Thomas Aquinas on injustice

JKB —  December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar and Catholic priest who lived in the 13th century.  He is regarded by many as the most comprehensive theological thinker of the late Middle Ages, possibly in the entire history of the church.   The other day, someone tweeted this Aquinas quote:

“To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection.  But to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection…and even of actual sin.”

I was immediately struck by two thoughts.  First, truth is timeless.  Second, this truth is about us.  In fact, it’s about us on many levels.  But there is one “level” that hit me first and hit me hardest.  I’ve been thinking about it for awhile but have been afraid to say it publicly because I don’t like talking about race in ways that seem to categorize people into groups.  Good and evil can be imbedded in systems, for sure.  But individuals do right and wrong.  All women, all men, all white folks, all Asians, all Latinos, all black folks, all old people, all young people, all suburbanites, all urbanites, all the educated, all the uneducated don’t do anything.  As someone has said, “I can do right…or wrong…all by myself.”

But in the shadow of that truthful caveat, this is what I want to say.  To white folks.  Especially to white followers of Jesus Christ in America.  Stop minimizing the pain of those who don’t look like you.  Stop acting like it doesn’t hurt that bad or shouldn’t hurt that bad just because it doesn’t hurt you.  Stop calling for black folks to calm down or listen to reason or to be nicer just because you don’t have enough empathy to feel someone else’s pain as if it were your own.  Stop over-focusing on whether Michael Brown or Eric Garner were “doing something wrong” as if this gives you an excuse to not mourn the death of another human being or contemplate whether their deaths were the result of at least some kind of injustice.  Stop telling African American parents to not worry about their children – as long as they “do right” – just because you never, ever have to worry about your sons or daughters being profiled simply due to the color of their skin.  Stop minimizing the racism that is presently being exposed in our country as if it hasn’t been there, buried deep in many of our hearts, all along.  Stop allowing yourself to “move on” from the pain of the last few months just because it isn’t presently impacting the flow of your personal Caucasian life.

In other words, please stop “bearing with patience wrongs done to someone else.”  Because to be ok, to be chilled, to be indifferent, to be calloused, to be silent or to be all too patient when others – any others – in our world are victimized by injustice is “a mark of imperfection…a mark of actual sin.”  And it is sin not just to Thomas Aquinas – but to our God Himself – a God who calls us to “weep with those who weep” and “to bear one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.”

 

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NYC #injustice

JKB —  December 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Eric Garner and his family.  And of course, I couldn’t go back to sleep because another man, a son of God, is unnecessarily gone, another grand jury decided not to even pursue the possibility that excessive force was used…and another family is in grieving hell.  So I prayed.  I prayed some more.  And then I thought, “Father, what are we supposed to do?  What am I supposed to do?”

This is what I heard in my gut at 4:30 in the morning in a half-conscious state of mind:  “Do justice.”  It’s a direct quote from the 6th century BC Jewish prophet Micah.  It’s as if God was saying “the time for talking is over.  Strategies and meetings and blogs and rhetoric about justice are important but there has been plenty of that.  Now is the time to do justice.”

Micah’s words in context are pointed and powerful.  He spoke graphically to Jerusalem’s leaders about their abuse of the people:

“You rulers of Israel, is it not for you to know justice?  You who hate good and love evil, who strip the very skin from My people and the flesh from their bones…”  [Micah 3:1-2]

I don’t have much more to say but three final thoughts occur to me.  First, Micah’s words remind me of a tragic piece of what I am seeing in our country.  There are leaders who are called to be about justice for all people who instead are about justice for only “certain” people.  These particular leaders seem willing to marginalize or ignore “other” people – and when challenged they rationalize over and over their reasons for allowing “the very skin to be stripped from their bones.”  This kind of hypocritical injustice makes God angry and sick.  If I’m about Him, it ought to make me angry and sick as well.

Second, I think God is asking me – more than ever before in my 60 years on the planet – to be aware of leaders who are unjust, of systems that are unjust, of situations where human beings are treated unjustly – and be willing to step into the unjust situation in His name and do something about the injustice – to do justice.  I feel as if for years I have tried to be about justice – but I sense God is telling me that it’s time to step up my game.  And as a follower of Jesus Christ who died for every human being, He is calling me to do this justice…no matter what the cost.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, a WWII martyr at the unjust hands of Nazi Germany, said it best:  “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Third, I’m not sure this word from God is just for me.  I’m not trying to be arrogant or special and those who know me know that I hesitate to speak prophetically as if “I have a specific word from the Lord” for an individual or group.  But last night in the middle of the night, I believe I received just that – a specific word from God intended not only for me – but for all who claim to worship Him and claim to follow His Son Jesus as Lord.  My brothers and sisters, I’m calling you to see the injustice, passionately hate the injustice, step boldly into the injustice alongside those who are receiving the injustice…and in His name and because of His great love for each of us…do justice!  No matter what the cost, do justice.  Micah’s words weren’t just for 6th century BC Israel – they are for all time.  They are for us.  They are for now.  Hear this:  without us doing justice, there will be no justice.  In this era, we are His plan to bring justice.   He has no other.  May the God of all justice give us grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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My mind and heart is a jumbled up and convoluted mess.  I’m sad and I’m angry and of course it’s about the confusion and deep and pervasive pain in Ferguson.  And if you aren’t sad and angry then I would say maybe something died inside of you a long time ago.  Because there’s a young man dead and parents who will never, ever get over it and there are businesses being burned and a whole lot of folks hating on one another and a whole bunch of others who are living in fear for their families…and so much more pain on so many levels.  But what makes me just as sad and just as angry is what Ferguson says about the state of relational affairs in our nation as a whole.  We didn’t just become a relational mess.  We’ve been a relational mess.  Ferguson simply displays the anger, tension and frustration that have been lingering beneath the surface of our lives…well, forever.

I’m not smart enough or wise enough to comment perfectly on any of this.  In fact, there are articles flying around the internet already that are thoughtful, truthful and powerfully written – and several of my close friends like Pastor Larry Glass, Pastor Sam Jackson, Pastor Shaun Marshall and my long time sisters in Christ Phyllis Lee and Anitra Bruce Leena have made cogent, passionate, powerful statements on Facebook that stand strong all on their own.

But as a human being and follower of Jesus Christ – I’ve got to say something – however imperfectly.  This is from my gut – and is written especially with fellow believers in mind:

First, I’m sick to my stomach at the racial unrighteousness that has impacted so many – especially my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ – over the years.  I hate it for you.  I hate it for your children.  I hate it for me.  I hate it for my children.  It is against God who created us equal.  It spits on Christ who died to reconcile us all to one another in Him.  It labels us, steals our true identity as sons and daughters of God in Christ and diminishes our common humanity.  It shuts down transparency, vulnerability and intimacy – and thus keeps us from loving one another as completely as we are called to love.  It flat out hurts us – deeply and pervasively – and sometimes even kills us dead.

Second, I’m committed to fighting this unrighteousness – in the name of Jesus Christ – as hard as I can for as long as it takes, no matter what the cost.  I know those are big words and I don’t even always know how to live them out.  But we are brothers and sisters in Christ and our common identity in Him is the truest reality I know.  You are my family.  Actually, all of humanity is my family and I will fight unrighteousness for them and with them as well.  But it is incumbent upon those of us who know The Righteous One to first come alongside one another to display the type of solidarity that so often eludes the world at large.  I want to hear your story.  I want to know your story.  At the deepest levels, my story is intertwined with your story and our destinies are equally connected.  If you hurt, I hurt.  If you weep I weep.  If you rejoice, I rejoice.  If you go down or your family goes down, my family and I go down with you.  If you win or your family wins – my family and I win with you.  For those of you who know me, I don’t even have to say it but for those of you who may not:  I’m in – with you – for the long haul.  No matter what.  I may stumble.  I may not always get it right.  But in Jesus’ name, I’m not going anywhere.  Because there’s nothing more important to me than you…and the Christ who lives in you.  And I really, really pray you feel the same about me.  Because I truly, desperately need you.  I cannot t walk alone.

Finally, I pray that somehow through all of this satanic poison and pain, we can together begin to look like the true body of Jesus Christ.  Homogenous Christianity is an oxymoron.  I reject it.  I’m tired of acting like it’s “ok” and just “another way” to do Kingdom living.  That’s a lie.  And the more we live that lie or shrug at the way other believers in Christ live that lie – the more we deny that Jesus loved Samaritans and Romans and Greeks and Phoenicians and Asians and Africans…just as much as He loved Jews.  We deny that the purpose of the cross was to bring us not only to God…but also to one another.  We deny that Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…but we are all one in Christ.”  And we deny that our final destiny is to live eternally in an intimate, God-praising community made up of folks from “every tribe, tongue, people and nation” – all rescued from the kingdom of darkness through the blood of the Lion of Judah who loved us so much He became the slaughtered Lamb.  And last, as a byproduct of our disobedience, we implicitly give more Fergusons space to live and breathe…and kill.

I’m praying fervently for the Ferguson family who lost their son.  I’m praying for the officer involved and for his family.  I’m praying for those who have lost businesses.  I’m praying for those who have lost the will to go on.  And yes, I’m praying against the systemic racism that still lives in so many institutions in America today.  But I’m also desperately praying that all of us who believe in the reconciling Jesus will come through this satanic hurricane more surrendered to loving, valuing and even being willing to die for each and every human being…the same way that Jesus did.  Because indeed, my brothers and sisters, that is our world’s only hope.

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Even a little more on shame

JKB —  October 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

Self-Doubt 2Shame obsesses.  Often, instead of seeing the big picture, shame focuses obsessively on one or two instances of supposed failure.  I say “supposed failure” because the “thing” shame obsesses about might not even be a real failure.  But if our shame-based minds feel even a smidgen of doubt about just one aspect of our performance in a relationship, conversation, work assignment, sermon, parenting role or household project, we tend to lock in on the possibility that we were less than perfect.  And we obsess about what that lack of perfection or supposed failure says about our worth, about our acceptance, about who we really are in the world.  The question that is never asked:  who gets to judge what is success, failure or something in between?  Unconsciously we automatically hand the judgment seat over to shame.  And shame always judges harshly.

Because I am a public speaker, this obsession often occurs for me around some aspect of a talk I have recently given.  Even if the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, sometimes all it takes is a fleeting, doubtful thought in my mind about something I said “not quite right”.  Something I could have said, should have said or might have said if I’d been on my game.  Or what if something in the talk is interpreted differently than I mean it…possibly even unintentionally offending someone?!  Or maybe my mind says, “Not bad but you know the talk was too long or too short…too deep or too shallow…too loud or too soft… too passionate or not passionate enough.”  Twenty people might wait in line to say thanks or for me to pray with them – a sure sign that God somehow used my gift in good and redemptive ways.  But shame always focuses on the one who falls asleep, seems disinterested or walks away apparently unmoved and untouched.In other words, shame is a perfectionist.  Shame says we need to be a 10 in everything we do and are, in every moment of every day of our lives.  A 6 or 7 won’t be enough, especially in those areas of living where we invest most of our heart and passion – certain relationships or our careers or maybe our gifts and talents.  These are areas where we think we “should” be excelling and where our shame won’t tolerate less than stellar performance.

perfect_10But this shame-based obsession with perfectionism is a trap…from hell.  Only one 10 has ever lived amongst us.  And because He was a 10, He was able to atone for the imperfections and failures of the rest of us who are not.  When we obsess about not being a 10 on any particular day or in any particular experience, we are subtly, arrogantly acting as if we expect to be Him.  At best this satanic trap causes us to over-focus on self [we become egomaniacs with an inferiority complex], shuts us down [no way I’m going to risk falling short again!] and overwhelms us with anxiety.  At worst – in our moments of shame-based obsessing about our possible blemishes – we become idol worshippers.  Ironically, in those moments, the idol we worship is us.

How to recover from this obsession with perfectionism?  Many healing thoughts come to mind but two especially stand out.  First, trust – that God has and will continue to gladly use even less than perfect us as we offer ourselves to Him in every moment and situation.  [Rom 12:1]  How else has God gotten anything done for His Kingdom in the last 2,000 years?  Second, acceptance – believe that God accepts us in Jesus Christ [Eph. 1:6] not only when we are a 6 or 7 but even when we grade out at zero.  And if our perfect God accepts imperfect us, maybe it’s time we begin to learn, one less than stellar performance at a time, to more fully accept ourselves.

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A little more on shame

JKB —  October 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

shame 2The overwhelming feeling that we have never been enough and never will be enough – is shame.  Remember, shame isn’t simply “doing a wrong thing” [which can be forgiven] – but the deep sense that we have been “born a wrong thing” – which calls for us to literally cease to exist.

How to heal?  Last blog we talked about getting our eyes on the “face” of our God – “they looked to Him and were radiant and their faces were not ashamed.”  [Psalm 34:5]  When we get our eyes off our shame-producing baggage and even the opinions of others about our baggage – and focus on the loving countenance of our Abba, our shame begins to melt away.

Indeed.  His loving, accepting, nurturing eyes and face will heal our shame – if, that is, we actually believe that He loves us.  But if on any particular day we struggle to believe that He loves us – then we aren’t likely to look at Him.  Instead, we are likely to turn away…in shame.  So, what then?

This is where we desperately need our believing brothers and sisters.  If it really is true that God lives in each one of us then sometimes our God will heal our shame through the words, the touch, and the love that comes from another one of His kids.

Ed-UnderwoodYears ago, my dear friend Ed Underwood did a leaders’ retreat for the church I was shepherding at the time.  After the retreat was over and everyone had gone home – Ed and I and our wives Judy and Carla decided to stay at the retreat center and spend time together.  We talked about anything and everything and at some point in the conversation, Ed began to affirm me as a man and brother.  I wasn’t having any of it…because of course, shame can’t receive a compliment.  So I deferred affirmation after affirmation, tried to change the subject multiple times and even made excuses for why I may have accidentally done something right over the weekend.  Finally Ed spontaneously did something that I will never, ever forget because it was one of the most healing moments in my entire life.  He took my head in his hands, brought his face so close to mine it was borderline uncomfortable and then he said, “Kevin, don’t you get it?  I…just…love…you.”

michelangelo-the-hands-of-god-and-manIn that moment I didn’t just hear Ed Underwood’s voice.  I heard the voice of my Abba Father saying to me, “Kevin, don’t you get it?  I…just…love…you.”  It’s hard to explain and I know it sounds mystical but Ed’s words were God’s words, Ed’s touch was God’s touch, Ed’s face was God’s face and Ed’s love was God’s love.  Something healed in me that day.  A huge death-dealing boulder of shame was swept out of the arteries of my spiritual heart.  In a time of my life when I couldn’t look at the face of my God directly, my God came to me in the face of my brother in Christ, Ed Underwood.  And when I went to bed that night, my own face reflected less shadow, was slightly more radiant…and I was less ashamed.

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Voices

JKB —  September 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

Shame.  The feeling that we are somehow less than others.  That no matter how hard we try, we will never be enough.  That we don’t just occasionally “do” wrong things…we were born a wrong thing.  When we feel shame we feel hopeless – because there’s no antidote for shame.  Sin and error can be forgiven.  Shame shouts that it would be better if we ceased to exist.

imageThe enemy is constantly speaking shame into our lives.  God is constantly speaking His love to us as His sons and daughters.  We hear Jesus calling us His friends.  We hear the enemy, like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” telling us “You don’t have any friends.  No one likes you.  Murderrerrrr…”

And sometimes the voice of shame is way, way louder than the voice of love.

For me, when the enemy is shouting shame, it is usually attached to some way that I screwed up, whether past or present.  He reminds me of my failure.  He points out my character flaws, the way I have hurt people that I love, the way I look, the way I speak, the way…I am.

I’m sort of living there right now.  For a lot of different reasons, I’m living there just for a moment.  But I must not stay there – because shame is an insidious killer – destroying our joy, our freedom and even our ability to love.  After all, we can’t love another while hating ourselves.  And if shame destroys our ability to love…it also destroys our ability to really live.

The way out?  “They looked to Him and were radiant…and their faces were not ashamed.”  [Ps 34:5]  I’ve got to see Him.  In my mind’s eye, in my heart – I’ve got to see His face.  Because I know that I know that I know that He loves me so when I see Him I know I will see His love, grace, mercy and acceptance toward me.  And when I see His very heart for me reflected in His face, I will absolutely not be ashamed.

imageFather, help me to have the courage to get my eyes off my baggage…real or imagined…and look up at You.  Help me to see you in Jesus.  Help me to see you in some safe person you send my way.  Lord, I don’t really care how you help me to see you – but when I look up – somehow, someway show me Your face.  Let me see and feel how much You love and accept me.  And let your love and acceptance, reflected in your face, deliver me from shame.

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I just love me some attention…

JKB —  September 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

We love to criticize the Scribes and Pharisees. Until we see ourselves in them.

In Luke 20:45-47 Jesus is in Jerusalem, calling out the Scribes [Bible-scholar partners of the Pharisees] NOT because they weren’t trying hard to follow Torah and keep Israel focused on living for the true God – but because in their flesh and humanness, they had simply lost their way.

In verse 46, Jesus tells His closest followers to “watch out” for the Scribes – and then rips off a passionate list of what they were to “watch out” for. The line that caught my eyes and heart: “…they love greetings in the marketplace…” or as the Message paraphrases, “…they love to preen in the radiance of public flattery.”

imageThe truth is, at times, so do I. Of course, I’m not going to be very obvious about how much I’m preening – in fact, I’m going to work hard at convincing you that I want to deflect all such praise and attention from myself because it wouldn’t be Godly to love it too much and it really isn’t about me and blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, often, I’m just like the Scribes. Especially on the days when I’m not really hearing the voice of my Abba calling me His beloved son – on those days I don’t just like the flattery…“I needs it, I wants it, I must have it because it’s my precious”.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Scribes LOVED the greetings in the marketplace because they had lost touch with THE LOVE of God, their Father…the One who they knew in their minds had “inscribed their names on the very palm of His hands.” But as the old saying goes, the twelve inches between our brains and our hearts is a long road indeed.

So today, I’m not going to shame or beat myself up about the truth that sometimes “I just love me some attention.” I’m going to let that fact remind me that what I really want, what I really love, what is really precious to me and what I truly cannot live without…is hearing my Abba’s voice saying, “I love you, son. I’ve got you. You’re Mine. Stay close to Me and let Me fill you with My love, affirmation and attention this day. I promise you, son… it will be enough.”

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WANTED

JKB —  August 29, 2014 — 6 Comments

The other morning, this phrase in Luke 14 captivated me:  “…and still there is room.”  Jesus is speaking a parable about the “great banquet” that represents the Kingdom of God.  In the story, the master of the house tells his servant to “go out into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind” and to invite them to come into his house to the banquet.  The servant reports back:  “Master, it is done…and still there is room.”  To which the master immediately replies, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel MORE to come, that my house may be filled.”

Why are believers in Jesus so often preoccupied with judging who will be at the great banquet – in the Kingdom of God – and who will not?  Because what Jesus seems to focus on is the fact that we have a God who longs for anyone and everyone to come to His banquet – and no matter how many are already seated…still there is room.  Ironically, in Luke 15, Jesus speaks three more parables, reminding us that God will not be content in His spirit if He loses even one of us.  If even one sheep or one coin or one son is lost – He will do anything and everything to go and find and compel that one to come in.

imageWe sit around contemplating who is “out”.  Our God sits around contemplating how He can get everyone “in”.

I’m not a Universalist.  With C.S. Lewis, I believe there must be a place for those who eventually choose “not God” – who finally refuse to come to His banquet.  But I love it – I just love it – that I have a God whose house and banquet hall but especially His heart are so huge that He wants all of us, each of us without exception, to be with Him forever.  And that with Him, no matter how many have already been seated at His great banquet…still there is room.

 

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Ferguson

JKB —  August 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

When is our racial pain and tragedy going to stop?  Not until our racism gets healed.

Racism despises, marginalizes, belittles, judges, feels superior to and eventually hurts other human beings simply because of skin tone, ethnicity or culture.  How does that kind of heart mess get healed?  Several thousand years of history proves that education and training programs and break-out sessions don’t really work.  Neither do laws or fines, sanctions or prison terms.

So, what to do?  If I say that Jesus Christ is the only One who can “heal the broken hearted and set the captive free” which includes the brokenness and prison walls of racism – you might say, “Yeah, I agree.  But still, what to do?  What needs to happen to bring His healing to the table?”

I can tell you what was supposed to happen.  The community of Jesus followers – the church – was commanded and called to lead the way to healing.  When Jesus left the planet, He said that until He returned, we would “be Him”, stepping into the brokenness and healing in His name.

So, since we are called to “be Him” – what about Jesus’ lavish, indiscriminate love for anyone and everyone do we not understand?  And what do we not understand about his last words in John 17, “Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

And what do we not understand about Jesus follower Paul’s words in Ephesians – “Christ reconciled us all to God in one body through the cross, putting to death all that divided us…”

Or his words in Galatians – “For you are ALL sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ….”

This isn’t rocket science.  The main reason Ferguson type tragedies are still happening is because the church hasn’t done its job of “being Jesus” to the world – of living out the relational healing He called us to and for which He died.  The REAL Jesus called us to show the world that the hatred and division CAN stop…by displaying in the church that it HAS stopped.  By staying “segregated” in church – we’ve said to Jesus, “Screw you.  We’ll do what we want.”  By staying “separated” in church along racial, economic and even denominational lines – we’ve said to the world, “There’s no hope.”

And so, Ferguson keeps happening.  Because instead of a supernatural community where relationships, differences and wounds can be healed in Jesus, all the church has given our broken world is a plethora of segregated religious clubs hiding behind a false Jesus dressed up in their particular robes and rituals.

In other words, until the church gets off its spiritual behind and obeys Christ and shows the way to deep heart healing in Him, racism will continue and the tragedy of Ferguson will repeat itself.  You can count on it.

 

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Compassion and Mercy

JKB —  August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sometimes we make our faith so complicated.  In Luke 10 Jesus is going from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom.  In response to a teacher of Torah who asks about what is really, really important to God, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  A man gets mugged and left for dead, the religious people walk around him and right by him and a Samaritan – rejected and marginalized himself simply because his forefathers intermarried with the Assyrians – has compassion on the wounded man and shows him mercy.

image

The Good Samaritan, Vincent Van Gogh

Jesus tells his audience:  “Go and do likewise.”

So, I’m not sure what theological or philosophical or personal problems you might be wrestling with today.  The enemy is a bastard and never sleeps and wants to kill us so I’ll bet you’ve got something tearing at your body and spirit.  I know I do.  But if you want to follow Jesus even in the midst of your questions and problems, circumstances and issues – go find someone who is wounded and show them some kind of compassion and mercy – a word, a touch, a phone call, a listening ear, a gift card, a prayer, a tear.  If you keep your eyes open, you probably won’t have to go very far.

That’s about it.

And if you find yourself making up all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t do that and why you are exempt and how you’ve got more important things to tend to or to think about – well, at least be honest enough to admit that you aren’t really interested in following the real Jesus.  Because the man said, “See that Samaritan?  See the compassion and mercy he gave to that wounded, suffering brother?  Go and do likewise.”

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