Monthly Archives: October 2016

Politics and the Kingdom of God

us-flag-crossI have to admit that I’ve been trying to stay as far away from all this election drama as possible. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve tried. Being a Canadian living in the South as a permanent resident, I can’t vote anyways (rightly so), and it’s easy to tell myself that the whole thing doesn’t affect me much. It obviously does, just like every other person living in the United States, but the overall effect is one of having a front row seat to the house burning down.

The other reason I’ve tried to avoid it has to do with the hate I’ve seen spewed by supporters on both sides. The focus this go round seems to be less on the substantive issues and more on demonizing one side or the other for displaying whatever faults we’ve picked up on this week. For what it’s worth, I disagree on points made by both candidates, and if I could vote I’m honestly not sure which one I’d pick. (I’d probably go with Trump if I had to, as Clinton doesn’t strike me as the trustworthy type, but even then I’d have my concerns.) I also firmly believe in the adage that political discussions on social media don’t accomplish much other than to end friendships, so the bottom line is I’ve tried to stay out of it.

I watched enough of the third debate the other night to know that part of the focus was on how the candidates would make use of expected Supreme Court vacancies when it comes to issues like abortion and gun control. Their responses were about what I expected. I mean, Trump obviously isn’t going to try to load the Court with liberal judges and Clinton isn’t going to go for super-conservative ones. Given this focus, I wasn’t surprised to find on Facebook yesterday a number of posts in reference to the issue. What I was surprised to find was that one of the points made in one particular post was that, as believers in Christ, we need to vote for the candidate who will put in place Supreme Court justices who will “protect your right to your relationship with God.” (And for the life of me I wish I’d saved the link to this because I can’t find it again anywhere, but I guess that’s what I get for checking Facebook on my lunch break from my phone.)

Think about that for a moment. I live in the South, where there’s a church on every corner (and more than a few in between, depending on where exactly you go) and the culture is to a large extent saturated by the Church. We have Christian bookstores and Christian radio stations, and it often seems a point of note for a business to call itself “Christian”. And now we have someone encouraging us to vote for the one we believe will protect our right to our relationship with God.

The God of the Bible, the one we claim to believe in, is the God of 400 billion suns. The God of sunrises and sunsets and mountains and trees and everything else you can see. He is the one who sustains all of this. Hebrews 1:3 (ESV) tells us that He “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” As Matthew 27:51 records, when Jesus died on the cross, “behold, the curtin of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” His death on the cross, and His resurrection, forever opened the Holy of Holies, the place of the very presence of God, to all those who come to Him by faith. Hebrews 7 supports this by showing that Jesus’ shed blood guarantees that relationship. The price of reconciliation was paid out once and for all.

And yet apparently we need a political figure to guarantee our right to that relationship. The truth is, as I hope you can see, that we don’t need that guarantee from any political figure (see Psalm 146:3 for that one). The Gospel advances, and relationships with God flourish, even in places where the political climate is overtly hostile to Christianity. There are, right now, believers working to spread the Gospel in the Middle East, for example, where if recent news reports are to be believed, they are dying for their efforts to do so. We need a political figure to guarantee our right to many things, but not to that relationship. That relationship was locked in, so to speak, by Someone who lasts a lot longer than any mere political figure.

So what do we need a political figure to protect? We need one to protect our right to attend church openly, to have our Christian bookstores and Christian radio stations, and to have all the other things that make up our Christian culture. I don’t take those freedoms lightly, either. All you have to do is look at the wars which were fought to protect those freedoms to know that they didn’t come cheap. That being said, however, they’re not the point. If you take a look back over the course of church history, it should very quickly become apparent that while the Church has been good at dishing out persecution (and I’m not glossing over that), the normal state of affairs for the Church seems rather to be one of being persecuted. The chapter of the story we find ourselves in here in the West (it’s not just in the United States) is an encouraging one, to be sure, but a weird one in the grand scheme of things.

It makes me wonder, honestly, if there’s actually two kingdoms at play here, one being the Kingdom of God and the other being the kingdom in which we have the right to, in essence, live our lives as Christians as we choose to. It also makes me wonder if these two kingdoms aren’t always necessarily the same. In voting along the lines hinted at above, are we trying to protect the one kingdom while missing out on, or even damaging, opportunities for the other kingdom to advance? If we fight to keep the United States as a “Christian” nation, do we not communicate to those who don’t share our beliefs that they’re not welcome here? Do we need to force others to accept us and our Christian beliefs and practices in order to still have our Christian beliefs and practices? I would assert, given how Christianity has not only survived but thrived over the last 2000 years, that the answer to those questions is no. (More food for thought: How do we combine the desire for this to be a “Christian” nation, if that means what I’ve just outlined, with the biblical reference to God’s desire for “all to come to repentance” as outline in 2 Peter 3:9?)

Maybe, just maybe, we’re fighting for the wrong kingdom. Maybe we’re trying to hard to protect our right to go to church that we’re missing out on being the church.

 

You do start to heal

broken-heart-wallpaper-hd-free-downloadWhen I wrote about a month back about the attack I went through over the issue of my hair and accusations of being gay (read all about it here), I concluded by saying that I would take it one day at a time, that hopefully I would come to a place where I could begin to feel whole again, to maybe (maybe) be able to forgive those involved and put it all behind me. To me, that means being out on our own again, and having the freedom to express my personality however I so choose.

I have to admit that I thought we’d be there by now. One of the things that I found comforting in trying to take it a day at a time (which I will also readily admit is not an easy way to live) was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be doing this for long. When I wrote about this back in September, we had found us a trailer to move out on our property (one that we can actually afford), and we were in the process of getting the loan approved to get that done. The guys at the place we’re working with told us it would be 3-4 weeks from closing the loan to actually moving in, and they had also told us more than once that the sooner we got all the required paperwork in to the bank, the sooner we’d get the loan closed. We got it all together in a week, and I figured add another week, two at most, to get the loan closed, plus another month to get it all set up and installed, and come the middle of October they’d be handing us the keys and we’d be moving in. At the same time, I get my hair coloured typically about every two months, which also happens to be around the middle of October, and I figured that the next time I wanted to do something with it, I’d have the freedom to be able to.

Well, it’s now the middle of October, and we’re still waiting on the loan to close. No word whatsoever on exactly when that will be, although we’ve been reassured several times that there’s nothing left to do with regards to closing the loan except sit down and close the loan. Throw in the 3-4 weeks to get the trailer moved and set up, and it’ll probably be nigh on Thanksgiving before we get the keys. Oh, and as I mentioned, I’d really like to do something with my hair again, but I can’t for fear of having a repeat of August and being forced to shave it off completely, or something similar, just to suit the whims of another. That may seem petty, or even a foolish concern, but as I’ve written about before, our personalities come out in how we choose to appear to this crazy world, and being told I don’t have that freedom is kind of like watching a moving with no sound and no subtitles. I’m still watching the movie, but it ain’t a hell of a lot of fun.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve gone from being royally pissed at this whole mess, to just plain sad, to royally pissed, to a numb sort of just whatever, and then back again. Two weeks ago we got a call from the company that’s going to drill the well saying they would start tomorrow, and I was ecstatic until we realised that the loan hasn’t been closed yet which means that this company wouldn’t get paid until it was. When that was properly communicated, the company backed down and, as far as I know, is still waiting for the go ahead.

It’s been, in a word, exhausting. This whole process of getting a place of our own seems to have gone on a lot longer than it needs to. I honestly think that it will be quite a while before we get out of here that this part of me begins to heal, and that’s OK. The funny thing is that, despite the situation a month after that last post not looking anything like I thought it would, that healing process may have already started, albeit just a little. It almost feels like sacrilege to write that, like I’m doing a disservice to the pain and heartache I still feel even now, two months after the fact, so please don’t take this the wrong way. I am NOT trying to gloss over how I feel, or suggesting that you do the same if you find yourself in a similar boat right now. I’m just observing that I’ve had moments, precious moments, where in looking in the mirror I haven’t seen someone else’s version of me. Just for an instant, I’ve looked in the mirror and gone “I know that guy.” And I treasure those moments. It’s like someone is seeing me for who I am and affirming what they see (maybe in a future post I’ll get into how Jesus does that for each of us), and that is so good. I managed to get it up in a ponytail the other day, and it was at the same time wonderful because that was the first time in two months I’ve been able to do that and so depressing because it was such a tiny ponytail compared to what it used to be. I guess this whole thing is a combination of the good and the really shitty, and while that might seem to be a contradiction, at least it’s honest. The point is that you do start to heal, even if it’s just in tiny ways and even if still hurts like hell.

Hurricanes and God’s Will

I seem to be doing this a lot lately. When I started this place, one of the many things I promised myself is that I would never use it to attack others or to speak against ideas or individuals. Church for Misfits is a place for reconciliation, not a platform to rant and rave. That being said, the article linked below misrepresents Jesus at a point when people need to hear, more than ever, who He is and how He cares for them. 

abc_hurricane_matthew_forecast_track_01_mt_161006_4x3_992As a Canadian living in the South, I’ve found that hurricanes here are, generally speaking, a lot like 2 feet of snow in a single night was back in the town where I grew up. It’s a fact of life, something you learn to live with and to respond appropriately to. After Hermine came through last month and dropped less rain overall than we’ve gotten from a decent afternoon thunderstorm, I have to admit I didn’t think too much of Matthew at first. That changed when the state of emergency was declared, the evacuations began, and news coverage revealed just how bad this one might get. We live about 125 miles inland here in South Carolina, so all we’re forecasted to get is 30 mph winds and maybe 6 inches of rain. All that to say I’ve never had to evacuate before, and neither have I lived through anything beyond a tropical depression, so I don’t know what it’s like to have to leave your home behind and hope and pray you still have one to go back to. I can’t imagine what those directly impacted by this are going through.

One of the other things that caught my attention with regards to Hurricane Matthew was an article entitled “Hurricane Matthew is the Wrath of God Poured Out on the Cities of Orlando and Savannah for Supporting the Evil Sodomites.” I guess I’d kind of forgotten that when any large enough natural disaster occurs, there are those who call themselves Christians who are more than happy to blame the whole thing on the fact that God is royally pissed off at a particular group of people. In this case, according to that article, it’s the LGBTQ community and the Orlando Pride Parade which was originally schedule for this Saturday, October 8, but which has now been postponed to November. A link to this article turned up on LGBTQ Nation’s Facebook page, and the folks there are understandably upset that a Christian would put forth such an explanation for this particular storm. In all honesty, I am, too.

There a number of theological questions at play here concerning just what makes up the will of God, not to mention a number of issues with the above article in general, but what needs to be looked at first with this is that as Christians we represent Jesus to the world. As I’ve heard it said, we are the only Jesus some people may ever see. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” In 2 Peter 3:9, we read, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” As I’ve written about elsewhere on here, sin has broken our relationship with God, and He, more than anything, wants to see that relationship restored. With that in mind, now consider that the focus of the appeal those around us are seeing from us as Christians, in this particular case, is that the God who wants nothing more than to restore the relationship that has been lost with the individuals He created is demonstrating that desire by sending a hurricane to punish those people, and everyone else around them, for making lifestyle choices which He does not approve of. Out of all the ways we could show just how far He is willing to go to win people back to Himself, this is the one at the forefront here. God hates members of the LGBTQ community so much that He’s willing to send a hurricane causing widespread death and destruction just to show them their sin. I mean, really?

Now before you think I may be overlooking biblical precedents of God doing this very thing (such as the story of Noah’s ark in Genesis 6), let me state that I am aware of these examples. Is this what’s going on here? I honestly have no idea, and I would not dare to presume to state, either to those angered by the above article or to those directly impacted by Hurricane Matthew, that it is indeed the case. Theologically speaking, there are two levels to the issue of God’s will in a situation like this. The first is what my seminary texts referred to as the “religious problem of evil.” This one involves the question of why a particular evil happened to a particular person. (Think Ned Flanders in the Simpsons episode where the tornado takes his house but spares every other house in town.) This question is one that I will never presume to comment on. As I stated recently, there are many times I can’t even understand my own life, and I will never presume to understand yours (especially if you’re reading this and we’ve never met).

The second level concerns the question of evil in general, and usually goes something like this. If God is good, and if He is omnipotent, then why does evil exist? Either evil exists because God is not good, meaning He doesn’t want to do anything about it, or evil exists because He is not omnipotent and therefore He can’t do anything about it. Psalm 136:1 tells us that God is good, and Job 42:2 tells us that He can do anything He wants to. As a Christian I accept those two statements (and there are other passages of Scripture which can also be referenced in support of them), but that still leaves me having to answer the last part of that original question. Why does evil exist? Why do hurricanes happen? The answer put forward by the above article is one option, albeit one that I categorically reject. The only answer I’ve ever heard that makes any sense is that you can’t have free will existing in this world without evil, but even that option raises questions of its own. My short answer to the theological questions at play here is that I don’t know. I don’t know why evil exists, or why hurricanes happen like they do. There may be those reading this who find that answer lacking, and see it as representing a major flaw in my worldview. It’s true. It is a hole in the framework of my theological understanding. In all honesty, however, that doesn’t bother me. What scares the hell out of me is the thought that I could even begin to understand why events on this scale happen the way they do.

As for the article itself, the most glaring issue with it, that of appealing to a pattern in history as evidence for the rationale behind a current event is, academically speaking, an extremely ineffective means of proving an argument. Simply put, there’s no way to step outside of history to determine if the asserted pattern is correct or not.

Where, then, does that leave us with regards to Hurricane Matthew? The one thing I will say for certain, based on Romans 8, is that this world as it currently exists is not the way God originally intended it to be. For that reason, I choose to see Jesus not in the hard to prove background as the vengeful and condemning cause of all this, but rather in the lives that were saved because they evacuated in time, or in those saved by search and rescue, and in the help that will arrive once this is all over to get those affected back on their feet. If you want to find Jesus in this whole mess, and see who He is and how He really cares for you, that’s where you need to look.