MANIFESTO for a Divided Country

Every time I go backpacking, I find myself in some of the most remote and isolated backcountry in the world.

On my most recent endeavor to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, from which I am now returning, I was more distant and separated from civilization than I have ever been in my entire life. The closest town, McCarthy, Alaska (population 45) was 50 miles from where we would be backpacking over the week and was only reachable by bush plane.

I don’t know if you have ever had a similar experience, of finding yourself literally cut of from the world- from communication, from news media, from the current geopolitical climate, from domestic unrest, from political upheaval, but it is one of the most liberating, yet terrifying experiences of my life.

In one sense, there is a sweet relief in finding solace in the stillness of the wilderness. Yet, in another sense, there is a profound unease upon reentering the “real world.”

Metaphorically, it is as if this retreat into the wild always provides a necessary cleansing or washing from the accumulated daily muck and mire and mudslinging of our culture, but then is unceremoniously followed by the ugly realization that the mudslinging continues all the while and there is a sad inevitability of having to walk back into it.

And I was told as much upon my first communication the other day when one of my friends said, “After the events of this past week, I suggest heading straight back into the wilderness.”

I seriously thought about it after taking a quick look at the news and social media.

There is a crushing agony to experiencing so much stillness and peace and serenity, but then walking back into so much antipathy, hatred, and division. 

These are certainly the times that try men’s and women’s souls, but retreat is for those who have lost hope that life can actually be better.

Retreat is for those who have lost the prophetic ability to help people imagine and begin working toward a different and better future.

Retreat is for those who have submitted to a defeated reality in which the healing, restorative, reconciling, and saving power of God through Christ has no victory.

And I want each of you to know that I will absolutely not retreat.

I have not lost hope that every single life can be better. I have not lost the prophetic ability to help others imagine and then begin working toward a different and better future. And I will never submit to a defeated reality, because I believe with every ounce of my soul, every ounce of my being, in the healing, restorative, reconciling, and saving power of God through Christ and the victory that is found there for every single individual, for every single relationship, and for every single community, across every culture, every ethnic group, every race, every orientation and lifestyle, and from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

Listen to me, our future can and will be better. 

But it seems, now more than ever, that there is a wide disparity amongst those who ought to be helping make this future better, a great divide between Christians and the Jesus we profess to follow. In fact, many who profess Jesus with their lips do not actively follow Jesus with their lives and this leaves many wondering who we are, where our allegiance lies, and for what purpose we exist.

While this should be obvious, it must be stated, that a follower of Jesus is one who has given their full allegiance and fidelity to Jesus and then one who strives moment by moment to follow the way of Jesus, in word, action, and deed.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will love God and every single human being created in the image of God with our hearts, minds, and souls. And the way this love of God manifests in our lives is, not in guilting, shaming, wounding, hurting, devaluing, standing against, or damning another, but by a willingness to sacrifice one’s self in order to demonstrate this radical love of God to another.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will affirm the God-given worth and value of every single person on the planet from the time of their conception to their final breath of life, no matter their gender, gender identity, orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, affiliation, ideology, religion, socio-economic status, citizenship status, or the sin in their life.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will stand for and will actively work as peacemakers, not just in our own lives, but on behalf of every single life, every single relationship, every single community, and every single situation in which we find ourselves.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will unambiguously and self-sacrificially stand, in solidarity and love with, by, and for every individual or group who is being marginalized, victimized, oppressed, harassed, terrorized, or threatened, no matter who the aggressor may be, no matter if it is a person or a group with whom we may have previously aligned.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will only respond to any verbal or physical antagonism, threat, or offense by another in love.  For each person, even the most violent offender has immeasurable worth and value. Even more, a life fully rooted in the radical love of God can only respond in love, therefore we will respond to every verbal and physical aggression only in love.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will work actively toward forgiveness and reconciliation, not just in our own lives, but between individuals and God, between individuals, and between people-groups, even when this means that we will likely loose standing or position from people or groups with whom we may have previously aligned, for there is no other way forward in a hostile and divided world than in forgiveness and reconciliation.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will strive for lives that emanate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control regardless of the changing conditions around us, regardless of how people, social media, the government, politicians, or the media may try to turn us against others through propaganda and misinformation. We will choose to give others the benefit of a doubt and to love them despite what is said about them, even if it means standing against those with whom we previously aligned.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we will work tirelessly to invite every single person in the world out of systems, structures, organizations, and ideologies that work to divide and build antagonism between people through words and actions, whether it be political, governmental, religious, military, corporate, economic, or ideological, and into a new reality in which love is our absolute foundation, care and compassion is the means by which we relate to one another, grace and forgiveness and reconciliation is our modus operandi, peace is our undying disposition, and unity is the fabric of our relationships and communities.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we choose a different way in this hostile and divided world.

Because right now, there is so much on the line and the world needs the saving, healing, and restorative Body of Christ now more than ever.

Because right now, the world needs those who manifest God’s radiant, self-sacrificing, other-centered love.

Because right now, the world needs those who value all life and believe each person is made in God’s image with immeasurable worth.

Because right now, the world needs those who are actively working to be ambassadors of peace among all people in every situation.

Because right now, the world needs those who are willing to go to their death by standing in love with those are stigmatized as outcasts and pushed to the edges.

Because right now, the world needs those who have taken the path of non-retaliation against hateful litanies and insults, as well as physical aggressions.

Because right now, the world needs those who are working tirelessly to bring the broken pieces back together by working toward forgiveness and reconciliation in all things.

Because right now, the world needs those who are steadfast in moment-by-moment Christ-like character, and who are not easily swayed or manipulated into being anything less than Christ-like.

And because right now, the world needs an invitation into this new, beautiful, life-giving present reality of the Kingdom of God and a people who are willing to extend the invitation.

Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, this worldwide body of Christ must resurrect and come to life, we must unite and lock together arms behind the way of Jesus.

This fractured, broken, and beaten Body of Christ must rise to new life today.

Rise, Church, Rise!

Brandon

This excerpt is from my book Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage available everywhere online.

The Kindle Version is currently $0.99 and the paperback is $10.99 on Amazon!

Losing My Worst Self

I had recently been walking around in the rain on a 41 degree February work day. It was the kind of day when the rain would just. not. stop. And to be honest, I had not really thought that much about the cold and rain throughout the day. With my job, I am in and out of offices all day and I have gotten used to the wildly variable Indiana weather. But as I was nearing the end of the workday, I walked out of the last office and directly into the pouring rain toward my car.

In that split second, I almost grumbled in frustration about the cold and wet.

But I caught myself.

I’m always amazed at how many thoughts and questions can go through a person’s head in just a fraction of second.

Why am I getting frustrated?
Why am I getting frustrated with the rain and cold?
Why am I getting frustrated when I will be in my car in 15 seconds?

The quick succession of questions immediately took me back to one of the most emotionally difficult days on our 2014 Alaskan backpacking trek from Stony Creek to the Toklat River in Denali National Park. It was our third day and we were covering eight miles of rough terrain, all without trails, fighting miles of alder and tussock. The rain was unrelenting, as it pounded us in the cool 40 degree wind. There was not a single dry place along the entire route for a short reprieve, not even for a short, dry lunch break. We were in the unforgiving heart of Alaska, out in the wide open, completely exposed to the elements. And we had to deal with it, because there wasn’t anywhere else to go.

I snapped back into the present, still walking through the parking lot. That quick memory of Alaska made me smile. And within seconds I was laughing audibly, like a crazy man who had just lost his mind, thinking of my relatively insignificant present inconvenience. The joy of unlocking my door, getting into my dry car, and turning on the heat eviscerated the frustration before it could even be birthed. I was immediately thankful.

So why in the world do I share this short account of my frustration, my anger, and my resentment with you?

You may think it is fairly innocuous compared to the deeper issues and problems each of us face every day. I mean, come on, is it really a life accomplishment to not be frustrated by a little rain and cold at the end of the day?

I completely get it.

But I have to tell you, it goes so much deeper than that for me. I have always lived a very reactionary life, in which my automatic internal frustration gauge was always set to maximum. And while many people may have never seen my frustrations visibly, they were always there raging within me. I leaned heavily toward frustration and anger when my circumstances were not ideal. Words like self-reflection or contemplation were not a part of my vocabulary, let alone a regular rhythm of my life.

The hard truth to admit is that I resided in a relatively joyless existence for the majority of my adult life. I was always frustrated with my own personal situations and with the people around me, whom I believed were making my life difficult. And it didn’t help that during much of this time, I was addicted to news and politics, which was a lethal cocktail for that much more frustration. It was an exhausting existence to always be frustrated or angry or outraged about something or someone. And it was starving me from living this life in fullness and abundance and joy.

Even more, when anyone would confront me on the absence of joy in my life, I would summarily dismiss the assertion, or perceived accusation, by claiming that I was using my cynicism in a positive way. The truth is that I was a joyless person hiding behind pretense and justification. And that is the ideal place for an egocentric man to hide and remain unchanged. My resistance and excuse-making were the perfect ingredients for an unhappy, unhealthy, and stagnant life. And the ideal facade to keep my false self intact.

So while it could be easy to dismiss my story of rediscovering joy while laughing like a wild man as the rain poured down on me in a parking lot, to me it represents a man who has been slowly changing and patiently transforming into someone more content and joyful, and hopefully, someone growing more beautifully each day.

Maybe you are like me, a person living each day, veering further and further from your true self, spiraling in disunion, longing for a life that isn’t so angry or disappointing or hopeless. Maybe you have spent the majority of your life in constant, and maybe increasing, frustration with the small irritants of your daily life. Maybe this constant frustration has accumulated over the years and has been robbing you of joy and the experience of the beauty and magnificence and wonder that surrounds you and envelops you in every moment. Maybe your frustrations and irritations have hardened you through the years, disabling you from recognizing the small miracles and beauty of every seemingly ordinary moment.

Maybe you have been experiencing pain or carrying a heavy burden with you each day as you walk out the door. Maybe you are in a place where you are depressed, where you feel worthless, or in a place where you are living in constant shame. Maybe you wake up each morning grieving your life, thinking about the life you used to have, and living in remorse for what you have lost or how you have pushed others away. Maybe you hate yourself, hate what you have become, and you know that you are about to hit rock bottom.

Only you know exactly what you are dealing with or going through.

When we find space for self-reflection and contemplation, we begin to see ourselves more clearly, maybe even for the first time. And in all the ways we have propped up and defended and preserved our false self, we now begin to be transformed into something new and even more beautiful.

That is what the holy inner work of shalom begins to do in each of us. It frees you to become your very best self, the self you were always meant to be from the very foundations of creation, the self that is wholly and completely loved, as you are, by God. And that is the most beautiful and liberating thing in the world.

Peace…

Brandon

Jesus Got A Gun

This post is a response to an article written by Reverend John Armstrong that rebutted my original post entitled Should We Arm Our Churches? 


Over the last couple of months, I have been told by Christians that I had “better watch out” with what I am saying, that I need to “be careful” or that I “need to be more sensitive.” Even more, I have had Christians tell me that I am “dangerous,” and that my positions on nonviolence, in general, and guns in churches, specifically are “dangerous” and “divisive.”

Let me first say that just because I hold a different view on Christian nonviolence and guns in the church, and have initiated a conversation about the issue, does not make me insensitive, dangerous, or divisive. Conversations such as these are absolutely necessary, lest the Church become a self-reinforcing, homogeneous, echo-chamber, which I am afraid is largely becoming the case.

I do find it curious though, that the one who is taking the words and life of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and the pre-Constantinian Early Church seriously and at face-value around the issue of nonviolence, is the one regarded as out-of-line and divisive. One might think that those who stray from, or explain away, the words of Jesus, the New Testament writings, and the Early Church ought to be regarded as the unorthodox position. For the weight of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence far outweighs the opposing, unorthodox position of Christian violence.

When the actual words of Jesus implores his followers to “love [their] enemies,” that ought to be sufficient. For there is no greater enemy than oneattempting to kill or inflict harm. And it is exactly that enemy the follower of Jesus is instructed to love.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says the word enemy, which is the Greek word exthrós, is “a person resolved to inflict harm.”  In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are instructed to be of such heart that we will love a person who is resolved to inflict harm upon us.

When one chooses to find gray areas in this, I wonder how one then determines who is one’s enemy and who is not. Even more, what words of Jesus, the author and perfecter of this faith, specify who is to be regarded as an enemy and who isn’t? There are not any distinctions to be made. An enemy is an enemy. And Jesus told his followers to love them. That certainly does not mean one ought not try to escape or think of other creative ways to preempt or diffuse the situation, but a follower of Jesus ought to love the enemy.

Even more, when Jesus tells his followers to not resist an evil-doer, which in Greek is mé anthistémi hé ponéros, it literally means “do not take a stand against, oppose, resist an evil man who injures you.” Jesus understands quite clearly what he is asking of his followers. And the Early Church understood quite clearly what Jesus meant. When violence comes upon a gathering of those who follow Jesus, it quite literally means for us to not stand up against it or oppose it or resist it.

So when one says that a Christian should “speak where Scripture speaks,” there then is no other choice than to say boldly that a follower of Jesus must love his enemy. Hard stop. And by virtue of this single declaration of Christ, one need not labor to recite all the other words of Jesus that support this one single verse.

Additionally, the argument that a Christian ought only “speak where Scripture speaks” misses the entire heart of the Gospel. For if that is the basis by which a follower of Jesus must move forth in the world, then one must be pro-slavery, pro-human cloning, pro-pornography, pro-illegal drugs and so forth.

But of course this is ludicrous.

The Spirit of God births within us a love that allows us to speak to contemporary issues and work toward peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restorative (not retributive) means of justice. So while guns did not exist in the first century, one need only ask, “Since we share the same Spirit as Jesus Christ, would Jesus carry a gun to kill an enemy, even if it is done in self-defense or on behalf of another?” From the words and life of Jesus, I only find that we ought not kill an enemy. But you, as a follower of Jesus, can read his words in the Gospels and answer that for yourself.

Many Christians take the peaceable non-violence and enemy-love of Jesus to be only his divine calling and something divorced from his followers in the present. However, we never read Jesus saying, “This is my calling alone. It is not for you.”

Every single word of Jesus indicates that we, as his followers, have the exact same calling as Christ. So where would one find evidence of Jesus making peaceable non-violence and enemy-love his unique calling and something separate from the calling of his followers? There is absolutely no evidence for it. In fact, the evidence points significantly to the opposite. To follow Jesus is to follow the narrow way. To follow Jesus is to pick up one’s own cross daily. To follow Jesus means to turn away from all supposed worldly wisdom. To follow Jesus means one will be reviled and hated for their radical love and grace. To follow Jesus will mean one’s life because we no longer live in enmity with others, we no longer repay evil for evil. As followers of Jesus, our only disposition is love. And that may make me naive, stupid, crazy, radical, and divisive, but I take the enemy-loving words of Jesus at face value, just like his disciples and the Early Church.

Because when one considers that eleven of the twelve disciples died at the hands of an enemy, one must wonder why they did not self-defend. Or, when the Apostle Paul was killed at the hands of an enemy, why he did not self-defend. Or, why the Early Church was killed regularly at the hands of their enemies, but did not self-defend. The answer is that they practiced a peaceful non-violence rooted in the radical, enemy-love of Christ. And they believed others would see this radical love of Christ and be drawn to it.

Peace always…

Brandon

Read More

Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 1
Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2