Category Archives: Life as the church

Robert Putnam in his 80’s: The cause of our aloneness is moral

I was impressed to see 83-year-old Robert Putnam in the New York Times Sunday Magazine this week.  I was going back to use some of the article about him for this post last Saturday when something terrible caught my eye instead. It was the news that Thomas Matthew Crooks, 20, of Bethel Park, PA tried to kill former president, Donald Trump. The first information included, “Law enforcement officials recovered an AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle from a deceased white male they believe was the gunman.”

I won’t be surprised if we discover another loner male with a gun causing havoc. Putnam has warned us about how our society is spawning such people since 2000. But our aloneness, especially among men, has only become more pronounced.

Hope springs eternal

Almost 25 years ago, Robert Putnam became something rare: a celebrity academic. His  groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, received a lot of attention and has been widely quoted ever since. In the book he demonstrated that America was transforming from a nation of joiners to a nation of loners. You know for yourself that Americans go to church less, join clubs less and have lost trust in our fellow citizens and our institutions because those things probably describe your aloneness, too. Putnam wanted his prophecy to reverse the trends, but it didn’t. Americans have also heard too much bogus prophecy to trust prophets.

I wrote about being disconnected myself not long ago. I referred to Putnam. But I admit I also expected to be ignored for the most part, just like he has been, for the most part.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in our hearts. A man after Putnam’s own heart wrote that in 1733.

Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. — An Essay on Man: Epistle I by Alexander Pope.(1733)

And hope springs eternal, apparently, in the New York Times Magazine. Upon the screening of a new documentary lionizing Putnam’s work, the magazine got on the bandwagon. Here’s the trailer:

It seems a bit obscene to be hopeful when a twentysomething has just shot up a political rally. But Putnam persists, and so do I. So here are three excerpts from the interview which I hope move you to keep doing what you can to build community.

When it comes to social connection, things look bad

I think we’re in a really important turning point in American history. What I wrote in Bowling Alone is even more relevant now. Because what we’ve seen over the last 25 years is a deepening and intensifying of that trend. We’ve become more socially isolated, and we can see it in every facet in our lives. We can see it in the surgeon general’s talk about loneliness. He’s been talking recently about the psychological state of being lonely. Social isolation leads to lots of bad things. It’s bad for your health, but it’s really bad for the country, because people who are isolated, and especially young men who are isolated, are vulnerable to the appeals of some false community. I can cite chapter and verse on this: Eager recruits to the Nazi Party in the 1930s were lonely young German men, and it’s not an accident that the people who are attracted today to white nationalist groups are lonely young white men. Loneliness. It’s bad for your health, but it’s also bad for the health of the people around you.

Bonding social capital and bridging social capital. 

Ties that link you to people like yourself are called bonding social capital. So, my ties to other elderly, male, white, Jewish professors — that’s my bonding social capital. And bridging social capital is your ties to people unlike yourself. So my ties to people of a different generation or a different gender or a different religion or a different politic or whatever, that’s my bridging social capital. I’m not saying “bridging good, bonding bad,” because if you get sick, the people who bring you chicken soup are likely to reflect your bonding social capital. But I am saying that in a diverse society like ours, we need a lot of bridging social capital. And some forms of bonding social capital are really awful. The K.K.K. is pure social capital — bonding social capital can be very useful, but it can also be extremely dangerous. So far, so good, except that bridging social capital is harder to build than bonding social capital. That’s the challenge, as I see it, of America today.

We’re disconnected because morality is dead.

Putnam’s most recent hopeful book is called The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again (2020). He and Shaylyn Romney Garrett looked at long-run trends in connectedness and trends in loneliness over the last 125 years. Here is how he sums it up:

That trend in political depolarization follows the same pattern exactly that the trends in social connectedness follow: low in the beginning of the 20th century, high in the ’60s and then plunging to where we are now. So now we have a very politically polarized country, just as we did 125 years ago.

The next dimension is inequality. America was very unequal in what was called the Gilded Age, in the 1890s and 1900s, but then that turned around, and the level of equality in America went up until the middle ’60s. In the middle ’60s, America was more equal economically than socialist Sweden! And then beginning in 1965, that turns around and we plunge and now we’re back down to where we were. We’re in a second Gilded Age.

And the third variable that we look at is harder to discuss and measure, but it’s sort of culture. To what extent do we think that we’re all in this together, or it’s every man for himself, or every man or woman? And that has exactly the same trend. What caused that? I am trying to get to the issues of causation because it turns out to be morality, according to my reading of this evidence. What stands upstream of all these other trends is morality, a sense that we’re all in this together and that we have obligations to other people. Now, suddenly, I’m no longer the social scientist, I’m a preacher. I’m trying to say, we’re not going to fix polarization, inequality, social isolation until, first of all, we start feeling we have an obligation to care for other people. And that’s not easy, so don’t ask me how to do that.

I follow Jesus, so I feel an obligation to care for other people. I won’t list the Bible verses that inspire my morality, they are too numerous.

I have also experienced the disintegration of a church due to the political polarization zeitgeist combined with frustration over inequality. It tested my morality.

But hope springs eternal. (I’ve written about that too!). In the face of aloneness I joined a new church, I was elected to my very diverse HOA Board (keep praying for me), I created a new small group to be part of, and I have a schedule of dinner parties in mind. If enough of us throw our little efforts into the basket of loaves and fishes, Jesus may change our world, too.

Disentangling from perfectionism — 2013

Our teaching for Lent in 2013 had to do with “getting disentangled from the world.” Here is one of the first speeches I offered on that theme.

The movie Enchanted (from 2007) had Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy as an unlikely prince charming from New York to Amy Adams playing a princess from fairy tale land. (This is the same Ms. Adams who was nominated this year for an Oscar for the wretched film The Master. “Wretched” is not peer-reviewed.). In France they named the movie “Once Upon a Time” and made the better-looking Adams the main face.

The movie Enchanted, (or Il Etait Une Fois) is a sweet-ish fable that deconstructs the old sweetness of being a princess in your imagination and gets you to face the new overwhelming reality of postmodern, urban life and messy, noncommittal relationships. It asks the question, “Can I get some enchantment into the megalopolis?” And, as in many Disney movies, the answer is “Yes, there is a Prince Charming or Princess Giselle for you — probably not the one you are looking for, but you will miraculously find them and everything will be perfect, just as it should be in your own private fairy tale.”

This piece of fluff  is a surprisingly philosophical movi for being a little fairy tale. I think you will see that fact as you watch one of my favorite scenes from it. Amy Adams, Princess Giselle, has just arrived in gritty New York from happily-ever-after land. She wants to make her environment tidy, like at home, where everything is as it should be, so she calls on animal friends to help her like she used to do back in her native land. You’ll see the homage to Snow White. It’s a fun way to get started on our subject.

The song is being ironic instead of seriously asking the question, which is how we keep from addressing the real questions that bother us. But it presents the dilemma we feel about our very messy environments and our need for special powers to make it all perfect. Amy teaches us that:

You could do a lot when you’ve got such a happy working tune to hum
While you’re sponging up the soapy scum.
We adore each filthy chore that we determine.
So friends, even though you’re vermin, we’re a happy working throng.

Our dilemma: we are supposed to make things neat, tidy, working things out together, ultimately loving and never getting your white gown dirty, happy and talented, filmable, effortless, quick, efficient and you win best song for your ditty.

But, it is a big mess, and often feels like it is getting bigger, the only friends we have to help us are pigeons and rats, we have a lot of filthy chores and we are in charge of them, and we don’t get paid enough to do them, and the big one: we are vermin — not happy and can’t sing.

The world’s answer to our dilemma

I think the world’s answer, including Disney’s most of the time, which is the #14 corporation on Forbes 500, is to “make it work” as they say on Project Runway. You can do it; it’s up to you, it’s a DIY world and you have the tools. Dream like an American, just get educated, assert your rights, make all the right choices — consumer choices and otherwise, especially in a mate, and it can all be made well.

The moral to Enchanted, if I recall, is that if you just stick with it, you can make it all work in reality and not just in the movies. If you just believe in the real you instead of the make-believe you, love will find a way and it will be beautiful.

I suppose there are worse things that could be said, but I think the whole premise ends up making us very tangled up, not only tangled up in our responsibility to make everything tidied up, but tangled up in the need to do it with the right attitude, and right psychology, not tripped up with any of the mess from the past, and being pretty much prescient about how we might be messing up the future, AND with the just right person, or church, for that matter.

The alternative way of Jesus

Jesus has a better way. In a huge contrast, in the face of his impending disaster, not just a dirty apartment, when Jesus knows the true frailty of his disciples is going to be fully revealed and evil is going show itself without disguise, when all the facades of the self-sufficient world are going to be shown up for their true self-destructive purpose, he says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

In Disney’s hands, the way is: “Let’s be honest, you are vermin, but you’ve got to make this work or there is no hope.”

In Jesus’ hands, the way is: “There is hope because I have overcome the world. Take heart, because it is not all up to you. Perfection is not the goal, anyway. The goal is a heart at peace in the kingdom of God.”

This might seem like it is an obvious thing a Christian might say. But I am not sure we even hear Jesus talking to us in the middle of our normal pursuits. We even get hung up on whether we are performing Christianity perfectly enough! Christians argue all the time about how badly the other Christians are doing. We do that, even though Paul clearly wants us to imitate him when he says,

“Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? — 1 Corinthians 4:7-8

There were some overachievers in the Corinthian church who not only thought they could make it work, they thought they were making it work — and better than Paul! Paul says, “Who in the world do you think you are, all puffed up and competing for the highest rank, thinking you need to be number one and, in fact, are number one? You think you are kings in the kingdom of God, while we apostles are still having trouble in the world and rely on Jesus every minute to give us joy in our very difficult circumstances. I’m talking about Jesus who gives us whatever life we have.”

Why don’t you talk back to the Disney faction in Corinth with Paul by reading the rest of this scripture as if you were saying it to someone yourself:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! — 1 Corinthians 4:8-10

You would think we would all be on Paul’s side, but even the first believers were already taking things into their own hands and doing Paul better than Paul and telling him so! — becoming perfect, thinking that was what Jesus had in mind all along, and getting there without Jesus!

Perfectionism has always been tempting

This perfectionism is very tempting for us, which is why we are bringing it up during Lent.

Last week I experienced us in the middle of the dilemma in two ways. And I’ll close by talking about them. I feel bad, if all I am getting you to do so far is wondering if you understand what Paul is talking about well enough, or whether you trust Jesus well enough, or whether you are good enough to be in the church, or whether you can take on one more big idea because you already have so much on your plate to handle, or whether you can be responsible for following Jesus and get spread so thin, you are already so responsible. But if I am getting you to wonder these things, you are not alone. In the world we have trouble. But Jesus has overcome it and brings us peace. I’m shooting for helping you receive that.

Fall 2012
  • Internal perfection police

We were at the prospective cell leader training last Monday and great people were learning all about the ambitious mission we have been given as part of God’s redemption project. At the end of the evening people were invited to express some of the fears they had as they imagined themselves eventually being cell leaders. I think some of their answers reflected the perfectionism we are all saddled with: the need to do it right, to be unjudgable, to not mess up.  I don’t think anyone was unaware that this wasn’t where they wanted to be, they were just being honest.

Someone said, “If I become a cell leader, I want to do it 100%.”
Whatever that means. I think it usually means “the extra effort I am not able to give.” It does not always mean, “Doing the best I can” or “Acting with passion and abandon.” It often means matching up to the best effort I can imagine myself doing with the best outcome.

I am afraid I will alienate someone if I say “Christian.”
And you will. We started out our day at Childs Elementary yesterday with worship and two ladies from the neighborhood walked out and waited until we were done. I felt like I had offended them. As it turns out, I hadn’t, they were just kind of dismissive and sort of rude and self-consumed. But I felt I was supposed to be better than that, better than Jesus, and not be alienating. That perfectionism might lead us to only mention being a Christian in the most controlled of circumstances, when I could be sure I was doing the right thing. Whenever that is.

I am afraid I won’t have the right words.
Cell leaders are know-it-alls, after all.

I am afraid of looking flaky or uncommitted.
I am anxious about making it happen, because I have to make things happen right.

I am afraid to represent Jesus or the church.
I am not wise enough. I don’t match up to what’s in the book. I am not good enough. So I have to wait until I am perfect before I put myself out there and am judged by the perfection police.

And just who are these perfection police? Paul doesn’t even judge himself. And Jesus who will judge the living and dead at the end of time, says  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

  • Perfectionism is beaming at us

I just talked about an internal process that keeps us tangled up in trying to be perfect, but there are a huge external forces, too! One of our pastors sent out a very interesting article that adds sociological reasoning for why we are so perfectionistic. The powers-that-be totally convince us to disbelieve the trouble we are in for their vision of a perfectible future.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

As far as the Forbes 500 know, everything is getting better. The iPhone 6 will dispense with the annoying home button and feature a 4.8-inch screen and quad-core processor. Google is developing Google Glass, which will allow users to text, take pictures and videos, perform Google searches, by talking in a normal voice to a smart lens. The Dow Jones average just reached an all-time high last week, corporate profits are enjoying “a golden age.” Day by day, problem by problem, American life is being fine-tuned to the point where experts now confidently predict a state of near-complete perfection. We are a happy working throng.

But in other news, America’s economic and social decline continues. The percentage of corporate profits going to employees is at its lowest level since 1966. Unemployment remains stuck around eight per cent, and the long-term jobless make up almost forty per cent of the total.  The concentration of wealth at the top grows ever more pronounced all over the world. From 2009 to 2011—the years of the financial crisis and the recovery—the income of the top one per cent rose 11.2 per cent. The income of the bottom ninety-nine per cent actually shrank 0.4 per cent. Eighty per cent of Americans believe their children will be worse off than they are. We are vermin.

The author of the article said this: When things don’t work in the realm of stuff, people turn to the realm of bits. If the physical world becomes presents a dilemma, we can take refuge in the virtual world, where we can solve problems like – how do I make a video of my skydiving adventure while keeping my hands free? Problems most people in the world don’t even know exist! Futurist Ayesha Khanna, from her think tank in London, which funds research into human-technology co-evolution and its implications, described smart contact lenses that could make homeless people disappear from view, “enhancing our basic sense” and, undoubtedly, making our lives so much more enjoyable. In a way, this does solve the problem of homelessness—unless, of course, you happen to be a homeless person.

We need to stay disentangled from all the forces that would lead us to believe human ingenuity will lead to perfection and evolution is inevitably making progress. Human ingenuity — great. Evolution — whatever. The reality of what is going on in our troubling world was striking us in the face at Childs Elementary yesterday. We made ourselves look again at how the powers keep asking people (like teachers) to make bricks without straw. We can’t make things work well enough. Even though we are smart and caring, we are not changing things fast enough to get where we think we ought to go and it makes us angry, depressed, frustrated and self-hating. Part of our anguish is caused by what is bearing down on us from the weird world that technology is creating. But most of our guilt is just that same old sin that leads us to believe that all we have us what we are and we are who we are without God giving us life.

“Take heart,” Jesus says “I have overcome the world.” When you become silent or you move into your worship connection in a few minutes, when you pray as you pray next week, take heart. Let’s receive the gift that Jesus is giving by overcoming the world and reopening the door to true, everlasting life.

God loves the world and we love it with him. But we can’t receive peace from the dying world or our false selves. We take heart, Jesus has overcome and we will too.

When we feel like we have to get it all right, we let that perfectionism lie pass right by and receive our goodness and strength from the Giver of Life.

When we think we have to do it by ourselves in the face of all the huge forces or even judge our community by how good we are, we need to recognize the seeds of a graceless future and let that impulse, that temptation, pass by and be restored and be restoring in relationship to the Lord of all. Jesus is disentangling us from the temptation to be perfect. He’s good right now, right where you’re at.

Reflection is facing up to your new face

My wife does not turn her phone off at night because we have been listening for children calling in the dark for over forty years, so why stop now? Some unknown person called at 3:30 the other night and then called again a short time later. I hear they called again after I had left in a daze.

I started my day in the dark because I could not get back to sleep and got all sorts of things accomplished. I have many new duties these days. Then I saw clients and oversaw the installation of our long-overdue window in the façade of our counseling offices. After I came home and tried to fix the TV, which had lost its sound, I was, again, a bit dazed. I asked, “Was it just last night those phone calls came?”

As I sat down to reflect and pray the next morning, one of my favorite verses came to mind. I had just said to God, “I am not sure who I am right now.” It turns out, that was a good move, since turning to look into the face of “the perfect law, the law of liberty” immediately reassured me that I was still in the presence of the One who loves me. And then I remembered James.

Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. — James 1:22-4

Reflection

I’m in a season when I often wake up and say, as I am reflecting, “I need more reflection.” I will eventually take some extended time or take a retreat, which I need to do. But I also need to remember that the day-to-day discipline of taking as much time as possible to deliberately turn toward God has transformed my life.

I think it was the same for James, too. And he is not shy about taking a dig at us in his book of wisdom for lagging in transformation. He basically says, “If you don’t do something deliberate about the new reality you have entered, you’ll still be like a person who doesn’t seem to know what they look like. You’ll still be checking yourself out in every mirror you pass, or in store windows and phone screens. You will never quite know what you’re doing because you’re still looking at your old self in the mirror instead of the transformed self Jesus has made you.”

Why do we love to look in the mirror? — well, at least most of us love it, or at least can’t help doing it. We have a magnifying mirror in our bathroom for advanced plucking, but I also use it to eliminate those stray hairs old men grow. I admit a bit of fascination about how different I look over time. The reflection of my face tells my history, collects my criticism, and always reminds me I reached my peak beauty decades ago. It is easy to forget, day by day, just who we are for all we have been and all we are not. We’re fascinated by our own story, and there it is looking at us.

James is trying to change our usual mirror experience. He comes right out and says it, “That old law you lived by was a pack of lies.” We deceived ourselves so much, we got trapped in checking ourselves out all the time to see if we were performing well, to see if things were all under control. The old law ended up being about regretting who we were and fearing who we need to become. Very few of us looked in the mirror and said, “Yes. You’re crushing it.”

The new law, which is really the oldest law from which the world was created, the law of love, is not like the endless self-criticism and defensiveness that saddled us to fear. It is a law of liberty, a lens through which we see ourselves as God gives us to become.

Facing up to your new face

The other day I said something impolitic in a private meeting and I offended someone. They wrote a letter to me and my board members, publicly shaming me and demanding an apology. I apologized, since I should watch what I say (James has something to say about our tongues right after today’s quote!). Someone called me and wondered if my apology had just given an adversary something to weaponize! Trump has taught us all to deceive and deceive ourselves, to be perpetually defensive. But I wondered if my friend was not right. We’ll see.

With my apology, I was trying to “face up to my new face.” I am in new situations these days. I often wonder “Who am I?” I keep learning who I am by turning away from the mirror of merely me and looking into the mirror where God is looking back at me. How does one do that?

1) Looking is also doing.

Most people see James’ teaching as, “You need to take care of some widows, not just sit there like a saved lump!” I think that’s a fair interpretation.

But James did not get to his teaching about doing the word just by visiting widows. I think he first looked deeply into the new law as part of his rhythm. Being a doer of the word means looking into the law of liberty. That is a basic “doing” that creates a “doer.”

2) Resisting deception is also doing.

I’ve heard many (and may have preached a few) sermons about people who merely listen to sermons (podcasts, videos, lectures, etc.) and think that is the essence of being a Christian. It is not, even if most Protestant churches have a big fat pulpit in the center of the meeting. Merely-hearers are taking in info to advance their project — they are “getting it right.” They are getting justified, over and over, which feels good as long as they are in the echo chamber. And they are creating an image that looks justified;  they are a principle they can articulately justify (or just loudly defend). They are proving themselves, so when they check the mirror to see if they are still there, they will feel OK and maybe even feel like they deserve to represent Jesus.

James wants us to prove ourselves by doing what our true selves should do, not just get more material to shore up our weak sense of self. We’ve got enough material! But before James got to that conclusion, I think he had to go through the hard process of not deceiving himself. He, like all of us, had a story he lived by before he heard the story of Jesus. It is hard to say it, but we were deceiving ourselves, living a lie, and were desperate to get that lie justified. Facing up to our new face means looking at ourselves in new ways. When you look in the mirror and see “the Beloved of God” and not just “a wrinkly old man” or “a fat woman” or “the one who must not be seen,” or “a lot of work left to do,” we’re getting somewhere.

3) Receiving is also doing  

In this era we tend to manualize everything. A co-worker is mastering A.I. at a ripe old age. They ask A.I. everything and it is amazing what gets produced. It is easy for us (or A.I., I guess) to take James and spit out best practices — reduce him to “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Since the world is warming at an alarming rate, that might be great advice. But he’s deeper than that.

James did not get to his advice about doing the word because he had a good idea or a revelation. He probably would not go to A.I. to find out who he is. He appears to have some personal experience. When he says, “If you persevere and keep acting for good with the freedom you have received from your past ways, you will be blessed,” I think he knew about being blessed that way. I don’t think he was channeling a theory.

If you cannot receive God’s blessing of new life and love in Jesus, you probably won’t keep acting. Receiving new life is the first thing we do. If you only feel “blessed” because you succeed as a Christian in the ways you thought of success in your old narrative, you’ll probably give up the whole Christian enterprise. Maybe you should, since you’re following yourself instead of Jesus.

The reality of being blessed is also an experience of being blessed. I turn to God because I am alive, not just trying to be alive. I am blessed because I live under God’s watchful eye, listening for me like a mother in the night, not just because, “I did the right thing and I ought to get something for it.” I reflect because I am a reflection, not just because I need to improve myself and figure out how to survive this day.

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Yesterday was Columba Day! He is one of my favorites of the apostles of the earliest Celtic church. He is larger-than-life, flawed, artistic, ambitious and leaves a legacy many still admire. Click his name and get to know him at The Transhistorical Body.

Wrangling about law when “nothing is written”

One of my favorite scenes in the masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, shows what happens after Lawrence returns from his journey across the Nefud desert. He has just accomplished the impossible by taking the Ottoman port of Aqaba from the desert side.  Having returned across the deadly, scorching expanse, he is told one of his companions, Gasim, fell off his camel and was left behind. He is advised any attempt to save him is futile — Gasim’s death is “written.”

Lawrence goes into the desert to find Gasim.  I give you the long version of the scene of his return just to celebrate the cinematography and score. It is worth your four minutes just to watch David Lean humanize the abstraction of sand and sky.

Later on that night, after Lawrence has rehydrated and awakened in time for dinner, Sherrif Ali, in all humility, says, “Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it.”

I think it is safe to say Lawrence was teaching Ali to think, “Everyone decides their own fate. No one’s destiny is predetermined.” And “I’ll be damned if I let that man die.” I hesitate to disagree with Hollywood, but Lawrence is wrong even if he is brave. I don’t think it is “me, or us, against the world.” If nothing is “written” it is not because men rule  the world, but because  the world is alive with the Spirit of its Creator and is growing in grace (or in spite of it). We should be beyond arguing about what is merely written by now. But we wrangle.

Daily Mail captures Johnson at the courthouse

The fight for what is written

Last week the spectacle of Trump in court continued, with Mike Johnson, himself, attending in order to subvert the gag order (possibly in the name of Jesus), with Matt Gaetz tweeting in the ex-president’s honor, “Standing back and standing by, Mr. President.” For those guys “nothing is written until they write it,” for sure, as far as I can see.

For the prosecutors who dare to bring Trump to trial, “It is written, in the law. And no one is above it.” The law is god in a pluralisitc democracy and the prosecutors want it known the assaulters are crashing up against the stone of the legal code.

We’re having a national crisis about the law. But all those Christians involved in this battle should remember that law is just a tutor (disciplinarian, guardian, etc.) to teach us how to exercise our freedom to live in grace. Isn’t that the clear New Testament teaching? Subvert the law or apply it, it can’t kill you or save you, at least not forever.

The temptation to fight for or against what is written is everywhere, it seems.

  • Right now, many people are so afraid, they are reverting to certainty and order. Jesus Collective devolved into a teaching platform instead the catalyst for a movement. They may have fallen off their camel in the desert.
  • My former denomination has vainly tried to quash a book people have written about their experiences of being LGBTQ in their branch of the Church, cast out, and abused by what someone said was “written.” This contrary book was written by people who refused to leave someone in the desert, refused to be confined to principles imposed in the 1600’s.
  • My HOA leaders keep trying to shore up what went wrong with the past management of our old building instead of starting here and now and working together for the future. Like I said last time, someone threatened a lawsuit because of some words thrown their way! There are many lawyers scheming away.
  • My church splendidly presents ancient humans with lovely words each week and performs classic chants with great voices and instruments. They are heirs of someone else’s invention instead of inventing like the heirs we are. I think we may love being ruled by the liturgical rules.

You have your own examples, I’m sure. I think I am effectively tired, again, of everyone who teaches, “It is written.” I’m a Jesus follower, so I am mainly talking about church leaders, pulpiteers and dueling factions splitting up the Methodist Church, etc., who are wrangling over words, litigating righteousness constantly, sometimes like Trump, sometimes like the  prosecutors, but rarely in grace.

Don’t we resist bad teachers intuitively?

That is a wishful question, of course, since we follow tracks that are bad for us all the time. We believe the voices in our head defending us against what we thought might kill us as a child! We all have our own laws we follow. But don’t most of us also have an operable b.s. detector?

If we connect with Jesus at all, the Holy Spirit will be helping us detect what might really kill us.  The main way God does that is to bear witness in our own hearts, souls, minds and strengths that we are God’s adopted children in Jesus.

We tend to settle for much less than that wondrous place in the world. Nevertheless, I think we all know about it at some level. I think I felt the following truth before I read it in the Bible when I was seventeen for the first time, as a relatively aware adult:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption [into the full legal standing as an heir]. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. — Romans 8:14-17 (NRSVUE)

I’ABBA, FATHER! – The Place of Praiseve always resisted the heresy of power-hungry men saying they love the Bible and then undermining the fundamental truth Paul taught. Nothing in the New Testament was written about how we should live  which was not first written by the Spirit witnessing to us, just like God taught Paul. Our organic relationship with our loving-parent-of-a-God is the central example Jesus wants to demonstrate. We’re not an application of principle, nothing is merely “written;” the Spirit is writing. We’re not unforgiveable, merely the sum of what we can make of ourselves, we’re all imminent miracles.

I have to admit, I’ve got that power-hunger in me, too. I also often feel I, alone, must solve the problems I face. We were talking in a meeting of psychotherapists not long ago about clients who struggle so hard with their view of themselves, views that have a repeating narrative, something “written,” making ruts in their brains.   They come up against certain situations and a voice comes from nowhere, it seems. It could insist, “We never cause conflict. It is deadly.” Or worse, “You are unlovable. Don’t bother.” You probably have stories that repeat in you, too.

Yet In the surprisingly psychologically-sound Romans 8 (only surprising to people who think humanity has progressed until they and their pleasant splendor is possible), we are reminded, or promised, what every one who shares Christ’s death and resurrection knows. Nothing is “written,” at least not in stone. Everything is a new creation in Jesus. We’re changing and growing in grace. The Spirit of God is creating us right now and we’re creating right alongside.

Save us from the serious authoritarian, Lord!

Gov. Whitmer of Michigan went to Kalamazoo County last week to survey damage from the tornadoes that destroyed seventeen mobile homes and damaged 173 more. The state had just passed a law to require mobile homes to be anchored in a sturdier way, since storms have become more severe. “It’s undeniable,” the governor said. “We’re seeing intense impacts from climate change….We’ve got to continue to evolve…(We need to) think about how do we protect one another and combat these impacts.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Wisconsin, their senator, Ron Johnson, recently entered the World Climate Declaration into a Senate committee record. That statement says there is no climate emergency and aspects of climate change are actually beneficial. You can read the rebuttal here from a couple of years ago. Some people trace the disinformation in the declaration to oil companies (like the Koch conglomerate), which would not be surprising.

I don’t want to get into that argument, even though a lot of us are amused by endless wrangling. I just bring it up to ponder what is really happening these days. I’m still wondering if I am up to the demands of 2024. For instance, my church is about ready to enter their annual summer slowdown. It’s a thing. I have my own summer festivities lined up, too. My clients often take much of the summer off from their psychotherapy! Yet I keep getting info, like it or not, that something important is brewing. You can see it underneath Gretchen Whitmer fighting someone for the authority to name the impact of unusual tornados. Maybe we are too sleepy.

Are people really trying to take over the country sans election?

One of my friends sent me a podcast from the Meidas Touch Network, which three brothers started during the pandemic and now has billions of views on YouTube. It was an interview with Steven Hassan, a psychotherapist who has dedicated his career to undermining the many ways people are lured into cults. He, himself, was a member of the Unification Church (the Moonies) for 27 months. He was proselytized when he was getting a poetry degree in college. I would not recommend the podcast to you, just because I don’t trust garage-born internet sensations (although Mr. Beast keeps trying to win my favor). But it did bring up some things I had to look into.

As a result of looking, I would recommend we all have an educated opinion about what is happening in the country! I do not believe democracy will save the world, even if it has done a great job since World War 2. And capitalism is really kind of degenerative. But I do think the authoritarian types who are taking over governments, school boards and condo associations (and maybe your Mother’s Day celebration) are even less likely to save the world, even though they are saying they are going to do just that.

For instance, Trump did say he was going to save America when the eclipse came around:

I don’t think Trump really believes much of anything except Trump. But there are many people who seriously believe in some version of an ascendant, anti-democratic philosophy, which they think Trump can help put into action. They are better organized and funded all the time. You can see their influence in almost every discussion we have these days at almost every level of society.

For example, I just want highlight two authoritarian movements which are publicly and vocally calling people to join their intention to conquer the world for Jesus. Seriously.

Moonies

Steven Hassan was on the podcast because he had firsthand experience of how someone can be lured into an authoritarian organization and become a foot soldier for the cause. He followed Sung Myung Moon, who presented himself as the second coming of Jesus; that’s the unifying “truth” of the Unification Church.

Sean Moon with his “rod of iron”  and bullet crown in Rolling Stone (Click pic for article)

I talked about “Moonies” the other night at a dinner party with twentysomethings and one of them leaned over to an older person to ask, ”What is a Moony?” I honestly had not thought of them much, either, until a few years ago when I found out they had a church/compound not far from my former house in the Poconos. After Father Moon died, his wife and sons had a fallout (sounds a bit like Sunni and Shia and every other power struggle after the founder is gone).

The sons claimed leadership and moved headquarters to Pennsylvania. Sean Moon and his wife founded the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary near Newfoundland. The Pocono Herald heard about it and voiced the neighbors’ concerns. The church recently bought properties in central Texas and eastern Tennessee for retreat, self-sufficient agriculture and firearm training.

Key scriptures for them include Psalm 2:8-9

Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession, You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.

They think this is their mandate to bring the world under their rule. It is all on their website. Part of their statement of belief includes a “constitution” for the unification of humankind under God’s law. Here is the prologue:

Constitution

In the beginning of human history in the Garden of Eden, God’s original world of freedom, liberty, conscience, and relationship with God was to be established. It was to be a world where the powerful archangels were to be the servants of the children of God. However, due to the Fall, Eve committed adultery with the Archangel and tempted Adam into sinning against God. Thus, the world of Satan’s domination over mankind was established. History has shown centralized powers, either governmental, religious or financial, use artificial structures and power to rule over mankind, sometimes taking freedoms gradually and sometimes eliminating them by brute force. God’s Kingdom on Earth must be established where the artificial structures of power, representing Satan, shall never again rule over mankind and humanity.

The Constitution of the United States of Cheon Il Guk is not an ecclesiastical Constitution of a church or religious body, but is a Constitution for an actual, sovereign nation which will be the literal culmination of God’s Providence. Read it at http://www.sanctuary-pa.org/constitution.

These are not the only people working at this. But they are the ones in your back yard, Philadelphia.

Dominionists

The Speaker of the House is often called a “Christian nationalist” (here by another member of Congress). No one wants to be called that, since it would not help the cause. But the title has fit a number of politicians for decades. Ted Cruz is at the top of the list. Cruz’ father was a leader in the “Dominionist” movement that got going in the 1960’s and 70’s with R.J. Rushdoony. Here is a Christian Century article that tells you all about it. If you want to hear about the more radical, Pentecostal version, Salon wrote about it extensively in February.

There are many people who are “apostles” of this new movement, which is determined to take the reins of U.S. (and world) government for Jesus. Paula White was praying for Trump to succeed on January 6. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, is often seen as working towards Texas implementing a new order along the line of Dominionist principles.

Hurches in Israel funding a mobile ICU. Being grafted on to Israel lays the foundation for Christ’s return, he teaches.

Larry Hurch and New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas (between Dallas and Forth Worth, of course) is a well-known pastor who is also leading the charge. In the church’s statement of beliefs they teach:

We believe through the redemptive work of our Lord, our enemy, satan, is a defeated foe. That by the power of the 7 places Jesus shed His blood every sin can be forgiven, every generational curse can be broken and every covenant blessing can be restored.

The “power of the 7” refers to Seven Mountains Dominionism, also known as the Seven Mountains Mandate or 7MM. It has become a more prevalent manifestation of “Kingdom Now” theology since the early 2010’s. The mandate proposes there are seven “mountains” that Christians must control to establish a global Christian theocracy and prepare the world for Jesus’ return: government, education, media, arts and entertainment, religion, family, and business. The mandate is based, among other things, on two Bible passages:

In the last days / the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established / as the highest of the mountains; / it will be exalted above the hills, / and all nations will stream to it. see Isaiah 2:2-3

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come. This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits.  — see Revelation 17:1–18

There may be a dominionist constitution out there. I have not seen it yet. But there is no doubt the growing movement wants to “establish God’s kingdom” now. And they don’t mean “in your heart.” A think tank called The American Vision is one of the organizations which would be delighted to provide you with a “restorationist” worldview. Their website can tell you a lot, also this article from the Texas Observer about them.

What does one do?

In the podcast, Steven Hassan repeated the common image, “Cancer cells are selfish. They will kill their host.” The authoritarian movements seem cancerous to me. The host is the wildly successful United States and its very fruitful church. The reformation of Christian theology into a lust for power has always been cancerous, if common. It is a wonder the church survives at all. It may not survive here in the near future if we take the year off.

It is hard to say how many of these movements are springing up. There is a zeitgeist you can probably feel when you are in a meeting and you are not saying anything because you don’t want to confront some potentially violent bully. I think we need to have an opinion about this zietgeist. We need to say something.

I think I had better be more serious about standing up to bullies and out-organizing them when it comes to building community. Just this week a member of our condo association board was called a “predator” by a woman who was threatened by him when they were arguing about an association matter. He threatened to bring a lawsuit if she did not offer a public retraction on the bulletin boards of our complex, doubling down on the bullying. Sound familiar? It is a trickle-down leadership style. I’m not sure of all I can do about it, but I will definitely dare to ask God what might be my next steps.

In all of this, I think we can be at rest without flaking out (do we still say that?). Hope is a state of being, not just an outcome. Peace is trusting in God, not just in what comes after we’ve solved all the problems. Love is the ground of reality, the engine of each day, not just a reward for being good or performing well. We’re not meant to live off the crumbs falling from the owner’s plate or by whatever we can seize for ourselves, we’re already a cookie.

How do we build the new community we need?

During our daytrip last week, I ran into a member from my former, now-dismantled, church. The church was fairly large, so it’s not unusual to connect with someone. But it has become all-too-usual to feel some real loss when I do.

A leaf falling apart

We had a lovely community, not long ago. I needed it then and I need it now. But community is hard to build if you’ve lost it. And it is even harder to rebuild once someone wrecks it. A lot us us have a lot of building to do.

I still don’t understand what life is like post-pandemic, but I know it changed. We’re more distant. And I really do not understand what is happening with U.S. politics, no matter how much I read and think about it. We’re strangely at one another’s throats. We need to get it together, as in face-to-face.

The lack of community can be jarring.

For instance, I decided to post part of Heather Cox Richardson’s column on Facebook last week. The portion I posted was mainly quotes by Donald Trump taken from an interview I found enlightening and disturbing.

My childhood neighbor and elementary school classmate commented:

Man what are you smokin’? If you believe all that clap-trap you need help.

I told my wife about this and she said, “He wrote that to his friend?” I tried to make an excuse for him, but it did not really work.

I replied to him — which I rarely do. I usually just take down self-incriminating things I think people will regret later (or I think they should regret). I said:

The “claptrap” in the excerpt were mainly quotes from Trump. I’ll leave your reply up, since we’re childhood friends (just looked at your class photo from [our elementary school]), but you did not really respond to what I posted.

I did not want to sound too defensive. But I was offended. I had not posted any commentary, just quotes, since I don’t always hear what Trump says and I thought others should just hear what he said. I’ve cast a lot of shade on Trump since 2015, but I wasn’t doing it this time. My friend replied:

Take it down, that’s what liberals always do but I guarantee you the country would be better off with Trump at the helm because the US will die a horrible death if Biden’s re-elected.

You might have examples of this kind of anti-community in your life, too.

How did we get so fragmented?

Researchers have a lot to say about our fragmentation. I’ve said a bit, too. But apart from why it is happening, we have to endure how it is happening.

  • Churches feel distant. Many of them died or were hobbled during the pandemic.
  • A lot of families are split up, even when they are together. 1.2 million people have died, so far, and are still dying from Covid. That means millions of people are still mourning. Six million children have or had long Covid; all the rest are also recovering from shock and from the loss of schooling. Mental health deteriorated so much in the past five years, it finally became a public topic. There are many reasons dissociation is a “thing.”
  • All things public have been suspected of being dangerous or false for 4 years. Many people still won’t go inside a restaurant, get vaccines, or believe a government official.
  • People think virtual groups and ideological corrals are community. They may provide like-minded connections, but they don’t build a society where free interchange and growth happens.

I can see why people who have been pastors, like me, die in the saddle. They want to be deeply embedded in a community. I decided to get out of the saddle, but I sure miss living and serving among people with whom I have built connections.

A person called me last week to see if we could get together and talk about what happened to the church and to me on the way out. They said, “I heard you got thrown out.” That is not completely true, the leadership just changed the agreement that allowed for me to stay a member of the body, but not lead. Instead, they sent me their policy saying I needed to be gone for a year and then they could discuss my return. I was already not employed by them, but I did not cause them a problem by maintaining my ties. They were well on the way to church suicide, anyway. The phone call last week, years later, was another reminder of what has been lost.

We need to build new community

My present little church I’m joining is still talking about getting back to what they were before the pandemic. I don’t think that is going to happen, but I can see why they long for it. I’m still lamenting the community I have lost, too.

But my experiences this week have encouraged me to change. I have four convictions I think the Spirit has inspired for me to follow.

1) Accept the community you have.  When I was praying this morning, I again decided not to be arelational. I may not have the community I lost. But I have the one I have and I should live in it.

2) Build something on the foundation presently given, not on the past. I spent years living in something I loved. You probably felt deeply about the last twenty years, too, one way or another. Regardless, the patterns you made are familiar to you and you would hate to change them. I can relate. It is hard to think of changing and building at my age, but what else do humans do? And if you follow Jesus, there is no time you have followed enough. He’s moving.

3) Don’t give up on the unity of the Spirit. The history of the church is consistent. In all the bad times, good people get together and create new and sometimes radical responses to their lack of community (one of my favorite examples). I know most of the encampments now on college campuses are not built in the name of Jesus. But those people are having experiences of community they will never forget – I’ve danced a bit on the quad myself! New community can spring up.

4) Have an inner life that leads to an outer love. If you are more alone than ever, you are probably closer to God than ever, even if you don’t feel it. If we turn into our aloneness and let it do the work of revelation and integration, it will lead us to self-giving love. And that love is the heartbeat of community.

Is it OK for me to fly to Tahiti?: More climate questions

I love going to faraway places. I have airplane trips lined up for April and May already. But I got to wondering about all that travel when we seriously considered finally flying to Tahiti. Is it OK to fly to Tahiti? I know the law of supply-and-demand says, “It’s not only OK, please do!” But what about people who care about their carbon footprint on a warming planet? Even more, what about Christians who care about creation and the beloved creatures struggling for life on it? Will I protect them and my soul better if I stay out of planes?

I thought you might like to think about our moral dilemma with me, so I got together with God and some people on the internet and pondered the arguments people are having. I suppose you are not surprised that quite a few people are not in complete denial about what humans are doing to the atmosphere.

No. Don’t fly….But

In an ethical discussion there are usually people on one side who know all the facts and the rules derived from them. Many of them will be appalled someone is wantonly ignoring them. For instance, I feel for those poor souls who are still wearing masks (and wish everyone else would) because Covid is still being passed around! “Why are you infecting people?” they think. Maybe they would also be people who think it is obvious no one should be flying to Tahiti if the planet is warming. Airplanes are notorious for burning tons of fossil fuels that increase CO2.

Philosophers and wannabe philosophers are having more nuanced conclusions (like here).

Some people think their choice to fly or not fly differs from their choice to drive or not drive, because that particular plane would be flying anyway and the additional fuel required by your weight is marginal. This is a mistaken view. How many flights are scheduled depends on how many people choose to fly. By not flying, you would be contributing to a reduction in flights that occur.

However. Almost everything we do causes some harm to the environment. Eating meat, taking hot showers, keeping rooms at room temperature, living in a house with a yard, regularly driving to friends’ houses – all of these things cause harm. Even living a very minimal ascetic lifestyle causes some harm. For everything you do, you have to ask whether the benefit to you, plus to others who are also helped, is worth the harm to the environment.

That’s a “No” with a “But.” People who want to say “NO!” to everything that harms the planet usually soften that no with the admission that there is no way one cannot cause harm to others or the planet. As far as making all your choices count, soem say individual choice is too miniscule to really think you are changing the world with it — big change requires a movement of individual choosers. Others say not even a movement can help the climate now because the planet is already warmed, you can only try to help people cope with the impact. Yet others say the law of supply and demand runs the world; old, utopian ideas of forcing the hand with millions of personal choices is irrational and does not work. Of course, these conclusions can be debated and that’s what philosophers are going to do.

Right now, after listening to the qualified “no” side. I think I need to fly modestly. I think modest means I do not have a lifestyle or work that depends on flying (like the Philadelphia Phillies do). What is modest for an American is, of course, immodest compared to many people in the world who have never even thought of flying in an airplane. I will never forget Andres, the Salvadoran refugee I met just over the border in Honduras who had never ridden in a car and could not imagine going to San Salvador, from which I had just come, about 75 miles away.

Yes. You can fly.…But

On the other hand, some people say my individual efforts and my guilt, even my modesty, though noble and necessary, are not what I should be measuring too strictly.  In an ethical discussion there are ofen people who will be frustrated with all the strictures and nitpicking of the other side. I feel for these “Yes” people, too, who are dealing with all us self-centered people who can’t see outside our boxes! Maybe they are like the State Department workers crisscrossing the Middle East to tamp down Israeli and Iranian hotheads and to encourage Saudis and Turks to keep their eyes on the bigger picture.

I tend to be a “yes” person by nature. But I want to pay attention to my carbon footprint — I took the test and I did not fare that well! But I don’t want to put the weight of the world my footprint. The idea behind measuring our individual carbon footprints is to make us aware of our personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (and “No” people would say “And to hold us accountable!”). The idea aims to encourage individuals to adopt a  sustainable lifestyle and make environmentally conscious choices. That’s a good thing. But it remains true that the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions are not generated by individuals, but by industries and large-scale commercial activities. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), around 70% of carbon dioxide emissions stem from just 100 companies (!) worldwide. Either they get on board or our individual efforts are silly. Nevertheless, when individuals collectively adopt sustainable practices, it can create a ripple effect, influencing larger entities and prompting policy changes.

The IPCC, itself, has been a very successful big-picture process. It presented at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28) which closed in December with an agreement that signals the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era. In Dubai, no less, negotiators from nearly 200 Parties came together with a decision which agrees to transition away from fossil fuels and reduce global emissions by 43% by 2030

The COP28 action is the kind that makes a real difference. So when one of the editors of Sierra wrote about deciding whether to have children in an age of climate chaos and potential mass extinction last year, some of the readers got in her face for thinking individuals are responsible for addressing the climate crisis.

Responding to the article on Twitter, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University complained,

“The ‘don’t have kids because of climate’ argument is bunk, & absolves the choices of companies & policymakers.” Sandra Steingraber, a prominent anti-fracking activist wrote, “Stop policing women’s fertility. The fossil fuel industry along with the banks and political leaders who keep the fossil fuel party going is the cause of the problem.” Another commenter posted, “This argument only serves the big CO2 producing corps. It’s like they threw a white [tablecloth] party, served nothing but sloppy bbq, and then watched [as] the guests blamed EACH OTHER for dry cleaning bills.”

Even  environmental advocates are dismissing the importance of individual responsibility. In The Daily BeastJay Michaelson recently argued,

“Individual behavior change isn’t action—it’s distraction. . . . It shifts the blame from the actual causes of climate change to fake ones, and shifts attention away from meaningful actions to meaningless, psychological ones. . . . The focus on individual behavior makes fighting global warming more controversial while letting the actual entities causing climate change off the hook.”

In June Michael Mann, the climatologist, made a similar argument in USA Today,

“A fixation on voluntary action alone takes the pressure off of the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable. …One recent study suggests that the emphasis on smaller personal actions can actually undermine support for the substantive climate policies needed.”

So I would say all that is a qualified “Yes” for little old me to fly to Tahiti. I agree that the powers-that-be love to keep us individually responsible and keep the huge corporations shrouded in mystery — invisible and inaccessible. Even worse, if we protest or try to organize a union in their VW plant, they call us socialists, as if Jesus were not a common-good and common-goods kind of man.

But I also think scorning the importance of my individual lifestyle changes would be an overcorrection. It’s true that taking personal responsibility for climate change is insufficient to address the crisis, but it is also true that individual action is essential to the climate justice equation. Westerners really like their binary arguments, don’t they?

Right now, I think the best response to the arguments is the usual both/and. Ultimately, a  binary argument pitting personal action versus political action is unhelpful. We need to agitate and organize for systemic change and also encourage individual behavior changes. Or, put another way: If you say fixating on personal behavior distracts from the political changes we need, you should also say dismissing the value of personal behaviors detracts from the political movement for climate justice.

So can I go to Tahiti?

If I go, I will be aware that I am probably cashing in most of my personal carbon footprint chips. Perhaps I will buy some carbon credits (but PBS reported last week that is not working so well, either).  Credits or not, I cannot absolve myself with any certitude. Maybe the guilt monitors would feel better about me if I went to Tahiti and at least felt miserable about it — just like I should feel when I eat beef and drive cars (honestly I already cut out most beef and my new car is a hybrid).

I think the best way to feel OK about my extravagant use of fuel (along with the other 200 people in the plane) is to keep the pressure where it belongs. Governments, corporations, and institutions must implement policies that promote renewable energy, invest in sustainable infrastructure, and regulate emissions from major industries. They implemented the policies that let fossil fuels rule society, they need to reverse them.

If I just focus just on my individual carbon footprint the guilt will likely lead to overwhelm. We end up feeling our efforts are futile when that happens. When we feel guilty, we demobilize. If I overestimate my individual impact on the climate crisis I’ll probably get anxious. Such a view of self can lead to climate anxiety, especially among kids. It might be easier to stay anxious and be immobilized. But I think we need to do the harder thing and bravely stand up to the people willing to sacrifice the future for their immediate profits.

What do you think I should do?

Emergent identities: The queer future of the church, too

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https://twitter.com/markyarhouse

At the recent CAPS conference in Atlanta, Mark Yarhouse and friends again brought me up-to-date on the quickly developing gender/sexual identity landscape. Their workshop centered on three things: a 2019 book by Rob Cover, the re-examination of their own data, and their practical experience with young people and parents navigating the new queer world on the internet. It was enlightening to explore emergent identities with them.

Emergent identities

Cover’s book, Emergent Identities: New Sexualities, Genders and Relationships in a Digital Era shows how traditional, binary understandings of sexuality and gender are being challenged and overridden by a taxonomy of non-binary, fluid classifications and descriptors.

He explores how and why traditional masculine/feminine and hetero/homo dichotomies are quickly being replaced with identity labels such as heteroflexible, bigender, non-binary, asexual, sapiosexual, demisexual, ciswoman and transcurious. New ways of perceiving relationships, attraction and desire are contesting authorized, institutional knowledge on gender and sexuality. The digital world in which young people have grown up has played a central role in developing new approaches to identity, individuality, creativity, media, healthcare and social belonging.

Two charts from the presentation show how descriptions of gender and sexual identity have changed since the 1990’s. The “residual” are vestiges of the past terms still in use. The “dominant” are terms widely accepted and presently in use. The “emergent” terms are those rapidly replacing the dominant understandings. If you have a teenager in your life, they might be able to teach you a few things about the emergent terms personally, since they are likely being asked (or pressured) to adopt a way to describe who they are using one of many new “micro-minoritized” identity labels. My seatmate suggested “micro-marginalized” might be better. I came away preferring invited to the “queer smorgasbord.”

The Church is notorious for being at least 20 years behind the dominant culture’s debates about the society being constructed. There are some good reasons for this; the best being that the church sees itself as a dominant culture for its members with an historical and eternal worldview. The worst reason being that the church only listens to itself and is defensive of its power to use words to dominate its population.

The church has been having a fight about “homosexual lifestyles” since the 1990’s and churches are still breaking up over it. Christians in Congress are trying to turn the tide back to some imagined past. The pandemic unleashed a wave of division over racial inequity in the Church (which made sense to me), but those concerns were often supplanted by sexual identity issues. My own former church basically dissolved itself over arguments from which the culture was quickly moving away.

I don’t know if I prefer the chaos and hyper-individuality of the new era dawning. I doubt that 14-year olds can adopt an “authentic” identity in order to find themselves. And I am afraid tender hearts and minds may perform gender and sexual identity and end up with even more doubt and a tragic sense of being alone with an overwhelming, over-scrutinized landscape. I texted my son while I was in the session and said, “Right now I am listening about asexual demiboys.” He replied, “People failing to overcome their anxiety and trusting a pornography-filled society.” He might be right.

Regardless, I think I prefer the “queer” worldview that is emerging. It may never become dominant, but it provides a helpful corrective to the “born that way”/this-or-that views of the past. It is a great gift from the LGBTQ community. Even without a queer theory to describe a common sense approach, my acquaintances and clients would show how gender and sexual identity are much more fluid than us older people were taught. We may have felt that in our own souls and accepted it in others, but we would not have talked about it because we’d be in an argument. Nevertheless, I know more than one man with a wife and children who decided he was gay and left it all behind. I know of a twentysomething transwoman who decided, after a few years, she preferred presenting as male after all. I know a man who left his wife to marry a lesbian who left her partner. If they dare, many straight friends can recount their various gay or lesbian experiences. Life has always been a bit “queer.”

Philosophers with a “queer theory” are talking about more than gender and sexual identity, even if that is where they personally begin. The Q in LGBTQ is becoming an umbrella idea under which the dominant and emerging “letters” find shelter. Even more, “queer” is a lens through which academics and others can approach their disciplines with greater imagination, seeing “outside the box” as so many entrepreneurs like to do. Queer is the anti-binary worldview.

Innately queer grace

As I look back on my work in the church, a lot of what I was thinking could be called “queer.” In terms of sexual identity, I resisted forcing people to choose according to  a church policy. I did not win that fight, even though I asked Janelle Paris to introduce us to her book The End of Sexual Identity in 2012. When we finally offered a “policy,” it had a queerness, a both/andness, which did not satisfy everyone, but it allowed for people to find their own ways and stay in grace. I’m not sure we knew what we were talking about, but it was in line with the zeitgeist. That alignment ultimately did not last either, like I mentioned, but I still think it was more about the future than what people fought about.

The church could use a big dose of queering. The biggest reason might be so it can have any hope of listening and speaking to the next generation. Some healthy queering would help theology emerge from its captivity to Eurocentric, Enlightenment/binary, cis-male domination. It would also let the Bible be as honest as it is about humanity, including sexual expression. When it comes to sexual relationships, the Bible is rather queer: there are polygamists, eunuchs for Christ and almost no nuclear families. While there is an assumption a man and woman should covenant and make a family, it seems like there is a lot of room for people who don’t do that (like Jesus!) and lots of room for love that goes beyond whatever the present boundaries might suggest. I wouldn’t put the Bible under the “queer” umbrella, but I do think queer fits easily under the umbrella of grace.

 

Interspirituality: Finding trust in the swirl of newness

The longer we talked about Maudy Thursday, the more it seemed our pastor was thinking, “I’ve got to get this discussion over with.” There was a divide happening between old-old-school members, merely old-school members, the outreaching pastor, and the new people now in the dialogue. I’m one of the new people. Afterwards, a new church friend told me someone had asked her, “So who is the Evangelical?” – meaning me! She thought I would be amused, since she knows I’ve been an Anabaptist dipped in Pentecostalism and only an acquaintance of Evangelicals. She was right, I was amused. I’m not sure I would know what to label me right now, either. I hope I will be trusted in spite of that.

The swirl

It wasn’t too surprising someone was trying to sort things out. Nobody fits the old labels too well anymore, it seems. It is not just Christians, but the Christians are in a swirl — and it is unclear what we’ll look like when we slow down. The internet and now A.I. keep stirring the spiritual pot, so maybe confusion will characterize the future for a while. It characterizes most of the people we meet – even in small discussion groups talking about Maundy Thursday! There are likely to be several ill-defined points of view in almost every person who speaks, when it comes to their spiritual awareness. In the past, religious people were mostly set up for the many becoming one. But these days we are more likely to experience the one becoming many. It can be unnerving.

With a click of the mouse, you can find anything you want about religion and spirituality, positive or negative. The offerings are not just many, they are multitudinous!

The podcast has become the equivalent of Luther nailing talking points on the Wittenberg church door, only Apple now owns the door and the points are products. If the swirl has not propelled you toward podcasts yet, you might try “Unbelievable?” where Christians and atheists engage in serious debate, or “Winter Faith” for those struggling with belief in a faithless world, or “Hermitix” where smart people tell us how they or famous philosophers approach spirituality. The list of podcasts is endless and can be a source of lifelong theological, scriptural, spiritual, and religious learning – but it can also be a source of  “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:1-7).

Interspirituality

Everything is changing. The more people talk about it, the more evident it becomes that the church is going through a reformation whether it wants to or not. Some people see themselves on the spiritual cutting edge in this new era. They go even farther than labels like interfaith, interreligious, post-Christian, or spiritual-but-not-religious and label themselves “interspiritual.”

In the most recent Presence magazine from Spiritual Directors International (SDI), Bruce Tallman writes about the changes spiritual directors are facing. He brings up that word I heard in my training a few years back to which I paid little attention. But within the swirl of multiplicity looking for some way to cohere, “interspirituality” may have a somewhat prophetic meaning. He writes:

Sister Margo Ritchie, a well-respected nun and national coordinator of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, recently said at a book launch in London, Ontario that, and I’ll paraphrase, “we are not only going through an era of change, we are going through a change of eras.”

In fact, David Robert Ord and Kurt Johnson have suggested in their book The Coming Interspiritual Age that we are entering a “Second Axial Age” following the first around 500 B.C. when syntheses of Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, and Judaism all simultaneously emerged.

The coming “Interspiritual Age” means that religion and spirituality are going to become ever more ecumenical and interreligious. Indeed, this has already happened to some degree – all the religious denominations and world religions have impacted and learned from each other. Catholics and Protestants have already enriched each other immensely; since the 1960s Westerners have become much more familiar with Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Taoist ideas; and more recently, many are far more aware of Indigenous spirituality than ever before.

 As a conservative reaction to all this, there may be a continued growth of “old time religion”, as is currently happening in Judaism with strictly Orthodox practices, in India with Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to restore the primacy and prominence of Hinduism in India, in Russia with the Orthodox Church, and in the United States with the ongoing growth of Protestant fundamentalism and some Catholic bishops trying to take Catholicism back to the 1950s and the pre-Vatican II church.

An ”interspiritual age” might strike you as more Joachimite imagination. But it also might strike you as common sense, since you hear the outlook popping up in conversation at church.

Do you want to adopt interspirituality?

In an interesting review of The Coming Interspiritual Age, Dr. David Brockman, who is deeply involved in interfaith dialogue,  helps us sort out their assertions. He’s mainly concerned with how they dismiss the many for the one and denigrate the traditional in the light of their new enlightenment. Here he goes:

Religion, they argue, is imbued with a “mythic-magic” mindset; a paradigm from humanity’s archaic past involving spiritual beings, rules, and “systems of reward and punishment.” In their view, religion’s main role is control, specializing in easy-to-remember notions that are “perfect for the control of partially matured apes like humankind.” Religion, they contend, is concerned about differences, and about which teachings are right and which are wrong. Worst of all, while spirituality is apparently tolerant and inclusive, religion asserts absolute truth and is “exclusive by its nature.”… [I try to rescue the word “religion” here.]

Interestingly, despite their criticism of absolute truth claims, exclusivism, and right-wrong thinking, the authors engage in these very practices themselves, in asserting the superiority of interspirituality over interfaith dialogue (which they call “trans-tradition spirituality”). In interfaith dialogue, they write, “there remains an overriding concern with the differences.” “[T]his religious experience is shallow enough that there’s still mental concern about who’s ultimately ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ When plumbed, this concern is almost always linked to deeply hidden fear about ultimate rewards and punishments.” It would be interesting to learn how the authors can know this (they do not cite a source), and who is doing the “plumbing.”

Their book came out at the beginning of a decade (2012) that ended with many “more advanced” and “golden age” philosophies being applied in a heavy-handed way.

What makes interfaith dialogue inferior to interspirituality, the authors claim, is that interspirituality understands “that there is a common ‘knowing’ at the core of all religious experience… This happens only in a mystical or contemplative understanding.” Here the authors reveal their own exclusivism (perhaps their own magic-mythic mindset?): “interspirituality recognizes a common experience within all spirituality… For interspirituality, this common experience is the ‘absolute truth’.” Interspirituality, it seems, is the one “right” experience.

But is Oneness the way forward? For me, much of Christianity’s power lies in its teaching of the divine Trinity: that the Ultimate Reality is both one and three. Equally paradoxical — and powerful — is the affirmation that the one Christ is both divine and human, without confusion and without division. Neither assertion “makes sense,” in traditional Aristotelian “x cannot equal not-x” thinking. But that’s the beauty. There is a koan-like power in these teachings: the affirmation of Oneness and Manyness simultaneously….

While those of us in interreligious dialogue learn that we have much in common (our Oneness), dialogue also reminds us of our differences, our diversity (our Manyness). Each religion brings different questions, different experiences, different perspectives to the table — and it is in grappling with those differences that we grow, and that our view of the Ultimate Reality — whatever it is — is enriched, deepened. Interspirituality seeks to tune into the signal (Oneness) by filtering out the noise (Manyness). But what if the “noise” is also the signal?

The authors might reply to Brockman’s critique by saying, “When you say things like ‘The noise is also the signal,’ you are making our point that it is all one, both noise and signal.”

Sometimes I think these arguments resemble niche marketing so someone can find your podcast on iTunes. Regardless, it surely represents the swirl and demonstrates how people will be called to commit to a dizzying array of spiritual options. I prefer “the affirmation of Oneness and Manyness.”  But I trained with respectable people who were committed to being interspiritual directors, listening for that oneness regardless of who their directee is.

Marithé Et François Girbaud

Holy Week requires trust

The way into and through this interesting new era we are entering will take some new thinking and new relationships. I for one have been looking forward to the end of the old era for a long time. It has been slowly dying for a long time. But the death of the old will require finding what to trust in what is new. Even more, it will resurrect our trust in Who is ever-new.

In our simple discussion of how to present Maundy Thursday again — that observance where the Trinity comes together around a table with us and the oneness is handed to our manyness in a cup, we were a good example of how challenging it will be to feel comfortable in our own skins and buildings in the near future. It will take a lot of trust.

The need to trust those in front of us became very clear when one of the members of our table group tried to add our particular contributions to the whole discussion. She started off speaking a bit too-softly to be heard across the room, so someone shouted, “We can’t hear you.” So she gathered herself and gave a short recap in a much louder voice with an almost completely different tone.

I could not help adding when she was done, “I think what just happened is a good example of what we are trying to bring together in this observance. The intimacy of the small group in which we could quickly share a sense of oneness, is different than how we act when we speak to the whole.” On Maundy Thursday Jesus speaks softly and lovingly to his intimates. We want that. But His message now moves around the whole world. We are part of that reality, too. In our discussion we had, and in our future observance we will have: softer and louder, gentler and harder, present and past, crystal clear and in a swirl, just like Jesus and his disciples, just like churches all over the world, and just like our little crew — all in the same meeting, remembering the same event.

Beyond our discussion of labels, we’ll need to trust the Spirit in each of us and the God beyond all of us to trust the experience of receiving the cup and entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus in us, in the world.

 

Is it disobedient to be afraid? (2012)

In my long stint as a Philly pastor, I often answered “frequently asked questions.” This speech reflects a time when someone asked me, “Is it disobedient to be  afraid?” Someone must have asked me for more Bible study, because there is a surprising amount of scripture here.

Is it disobedient to be afraid? We are going to talk about that. The answer is, generally, yes, but probably not for generally accepted reasons.

Rhyolite bank building

What are you afraid of?

I am afraid of heights. I’ve done a lot of things to try to overcome this fear, but I am not very successful. One time I got stuck on a ruin Rhyolite, Nevada (like the one above) when I was out in the desert with some friends and could not get down from my climb because I was too afraid to bridge the gap between my foot and the next foothold. They had to come up and rescue me.

But I think I am more afraid of depths. It is hard to look into certain territories inside. I am not alone in this.

But the worst thing might be that I am most afraid of people I am close to, even people I love. I have a nagging fear of you, right now. I am so afraid of the things that might hurt me again, or make me feel too alone, or make me feel smothered or shamed. My reaction is so automatically fearful I am afraid of my reaction! What’s more, I am afraid to be myself because that might hurt someone else. I not only don’t want to do that, I don’t want them to do it to me.  Are you as messy as me?

So if the Bible teaches I am being disobedient to God when I am afraid, I am pretty much disobedient a lot. I’ve got sin ready to pop out all the time!

The Bible does say, “Do not be afraid” a lot. Like in the famous account of the resurrection. Some one read it and everyone read the bold part.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  — Matthew 28

Jesus has died, there has been an earthquake, an angel has appeared to the soldiers and they have fainted they were so afraid. The women see the angel (note they do not faint) and he says, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose it is disobedient to not do what a messenger of God tells you to do.

But also note that in verse 8, they are disobedient, still afraid, but they are filled with joy. You might want to hold on to that seeming incongruity for later.

So they are obediently running to tell the disciples the news that Jesus is risen, when they run into Jesus! They fall on the ground. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Is it disobedient to be afraid when Jesus says “Do not be afraid?” I honestly think the answer to the question is “Yes.” It is, at some level, basically disobedient to be afraid. It is idolatry, the fear has a bigger place in your worship than Jesus.

People organize their lives around fear every day. Why are our national leaders so afraid of people in Northwest Pakistan? There are a lot of reasons that could be given. But they are not afraid because they trust God!

Why are we so afraid of each other? You get next to someone and suddenly you are afraid of what they think of what you just said. You are so concerned about what they might feel  you are anxious and miserable all day. When all the while, if you actually follow Jesus, you are going to live forever, which means even if what you experience kills you, things will work out OK.

What can mere humans do to me?

The writers of scriptures from about 1000 BC to 64 AD have a common memory verse that you might like to add to your thinking: what can mere humans do to me? My spiritual director often asks me, “What can really happen here? Really, what’s the worst thing? Why be so locked in fear?” He does not always succeed in getting me to not be afraid, but he is right to ask.

Four of you read one of these as an invitation to us to give up our fear. Don’t read the reference:

  • In God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere human beings do to me? — Psalm 56:11
  • When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; / he brought me into a spacious place.
    The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. / What can human beings do to me?
    The Lord is with me; he is my helper. / I look in triumph on my enemies. — Psalm 118:5-7
  • What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. — Matthew 10:27-9
  • God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me?” — Hebrews 13:5-6

So yes, God tells us to not be afraid — and for some very good reasons. If we don’t trust him and are afraid for our usual bad reasons, then it is disobedient. God commands us to act for our best interests. Trusting God is in our best interests.

How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers - HealthyChildren.org

Is there a fearless human somewhere?

All that being said it would be bizarre to find a fearless human. They might be a sociopath. Some Christians seem to be to have some kind of psychological talent that allows them to act like they are not afraid and pretend they have no fear.  They are committed to being obedient, they saw that the Bible said “Do not be afraid.” So, by God!, they are not afraid. But I think they might be afraid of being afraid, deep down inside. And they might be so afraid of God that they would shut their feelings down in order not to offend her. They might be afraid their religious house of cards will tumble if they call God “her!”

Contrary to that, I think it is very likely that all those scriptures that say “Do not be afraid,” were intended to be comforting scriptures. Those passages are more like when you are holding your screaming child and you say, “Don’t cry honey.” I think they are saying “God and all his messengers know you are afraid. Don’t be afraid.” They are pointing out our fear, acknowledging it exists and working with it.

We have a strange problem in this era. We think what we feel is who we are. If I feel fear, I am afraid. I think It makes more sense to separate feelings from actions. You can be afraid and filled with joy, too! God and his angels might scare you, but you could respond with worship.

After all, Isaiah says:

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. “

Isaiah is speaking for the Lord, who is telling his children, the people of Israel — the whole nation is like his offspring, “Don’t be afraid of the Assyrians,” even though the Assyrian Empire is huge and is undoubtedly going to take you over, and your King, Ahaz, is trying to make a deal with them instead of trusting God. Be faithful to God.

Isaiah notes however, that the experience of being beaten is installed in the nation’s memory, since that is what happened in Egypt when they were slaves. When they were just a child of a nation God rescued them from their abusive condition, but the fears born of having been in that condition are still real.

When God tells you don’t be afraid, he remembers your beginnings, too. I have a story about why I am still afraid inside, even though I can act fearlessly in many ways. I have an Egypt in my past where I was hurt. Some of you have stories you don’t even want to tell, they are so painful to recall. Some of you have stories you can’t tell because you blocked them out completely. They were being formed when you were just a small human. There is no way God is telling you, “Don’t be afraid,” as if you were never in Egypt. He encourages us to not be afraid because we were in Egypt and we needed to be rescued. And now the Assyrians are coming upon us.

We have a lot to be afraid of

Get a picture of what you are afraid of in your mind. Even make a mental list. I am not going to make you tell us what it is, so don’t be afraid. But I am going to offer the opportunity to a couple of people, so we can be honest, like God is, about carrying things that scare us. Any body want to tell us the first thing that came to mind?

I don’t think being obedient is not ever being afraid. I think being obedient is listening to God’s call and trusting him when we are afraid, which is pretty much all the time. “Do not be afraid,” should be translated, “I know you are afraid. Listen to me. Trust me. This is going to go someplace. I am with you. Act in faith even though you are afraid.” The scriptures suggest ways to live that out.

Meet God in the night

Everyone read this if you can:

Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you, …
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. — Proverbs 3:21-2,24

I sometimes wake up in the night and can’t resist making a list of things that trouble me. I did it last night, because I forgot to do something I needed to do and I was afraid of the consequences. My fears get to me when my defenses are quieted by sleep and they can get out. I hope that does not happen to you. But for most of us, it does happen, at least once in a while.

To be obedient, try some rituals. You might need to get up and pray or get up and deal. You might need to push it off. You might recite the Jesus prayer and re-center. You might use your new memory verse “what can humans do to me?’

When we become aware of our fear it tests our obedience to God’s command. We need to meet him in the fear. The Lord is calling into the fear for us — calling us out. If you experience fear, it is a place to meet God.

Trust in the touch

Let’s all read this in a mysterious whisper:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. — Revelation 1:17

 This is John in Revelation thinking about the end of time. The other day we got a movie out of Red Box called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It turned out to be a God-free rendition of John’s revelation! The movie was all about fear and finding someone to touch before the meteor hit. It was touchingly disobedient and lovingly hopeless. I think John’s vision is better. John’s vision is such a wonderful thing he experiences as he is awaiting the end of this age, exiled on his island. He has a vision of the risen, ruling Jesus, and Jesus tenderly touches him. Do not be afraid.

God is going to touch you where you are afraid. But you will have to let him and learn to let him when you are too afraid to let him or too accustomed to not letting him. You learned to be afraid and not let it touch you. You have a tendency to fall down dead in the face of what you fear. The touch of God, who is the beginning and the end, before you began and bringing you to your end, is how we deal. That is obedient.

Take a step

Let’s have a woman be Moses:

See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  — Deuteronomy 1:21

This is Moses telling the people of Israel that the people of the promised land are not too big for them and they should go inhabit what God has given them. They are afraid. We come up against things that make us feel tiny and helpless every day, don’t we?

One of my grandsons is learning to swim. When he is done screaming, he is quite proud of what he can do. He feels better because he has gone through a fearful thing. We don’t get very far if we don’t travel through fear to get there.

One of my directees talked to his father after five years recently. It turned out even worse than he expected. But not talking to him had clogged him up with the fear of not making that connection. He feels like he is getting free. He took a step.

You are not going to be unafraid when you take a step. See what the Lord has given to you. See what those who have taken steps before you are telling you. Go with it.

So is it disobedient to be afraid? Yes, if what you mean is you are ruled by your fear and not by your faith in God. But no, it is not disobedient to be afraid. You are just afraid. It is a feeling, and one that makes a lot of sense, given your circumstances. It will pass through.  “Do not be afraid.” Have joy in your fear, Jesus is with you.