These Dividing Times

We live in increasingly cynical, polarized, and confrontational times, times that have lost innocence and imagination. We, too many times, operate collectively at the lowest common denominator with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. We do not just oppose others; we dehumanize them, as if they have no intrinsic worth or value. Our causes, affiliations, and ideologies have become more important and more valuable than human beings themselves. People have become obstacles, and then the necessary casualties, to achieve our agendas and aspirations.

Political ideology is pit against political ideology. Ethnic group is set against ethnic group. The “one percent” is put into conflict with the “ninety-nine percent.” “All Lives Matter” is set against “Black Lives Matter,” and vice versa.  Trump supporters are against Hillary supporters, and Hillary supporters are against Trump supporters. One lifestyle rages against another lifestyle. Religious groups are against atheist groups who are against all of religion… and the antagonism never ends.

The fires rage on and are intentionally doused with the verbal gasoline of minute-by-minute news coverage, the political talking heads, and vested interest of every special interest group.

The truth is that the news can be biased in order to manipulate our feelings and beliefs. And it pushes us to the poles of division and antagonism against one another. It is a sad reality how weak we are, how eagerly we consume what we are being fed, how easily we allow our moral structures to fall for lack of any substantial foundation, and how quickly we fall victim to the biased narratives. We don’t see people as human beings. We only see them for the issues they represent… and we believe they must be crushed and defeated.

We are nothing more than pawns, a means to another’s agenda. And we not only buy these false narratives, we begin living these false narrative. We buy into the dividing lines and classifications and labels.

But one thing you will never hear is that there is no reality there. It’s imaginary. It’s manufactured. It has been put into our heads as a lie to divide us one against another. It’s just us, humanity, occupying this infinitesimally small speck of dust flying through a lonely universe… and we are doing it together. We are all the same. And our true nature and relationship to one another and to God is oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

But who is sparking our imagination that there can actually be a better way to live with one another? Who is helping us dream great dreams and then helping us realize those dreams of oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness? Who is painting a more beautiful picture of the future and then helping us imagine that there might actually be more to this life than conflict, division, and hatred? Who is guiding us and helping us see that this kind of reality, this life-producing and life-giving reality, is within our reach and right before our eyes, if we would just awaken to it, if we would have the faith to discover it?

As those who follow Christ, we believe this different reality can only be found centrally and uniquely in Jesus Christ. We believe that all the broken pieces of the universe—people and relationships—get repaired in perfect harmony, all because of his death and his resurrected life.

And as those who follow Christ, our lives must be built upon a foundation of love that transcends polarization so that we will no longer be easily blown to the extremes by the hateful litanies of propaganda.

As those who follow Christ, we should no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view, but from the point of view of Christ. The way we see others is simple- each person on Earth has immeasurable worth and value because we are all children of God. To that end, we should see others as Christ sees them. We should treat others as Christ would treat them. We should speak of them as Christ would speak of them, as beloved brothers and sisters.

As those who follow Christ, we do not work divisively or in ways that are antagonistic or counter-productive to peace. We do not take the side of one against another. We are peacemakers who work tirelessly for peace and forgiveness. Our ministry is that of reconciliation and healing between individuals and groups. As God has made peace and reconciliation with us through Christ, so we continue the work of Christ.

As those who follow Christ, we are to be the embodiment of new creation. And to that end we should be the model of how to be peaceful, how to forgive others, and how to make reconciliation within our families and relationships with others. As Christ modeled for us, so we should model for others.

As those who follow Christ, it is not our goal to fight in bitterness, anger, and rage in order to defeat another person, but rather it is our goal to go down every single peaceful path in order to show the entire world the very love and hope of Jesus Christ.

And while it is true that many will continue to operate with dividing lines and classifications and labels and hatred and antagonism and death, as followers of Christ, we will choose and offer a different reality.

Peace…

Brandon

A Better Narrative: Ferguson and Beyond

Photo credit Johnny Nguyen/AP

When I first saw the incredibly poignant picture of DeVonte Hart tearfully hugging Sgt. Bret Barnum at the Portland, Oregon rally for the shooting death of Michael Brown, my eyes filled with tears. It was the first time after the Ferguson grand jury’s decision to not indict Brown, and then after the subsequent riots, that I saw something for which my heart had been longing- the compassionate embrace of two human beings.

In that one tense moment, with an unsuspecting representative of white law enforcement on one side… and the face of every young, African American male on the other… worlds were supposed to collide, or at least that is the narrative we are told. Yet, in a single moment of indescribable beauty, the opposing forces embraced and it captured our hearts with the possibilities of how things could be, not just one day in the future… but today.

We live in increasingly cynical, polarized, and confrontational times, times that have lost innocence and imagination. We, too many times, operate collectively at the lowest common denominator with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. We do not just oppose others; we dehumanize them, as if they have no intrinsic worth or value. Our causes, affiliations, and ideologies have become more important and more valuable than human beings themselves. People have become obstacles, and then the necessary casualties, to achieve our agendas and aspirations.

Political ideology is pit against political ideology. Ethnic group is set against ethnic group. The “one percent” is put into conflict with the “ninety-nine percent.” Religious groups are against atheist groups who are against all of religion… and the antagonism never ends. The fires rage on and are intentionally doused with the verbal gasoline of minute-by-minute news coverage, the political talking heads, and vested interest of every special interest group.

The truth is that the news can be biased in order to manipulate our feelings and beliefs. And it pushes us to the poles of division and antagonism against one another. It is a sad reality how weak we are, how eagerly we consume what we are being fed, how easily we allow our moral structures to fall for lack of any substantial foundation, and how quickly we fall victim to the biased narratives.

We are nothing more than pawns, a means to another’s agenda. And we not only buy these false narratives, we begin living these false narrative. We buy into the dividing lines and classifications and labels.

But one thing you will never hear is that there is no reality there. It’s imaginary. It’s manufactured. It has been put into our heads as a lie to divide us one against another. It’s just us, humanity, occupying this infinitesimally small speck of dust flying through a lonely universe… and we are doing it together. We are all the same. And our true nature and relationship to one another and to God is oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

But who is sparking our imagination that there can actually be a better way to live with one another? Who is helping us dream great dreams and then helping us realize those dreams of oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness? Who is painting a more beautiful picture of the future and then helping us imagine that there might actually be more to this life than conflict, division, and hatred? Who is guiding us and helping us see that this kind of reality, this life-producing and life-giving reality, is within our reach and right before our eyes, if we would just awaken to it, if we would have the faith to discover it?

As those who follow Christ, we believe this different reality can only be found centrally and uniquely in Jesus Christ. We believe that all the broken pieces of the universe—people and relationships—get repaired in perfect harmony, all because of his death and his resurrected life.

And as those who follow Christ, our lives must be built upon a foundation of love that transcends polarization so that we will no longer be easily blown to the extremes by the hateful litanies of propaganda.

As those who follow Christ, we should no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view, but from the point of view of Christ. The way we see others is simple- each person on Earth has immeasurable worth and value because we are all children of God. To that end, we should see others as Christ sees them. We should treat others as Christ would treat them. We should speak of them as Christ would speak of them, as beloved brothers and sisters.

As those who follow Christ, we do not work divisively or in ways that are antagonistic or counter-productive to peace. We do not take the side of one against another. We are peacemakers who work tirelessly for peace and forgiveness. Our ministry is that of reconciliation and healing between individuals and groups. As God has made peace and reconciliation with us through Christ, so we continue the work of Christ.

As those who follow Christ, we are to be the embodiment of new creation. And to that end we should be the model of how to be peaceful, how to forgive others, and how to make reconciliation within our families and relationships with others. As Christ modeled for us, so we should model for others.

As those who follow Christ, it is not our goal to fight in bitterness, anger, and rage in order to defeat another person, but rather it is our goal to go down every single peaceful path in order to show the entire world the very love and hope of Jesus Christ.

And while it is true that many will continue to operate with dividing lines and classifications and labels and hatred and antagonism and death, we stand in solidarity with Sgt. Barnum and DeVonte Hart in choosing a different reality.

Peace…

Brandon

If Death is Not the End

My grandma died when she was 62 and that was way too early.

Our rides in her beat up old red car that we lovingly referred to as “the Klunker,” our hot summer evenings talking on her front porch, and our quick trips to the local restaurant with the best milkshakes in town… were all cut short by an insidious and dreadful disease called Alzheimer’s.

She would never get a chance to meet my beautiful wife or hold my kids in her arms.

Neither would my grandpa who died of cancer when he was 80.

When I held his hand as he lie asleep in his hospital bed just a couple of days before he passed, I thought about the countless nights I spent at his house, the smell of breakfast and pipe smoke each morning, his flat top haircut, and either a Bible on his lap or Andy Griffith on the television.

Some memories never fade.

But while there is immense joy in being able to remember all of the time we spent together, it is coupled with the haunting reminder that our lives have absolutely no power over death. Whether it is my grandma, my grandpa, me, or even you, our end is certain.

And that reality, our powerlessness to death, is one of utter sadness and despair, because death is our final ending.

So much for family and friends and relationships.
So much for our pursuits and endeavors.
So much for parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner.
So much for art and music and creativity.
So much for sunsets and mountains and shooting stars.
So much for the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer.

It all comes to a crushing, brutal, and inconsequential end in death.

And you can’t help but feel as if we have been short-changed somehow, like it all should have meant something.

All of this time on earth for absolutely nothing in the end… except for the assurance of death.

But if death is our end and our end is meaningless and inconsequential… then wouldn’t all things leading to that end be meaningless and inconsequential as well?

Said another way- if death is the end toward which all life is moving… then why does anything in our lives matter at all?  Why ascribe any purpose to it whatsoever? It is all death in the end anyway.  

Yet we live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance.  We ironically fight for life as if it is worth something, like it has meaning and value. We grieve when loved ones die. We treat cancer and search for the cure for AIDS and go to the family doctor and try to eat healthy… because we prefer life over death. We spend our time, energy, and resources protecting and defending life and standing for those who cannot defend themselves.

But why do this if it is all death in the end… and life is of no consequence?  Why do we even have a preference for life over death?  Why involve ourselves in any pursuit or endeavor while we are alive?  Why waste our time on anything at all?

Why should we paint and design and build? Why should we continue to create and imagine and dream?  Why play music and write stories and cry when there are happy endings in movies and plays if it all just tragically ends?

Why?

I think the answer is simple:  Death is not our end.  

And if death is not our end, and if there is actually a purpose toward which we are moving, then all things leading toward that purpose is full of meaning and is well worth our time.

That is precisely why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important for humanity… because it gives us hope and assurance that, while we were powerless against death, only God has the power to defeat it.  Therefore life, not death, is the purpose toward which we are moving and everything we do to that end is valuable.

That is the very foundation of faith.  It is the belief that God is working toward the renewal of all things, and by virtue of asking God to be the active and present center of our lives,  we begin participating in that renewal right now.  It is a life that looks like Jesus in everything we do.

And it is that reality, God’s power and victory over death demonstrated in Jesus Christ, which is the pinnacle of human happiness and joy… because life prevails and gives us meaning and purpose today.

Family and friends and relationships all matter.
Parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner is a foretaste of how life will be one day.
Art and music and creativity is a reflection of what we were made to do and what we will continue to do at the renewal of all things.
Sunsets and mountains and shooting stars are a present glimpse of new creation when death is finally exhausted.
And yes, the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer with everyone we love is just the beginning of how good life will be when Christ returns.

No more pain. No more tears. No more death. No more decay.

So live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance… because it does!

For in Christ’s resurrection… all things are made new…. even and especially you.