It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting! In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch. She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys. It’s been a pretty smooth transition. That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.
Case in point: dogs sniffing poop. Now, really….WHY? It’s gross! I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts. Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it. Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?
Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them. Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”
Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs! (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me. With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out. I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.
How does ANY of this relate to theology? So glad you asked!
Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend. We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.
It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come. In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more. Our suffering matters….it is not easy. But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.
David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does. He wrote:
When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.
This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too. This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church. I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves. The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable. I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees. Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering. This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL. As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams. It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.” That’s the call.
Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids? ME, ME, ME!!!!!
Hands down! Those were the days! Right!?!? I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands. We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.
But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads. Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. IT IS. In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:
I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.
Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance. And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil. The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us. Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.” Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’. Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit. It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day. For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!
Forget Franklin and Focus
I joined twitter a few days ago. That’s been interesting. One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Say, WHAAAAT????
Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.” Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.
Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women. Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country. As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.” Ummm….NOT OKAY.
THIS IS A TIPPING POINT. This isn’t about politics. It’s about theology. It’s about unapologetically loving the least. This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words. This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.
Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette. Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account. We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice? The short answer: NO. We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th. It is time to get down in the trenches. To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. #WhyIResist.” It is time for the church to resist. We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at!
So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s. Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family. #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named. In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers. The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest. The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’. And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY. This is our template. This is how we can love the least. To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.
So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?
In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy. When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’. When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.
When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. Jesus got into the whole with us. But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further. He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’ Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’. Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’ He took our place.
Want to know what Jesus would do? At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place. I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date. And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.
Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world. And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing. All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid. We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse. There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.
As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.” Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering. So, wake up, church. Shit happens. Suffering happens. Our avoidance won’t make it go away. But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed. If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven? (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” #StillShePersisted.
This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today. We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them. But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME. And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
In this, we persist.