Families. Belong. Together.

In less than a week I will be leaving the beautifully ancient city of Oxford. I will have more to say in the coming weeks and months–certainly for years–about the emotions of leaving a place which has roughly 1200 years of teaching experience and tradition. But for now, I face a return flight to the U.S. and a full preaching schedule, both of which remind me that I must be even more aware of the issues our country faces. My favourite barista, an immigrant from Greece with a young daughter who loves to dance, asked me recently, “How is your country?” I paused and said, “I’ll get back to you.”

As the stories of government-endorsed child abduction continue to penetrate mainstream media, I have to face this woman and say, “My country is separating families.” This statement, however, doesn’t do justice to the 638 parents who, seeking better lives for their families in the land of the “free” and made the horrifying journey to the U.S., have had their children taken and given to “American” families or held in detention centers. This crime is all too similar to the removal of American Indian children from  their families, and their forced adoption by white families after WWII, and which continues today. The disturbing reality is that our country has a history of “legally” abducting children, and our leaders believe they can use the Bible to justify this abuse.

When a message of self-sacrifice, inclusivity, and love can be used to inflict physical and psychological harm, we must ask ourselves how. How is the “good news” so easily manipulated; and how is this manipulation so easily believed? For instance, one should not be able to quote Romans 13:1 (“Everyone must submit to governing authorities.”)  as Jeff Sessions did, and in so doing, use the Bible to justify government-sponsored abuse. For the sake of argument, Kim Jong Un could use the same verse to justify the subordination of the North Korean people under his regime.

This is only the latest misuse/misunderstanding. What can we do to avoid misusing God’s message of broken chains, healing and love?

1) When we quote scripture we must read it in context. We must seek to understand who the author(s) were writing to, what the values of the society were at that time, and what timeless message we can take away (there are many good commentaries online or in study bibles–though not all will be as inclusive as we’d hope). We also have to look at the verses/chapters before and after a given verse to see how the verse fits within the narrative.

As Stephen Colbert rightly noted on The Late Night Show this past Friday, “If he [Jeff Sessions] had just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10 it says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Loves does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.'” It should be evident that reading this verse changes the meaning Romans 13:1. As my tutor here at Oxford said, “text without context is just pretext.” If governing authorities are loving and just, then we are to submit to them because they are looking after our “good” (Romans 13:4).  We do not blindly consent to be governed, nor should we blindly believe misuses/misunderstandings of the Bible.

2) When we share scripture from the Bible, we must use it as Jesus would have: to bring healing, to proclaim justice, to gather people together in communities of love and care.

So on this Father’s Day, I ask you to read your Bible with context; to share it in love–not to change someone’s mind or justify cruelty; and to speak out when our governments act like moral-less dictatorships. Speak out, step up, and proclaim love!

And just in case you want to share what the Bible actually says about refugees and immigrants, here are a few verses to start with: Lev. 19:9-10, 33-34; Num. 9:14; Detu. 26:12-15; the entire book of Ruth (of which I have a YouTube series on);  Matthew 25:31-46.

“For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home.” Matthew 25:35

 

The Fundamentals

After living outside the U.S. for eight months now, my family and I have become pretty good at weekly/monthly calls or FaceTimeing.  Apparently living thousands of miles away can bring people even closer (or at least help them to forget how lame my humor is).  Nevertheless, we’ve become quite accustomed to calling each other for check-ins. We talk about the latest episode of our favorite TV series, the recent accomplishments of my young nephews, the town news, and if nothing else, there’s always the weather.

A couple of days ago, however, I was surprised when a couple of my family members asked me very intricate theology questions (the kind of questions which one would usually want to deflect by asking, “well what do you think about that?”). But since they’re my family, I can’t get off the hook that easily.

“Why would God threaten to kill Moses in Exodus 4? Does it matter if these miracles really happened? If you don’t have to take everything literally, what are the fundamentals–what does a Christian have to believe?”

Perhaps you’ve wondered these questions yourself, I certainly have. After all, coming across strange events in the Bible isn’t uncommon. What I’ve realized is that all of these questions come down to the way in which we each see God: is God loving, or is God angry; does God forgive or does God punish? When you think of God what is the first adjective which comes to mind?

For me, 1 John 4:16 always comes to mind (and perhaps you’re tired of me repeating it). “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” To live in God, then, means to live in love. But what does this mean practically; how does this answer the previous questions?

Though it may seem like a cheesy cop-out, we must live in love. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” (Rom. 13:10) This means that when we think about business, sex, family, money, career goals, our relationships with others, our sexuality, our gender–when we think about every aspect of our lives and the lives of others, we must approach them all through a hermeneutical lens of love. Are we respecting the other person’s/people’s humanity? Are we seeing them as objects to be used by us/issues to be resolved for us? Or, do we see God in them?

When we approach every area of our lives, and each person/peoples we interact with, we can do a simple self test:

1) Are we affirming of their humanity? 2) Are we respectful of their full humanity and identity? 3) Are we committed to loving and caring for them during this interaction–and afterwards?

Yes, being a Christian means we believe that God created the world (but who knows in how many days/years/millennia); that God lived in communion with us through the person of Jesus; that Jesus died and rose again to show that love can overcome even the power of death; and that Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us as our comforter and sustainer. But this doesn’t mean we will be “condemned/punished” if we fail to adhere to every historical law in the Bible, or that we should reject other ways to encounter God. God is greater than any rule book, time period, or religion. Christianity should be liberating, both for ourselves, and for others. If we feel like we’re drowning in the minutia of religious laws, we’re probably missing the point.

So as my family and I continue to explore God, and as you continue on your journey as well, perhaps this rambling blog post will have posited one useful tidbit in your mind: When we live in love we live in God, and God lives in all of us.

Then What?

The church nerds out there (I say that affectionately) will know that a couple of days ago we celebrated Ascension Day: when Jesus was lifted into the clouds at the conclusion of the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 24:50-53). Fanciful imagery aside, this story always makes me wonder: what next? Jesus was gloriously lifted into heaven, but then what?

I find myself asking this question quite often. As my year abroad at Oxford University comes to an end I wonder, “then what?” What will my summer look like; what will I do; how will this impact my future goals? I’ve realized that the idea of “summer,” as a period of continued rest and delightful laziness by the lake, is a memory which I will probably never relive again. I have to make my summer plans keeping in mind the question: then what? What must I do after the summer ends? Well, I have to finish my last year of my undergraduate degree. Then what? Hopefully I’ll be accepted to a seminary. Then what–then what–then what? I can’t help myself from constantly asking these questions, and the thought of the future is often overwhelming.

I’m reminded of a verse from Ecclesiastes: “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.” (Ecc. 3:1)

There is a time for peace, rest–even laziness–and there is a time for action. There is a time to learn and a time to teach; a time to understand and a time correct; a time to listen and a time to be heard. Our world–our neighbors–suffer. Malnutrition, sexual slavery, economic/social oppression and exploitation, racial biases and hate crimes, gender biases and hate crimes, biases and hate crimes against certain sexual orientations–these acts of injustice all plague our world and harm God’s beloved creation.

Like the early disciples, there was a time to learn from our teachers and to hear all sides. There was a time to sit by the waters as Jesus calmed them, or beside the lake of my childhood without worry. Now, the time has come to speak–to be bold in the face of injustice–to continue the religious revolution which is brewing around the world; to be the transformation God desires.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he said to his disciples, “I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised” (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit dwelt within the early disciples and it dwells within us today. One of the most relevant morals of this story is that we are ALL worthy of the Divine. This story reminds us that humanity is not beyond a cure; that we are not inherently destined for destruction; that with the power of God we can make a difference! God believes in our ability to choose love so much so that God remains present and active among us through the Holy Spirit.

Gustavo Gutierrez, a leading theological figure in Latin America during the 1960s, and still today, wrote in his book, A Theology of Liberation, that sin is the refusal to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Sin, continues Gutierrez, reminds us that, “things do not happen by chance and that behind an unjust structure there is a personal or collective will responsible—a willingness to reject God and neighbor” (Gutierrez, 2001). If we seek to be as “good” as God created us to be, then we must oppose sin–we must oppose structures which do harm to certain peoples, classes, genders, sexual orientations, races, religions, or nations. If we claim the title of “Christian” we must ask ourselves, “then what?” What does a Christian life look like?

The Ascension and Pentecost events promise us that even though Jesus is physically absent, God remains with us and God empowers us to be good; to chose love; to break down barriers and biases; to deconstruct systems of oppression and exploitation–and the Church is not exempt from this critical reflection. God is with us. Now, we must be on the side of justice.

In The Beginning…

Welcome to my first website and my first ever blog! All of this newness reminds me somewhat of Genesis 1, a creation of something out of nothing. Did you know that you can activate a server from anywhere in the world? When we built this website from a small flat in Oxford, England (where I’m currently studying), a disc in a warehouse in New York–with thousands of other discs—was activated just by a click! In an instant, from thousands of miles away, something was created out of nothing.

In Genesis, God did many things, but two of which in particular I find are crucial for us today as “Christians” (and I think this title could use some redefining as well).

1) God looked at all that God had made and affirmed that all of creation was, and is, “very good.” Now this sounds simple, but think about it, YOU and I are indeed very good. No matter the difficulties you may face, the decisions that may have hurt yourself or others, no matter how bad–how valueless–we may feel, God says that we are all very good.

2) God gave humanity “dominion” over the earth–the power and responsibility to care for God’s new, and very good creation. That means you and I have the power to choose: will we recognize that everything–and everyone–are very good; will we love and care for the earth and its creatures and vegetation; will we love our selves, even in our own brokenness; will we love each other–regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion? When we do these, when we love and care for our world and our neighbors, this is how we love God.

So here’s to the beginning, though, it’s more of a continuation–a renewal and redefinition–a transformation of the way we practice Christianity, and the way we interact with the world around us. When we recognize that we ourselves are very good, that all people very good and of sacred worth; and when we use our “dominion” to treat the world and our neighbors with love, we become more like God, we become the transformation of the world.

Thanks for reading, and keep connected as we work together to transform this world through love!