I am a recovering "professional Christian." I'm seeking a community of faith (and of questioning faith) that is more inclusive, radically ecumenical and inter-faith, less bureaucratic, less doctrinal and tribal, more loving, less institutional and denominational, for worship that is more experiential and eclectic, and that seeks wisdom from a variety of wise people and world religious traditions.
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Mask mandates, gun safety, you name it. I understand that most people don’t like being told what to do. Even if it’s a good and helpful thing, we may be quick to rebel against it. But no government authority or religious leader made Jesus give his life for us, both in coming to live as we do and in offering his life for ours on the cross. In his own words, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”[i]
Jesus calls us to surrender all of our life to him and to live and die – and live again – as he does.
He asks his disciples, “Do you want to have a life like mine? Then you must drink from the cup I am to drink.” That “cup” is the cup of self-sacrifice, voluntarily losing one’s life for the sake of others to find it. Part of "laying doen one's life for the sake of another or others" is laying aside my "rights" or voluntarily limiting them for the sake of others. It's a Jesus thing. How Christian are you willing to be?
I Surrender All
All to Jesus, I surrender, all to Thee I freely give
I will ever love and trust You,
in Your presence daily live
I surrender all, I surrender all
All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all
All to Jesus, I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee
Fill me with Your love and power
Let Your blessing fall on me
I surrender all, I surrender all
All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all[ii]
Take a moment to reflect on the blessings of the rights and freedoms we share in these United States of America. Be aware of your feelings and responses when you sense your rights are being threatened or in danger of being taken away. Given the circumstances of my life, I have not experienced my personal rights and freedoms being threatened. Still, I don’t like the idea of my rights and freedoms being restricted, especially because of what someone else may have done. It feels like the times back in elementary school when the whole class was punished because one student broke some rule. Maybe it’s just the threat or the possibility of someone taking away my rights that grows in my mind that gets me worked up and angry.
I began to care more about the rights of others when it got personal. Our experience of being foster parents to an African American teenager was eye-opening. Store clerks, who didn’t realize we were shopping together as a family, would shadow our foster son assuming he would be shoplifting. We got defensive as parents. He had a right to freely roam the store and do his shopping.
For several years I was the director of summer staff for much of the programming at Lake Junaluska, a United Methodist conference and retreat center in North Carolina. We always had a diverse staff of college students serving in ministries with children, youth, and adults. These young adults are like family to me. I was protective and angry as the female staff shared stories of being discouraged or even hindered in pursuing their call to pastoral ministry. Some felt like they were in double jeopardy because they were both non-white and female. They had every right to follow God’s calling into ministry.
I get angry on behalf of my sons-in-law who own guns for hunting and recreation. They are registered and licensed. They practice gun safety, especially with children (and our grandchildren) in the house. I get sangry about friends and family members who won't get vaccinated or simply wear a mask to help protect others from the COVID-19 virus and its variants. It's all about them and their rights, not about others and their safety. When stubborn pride, "beliefs" about the virus and vaccines, and arguments about "my rights" put people at risk - friends, loved ones, their loved ones - I get angry.
That’s what I mean about becoming passionate about protecting the rights of others. It got personal. Don’t mess with my family and my friends who have become like family! It’s a natural step from there to becoming more aware of the challenges to the rights and freedoms of others.
When it becomes about me I must take myself off the throne of my life and put Jesus and his Way of sacrificial love there. I must repent of the place any personal right has in my life that contradicts the love of Christ. When I do that, I am moved to waste less time in fuming about my rights and invest more time making sure others can enjoy theirs. Because you know how injustice feels, you can stand with others who do not enjoy all the freedoms you do, even if their struggles are different from yours.
[excerpted from my book American Idols: Gods of the Region - A Open Letter to My Christian Kin]
[i] John 10:18, NIV.
[ii] Words: Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855–1939). Music: Winfield S. Weeden (1847–1908). Published in 1896.
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Words change meanings as they are used in shifting contexts. Words like "bad," "cell," and "gay" have different meanings in contemporary culture than they did a few decades ago. Some words get hijacked and co-opted for purposes of propaganda and cultural shorthand. Some are diluted and tarnished by narrow association with certain stereotypes "validated" by limited experience. Back in the day I was upset that Coke would declare that their product "adds life." Now Subaru claims to about love. The notion of "church" has been tarnished by its own history and by contemporary experiences of churches that are perceived to be cold, unwelcoming, boring, and irrelevant. The descriptor "evangelical Christians" has been lazily defined by its use in the media and its narrow association with White Christian Nationalism. Scholar and writer Diana Butler Bass recalls her embrace of evangelical Christian faith that predates the politically co-opted stereotypes with which it has been saddled:
The 1970s was a time when many millions of Americans got “born again.” We became evangelicals because it was counter-cultural movement, energetic, spiritually-alive, and cared about big issues of justice. I call it “liberationist evangelicalism.” And frankly, I’m wishing for its rebirth.
I wandered into an evangelical church, and hearing about a Jesus who called the lost, a sense of warmth and security embraced me. I found Jesus; I found myself. That conversion gave me a new sense of confidence, purpose and freedom. Indeed, Jesus liberated me. I did not become an evangelical because I wanted to be racist…I didn’t hope for an apocalypse and didn’t think Democrats were evil or going to hell. The Jesus I encountered in those years saved the lost and set captives free. (1)
I want my identity back. It's been stolen. I refuse to let others define my Christianity. Writer and former priest Barbara Brown Taylor declared in a radio interview, "I am the one who gets to define what kind of Christian I am." I'd add, only Jesus gets to define what kind of Christian I am. (2)
(1) https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/15/opinions/white-evangelicals-after-trump-butler-bass/index.html, accessed 8/5/21.
(2) Excerpted from American Idols, Gods of the Region - an open letter to my Christian kin.
American Idols: Gods of the Region: An Open Letter to My Christian Kin: Hughes D.Min., Chris B.: 9798715820471: Amazon.com: Books