible lately since my home church has been going through Revelations as of late, and it’s really provided me with an assurance of the things unseen.  Verse 5 alone has really been a means of lifting my spirits when I feel pressed on all sides; I mean come on! There is going to be a time when there will be no more night, and we won’t need light of lamp or the sun? And why? Because the Lord God will be our light. Does no one else see how ridiculous this is? Not only will we be in God’s presence, but we will be able to see and experience His full glory.  That’s actually breathtaking. Recently, I was meditating on the verse when listening to “The Ascension,” by Phil Wickham.  What struck me most was how many times I’ve sung “Let us start the ascension/Let’s begin the climb/Up this holy mountain/Where Your glory shines/Further up, further in/Just to be with You again/Let us start the ascension,” without truly understanding the glory that will shine as detailed in Revelations 22.  This led me to a deeper appreciation of just how the Word of God makes our experience of God a reality; when we fret about not feeling God or reaching a plateau in our faith, how thirsty for the Word are we? Having experienced both extremes, reading the Bible daily and not reading it, I can say that only when I’m engaged with the text is there revelation regarding who God is.  It’s going to be a short post because I just want to challenge my brothers and sisters reading it, as well as anyone seeking to know more of who God is, believer or otherwise – how full are our conversations with God? In singing worship, what is our experience of the reality of those lyrics?  In our relationship with God, how much of His Word teaches us something fresh of who He is?  The Lord is coming soon, brothers and sisters, and let’s not be found despising His Word to us upon His return.  We can manage at least that, if not more, can’t we?

Well Taco.

It was a strange thing when I found myself in a position where I was driving home in silence and the urge to eat hit me, but the hour was just advanced enough for most stores to close their doors to the public.  Immediately, my mind started racing to various fast food options. Burger King was the first one that came to mind, perhaps to the dismay of the general public. Yes, I am aware that their food may very well be microwaved.  Yes, I know that there are other fast food restaurants in the area.  But, Burger King has established itself amidst my formative memories as one of the first establishments I was able to independently travel to and sit down in.  As I started driving down the road to Burger King, Kariya, a hot-pot, Korean BBQ fusion (wow that’s a lot of commas), lit my decision-making up with its neon signs.  Despite being supremely mediocre, it seemed interesting to try and eat there alone without feeling uncomfortable (due to the other patrons indubitably preconceiving notions about me and my life).  I performed a textbook ninety degree turn into the plaza and parked.  I told the hostess that I would be forming a party of one, which prompted her to inform me that single parties are to be made more miserable with an additional charge of five dollars. I was not that desperate to see both my spirits and my funds dwindle into smoke, so I politely (I hope) retreated back to my vehicle.  Isn’t it enough of a price to eat alone in a restaurant stocked to the brim with liveliness and camaraderie?  The aghast hole (read: gaping) that I reckoned to be my hunger was reconfigured in this moment of indignant self-awareness.  I wasn’t hungry; I was lonely.  In that moment, I realized: Lord, I am the woman at the well.  There is a hole in me that I presently had been trying to fill with food, and it’s no wonder it wasn’t working.  I know what caused the hole, but I hadn’t remembered or thought about its existence for a while until tonight.  Maybe it was the silence.  I was far too tired to commit to furthering the line of thought, so I settled on getting some Del Taco since I had already driven back and forth no further than five miles of my house.  Lord, I need healing, and I’m sorry for not following Your prescription.  I know what I’m supposed to do to fill the hole, but I need more time I guess. Forgive me.

Our Daily Bread.

Jude 1:17-18 says: “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.'”

We now find ourselves, as a body of believers, walking in the aforementioned “last time.”  Yet, as we approach the return of our Savior, a striking problem becomes more and more visible: the generations have become more and more faithless, aside from the occasional flicker in the darkness.  The love of the Church (and I am not speaking here of the Catholic Church; rather, I am referring to the body of Christ of which Christ is head, as found in Colossians 1:18 and various other places in the Bible) has been mangled by the violent passions of each new wind of doctrine we hear in contemporary society.  Even some of the youth who faithfully attend Sunday services at a church find their vision of Christ obfuscated by their vision of social justice.  Now, this is not to say that the pursuit of social equality in its various manifestations – feminism, black lives matter, etc. – is somehow wrong or to be despised; they are all reasonably good causes, and causes in which we ought to feel a leading to be ambassadors.  I would, however, argue that Christ and His Bride are of far more importance in that when we were still sinners, Christ died for us so that we might have a heart for the brokenhearted circumstances we find ourselves in.

The problem with the love of the Body of Christ is a two-way street: our generation of believers holds our faith with grips that say, “Christ is coming soon, but my future is coming sooner.”  The church is at times both lukewarm and overzealous, creating a veritable chasm in its pursuit of the hearts of our generation.

As believers, we encounter the scoffers in our lives, certainly; in the context of social media and the online world at large, we may even fall perilously (but silently lest we disturb our friends, our co-workers, or anyone, really) into the margin of the quiet minority, bleating along with the loudest voices of the next polarizing issue.  When we say that we know Christ is coming soon, that we know He will come as a thief in the night, that we know to not be like the five virgins who came unprepared with oil in their lamps, what are we really saying? Is it something to the effect of, “I know all I need to know about Christ, but let’s be real; He isn’t coming yet,” or “It’s nice to be a Christian and all, but God probably wants me to be more concerned with helping people in the now and being a good person, you know?” As much as these thoughts are for an audience, they are also the manifestation of a deeper self-critique because I too find myself adopting these positions.  However, just as the disciples never stopped asking questions about Jesus in hopes of understanding Him more, so too should we ask questions about the Christ who lives in us.  Where does that certainty of His delayed return come from? Perhaps it’s because we don’t really have a hope in Christ’s return at all – then again, it may also be the case that we simply don’t know, in all of our “knowledge” of Christ, what exactly to expect of Christ’s return; we exchange our ignorance of His glory for the comfort of facing the present reality when, in the most prostrate of faiths, His return is the reality.  But no, we don’t actually want that, do we?  Jesus wouldn’t want us to just kneel before Him all day when people need to hear the Gospel, right? It’s true, and yet how much Gospel are we honestly sharing in our lives? If we answer the dormancy of our spiritual lives with sound, but empty, spiritual doctrines, how can we expect to speak life into the world around us?  Maybe we shouldn’t be so critical of Judas in John 12 when he is mortified by Mary’s “wastefulness” before the Lord; after all, doesn’t he have a point?  It would be better to use that money to help the poor, wouldn’t it?  If it wasn’t apparent already, many of the questions asked are asked sarcastically; what Judas is doing is not caring for the poor, but opting for his own comfort when witnessing true worship because giving up his own comfort to fall at the feet of Jesus is a greater price than the perfume Mary poured out for her Lord.

The church also has its share in contributing to the lackadaisical faith of its members, but less so because of what the church is doing and more so because of what the church has become.  Defaced by the actions of Westboro Baptist and other very publicly “Christian” groups who passionately stain the testimony of Christ on Earth, the church we love fights a war both against the unbelievers and the believers.  Its plight with the unbelievers is the tremendous loss of trust that being human within the church has produced; society looks with rapt attention on scandal and misrepresentation, and when the humanity of public Christians shows, it pounces on each anomaly as if it were a fact of faith.  And yet, the hope is that they would understand that we are not perfect people seeking to make unbelievers perfect; we’ve merely found a perfect hope that restores our imperfection before the eyes of a just and loving God.  Since this is the case, the church has begun a gradual retreat from the public sphere, believing discretion to be the better part of valor and not wanting to offend anymore people by its “radicalism.” The church’s ability to love has been crippled by humanity’s ability to hate, and so, the church is found at odds with its own body, as an adolescent going through puberty.  It is awkward and no longer knows how to present itself.  Show too much love, and it worries about being a cult; show too little love, and it loses the hearts of men.

In this very long-winded and ill-conceived post, I suppose the most important thing I have to say is that we no longer feast on Christ, the living Bread.  Our appetites are slaked by more present satisfactions because we are blind to God’s reality.  The church we ought to love has become marred by its inescapable past, and believers and unbelievers alike shoot fish in a barrel when criticizing it in its present state.

All that remains is to simply pray, “Father, give us this day our daily bread.”

Give us Jesus.