I Will Never Be Biblically Correct

I went to a local public meeting a few months ago that really crushed me.

It was a meeting in which a few local business owners and residents submitted a petition to city officials to have our two-year old emergency homeless shelter moved out of their part of town. And while this fact alone was frustrating enough, as it seems no one ever wants the homeless in their part of town, it was even more confounding when I walked into this public airing of grievances and realized that the people who were heading up this initiative were church-going Christians.

Sharing this story is difficult for me. The last thing I want is to come across as sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, or as if I don’t make mistakes or have lapses in judgment. I do. I make many mistakes. I have had significant lapses in judgment over the years. So the last thing I expect is perfection in myself or others.

More than anything, I just want people in the church to be like the Jesus they profess to follow. 

But it seems that much of American Christianity has increasingly abandoned the way of Jesus as the model for how we live our lives. And this one story is indicative of our larger problem.

When the life of Jesus is not the singular template we use to pattern our lives, as Christians, and then to pattern our churches, we end up with a lot of people and groups with Christian labels, but nothing that really looks like Jesus.

This may seem like it ought to be common sense, but for many in the church, it’s actually not.

I saw a conversation the other day that perfectly illustrates the fundamental flaw of not making Jesus the exclusive pattern by which we, as Christians, pattern our lives. A daughter and stepmother were having an honest conversation about her church-going stepmother’s Islamophobia. When the daughter replied that her stepmother’s posture toward Muslims looked nothing like Jesus, the stepmother responded by saying that she would rather be “biblically correct” than “politically correct.”

Do you see the problem here?

“Biblically correct” can be used to justify virtually any position a person wants to take on any issue. Being “biblically correct” can be used, and has been used, to justify racism, slavery, ethnic cleansing, war, gender inequality, religious triumphalism, and every other divisive, exclusionary, hate-filled ideology that one wants to perpetuate. And that is exactly why the Bible should never be the central template of our faith, because it can be cherry-picked to construct and validate the ugliest and most hideous aspects of humanity while enshrouding it with a “Christian” label.

The truth is that hiding behind the phrase “biblically correct,” is actually a convenient way for those who wear a “Christian” label to completely ignore Jesus.

If a “Christian” was truly seeking to be “biblically correct,” they would look exclusively to the one who is referred to as the “author and perfecter of our faith.”

And that is Jesus.

But making Jesus the model for how you live, rather than just a convenient label for your religious group, is not a welcome experience when it challenges the way you think and how you see the world.

That is why it is psychologically easier for the religious to operate within a “biblically correct” faith space where the Bible is selectively applied. Because you can continue to believe, support, and perpetuate narrow, hateful, and xenophobic worldviews, while still going to church and singing your hymns, without ever having to come face to face with a Jesus who calls you out of your hard-hearted and fear-based religiosity.

Can you hear me?

It’s not enough to say, “But didn’t we preach each Sunday in your name? Didn’t we sing your praises at each service? Didn’t we wave our arms in the air and experience your presence? Didn’t we attend Sunday school or small group each week to learn more about you? Didn’t we study and memorize the Scriptures while always having your name on our lips? Didn’t we pray morning, noon, and night to you?”

The hard reality, in Jesus’ own words, is that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord will enter this kingdom. Only the person who does the will of God.”

And what he is saying is that, even though a person may go through the right motions and say the right words, you will never enter into the present reality of God’s fullness for your life unless you pattern your life after Jesus and be doers of God’s will on earth.

I think it is obvious that we desperately need a transformative experience that can only come by making Jesus our singular template, our exclusive pattern, in our lives and our churches. We need people who care more about presently following the way of Jesus than hiding behind religious pretense. Because when we make Jesus our center, we begin to discover how radically different the way of Jesus is than our Bible-centered religious constructions.

And the difference is night and day.

While the Bible can be selectively used to marginalize and ostracize certain people or groups, Jesus is always on the side of the outcasts, the sick, the afflicted, the despised, and the unclean. While the Bible can be used selectively to make a solid argument for being prejudice and exclusive, Jesus is always welcoming and sharing a table with women, foreigners, drunks, whores, cheats, liars, and deceivers. And while the Bible can be selectively used as support for nationalism, tribalism, ethnocentrism, and religious intolerance, Jesus is always affirming the great faith of people from other countries, sects, and religious backgrounds.

Not only did Jesus affirm the faith, and stand in solidarity with, the homeless, afflicted, and disabled outcasts, he affirmed the great faith of the Greek Syrophoenician woman of a Gentile religion, the great faith of the Roman Centurion of a pagan polytheism, and highlighted the great faith of those who were Samaritan, Canaanite, and Syrian. Even more, Jesus had the audacity to make a Samaritan, a religious enemy of the Jews, the hero of great faith in one of his parables. And he did it at the expense of the religious, who were supposedly favored by God because of their position, title, and chosenness.

Do you not see the irony here?

Jesus called out the empty religiosity of the supposed “chosen and saved,” while elevating the great faith of a man from a different religion.

This is why the religious in America keep Jesus at arm’s length, while embracing a vague, Bible-centered position, because Jesus doesn’t hate the people that they hate. And if that makes you mad or uncomfortable, Jesus is calling you out your empty religiosity, as well, and into something so much deeper and life-giving.

Jesus is not interested in your Christian label, your religious knowledge, the importance of your position, the self-assuredness of your baptism, your saved status, your dedication to weekly rituals, the preservation of your church, the impact on your net worth, or the image that you convey.

He cares only about each of us presently living out the love of the Father to all people, whether it be the homeless in your town or your Muslim brother or sister.

Hard stop.

And that is exactly what he modeled in his life. And the model to which he is calling each of us to pattern our lives.

Peace,

Brandon

This Christmas. Be Peace.

Christmas is here.

And it’s once again time to gather together with family, friends, and faith communities and sing hymns and carols of the Christ-child. It’s time to feast together and share the passages of Emmanuel’s humble arrival in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. It’s time to join together again to light the Advent candles and share the Eucharist at Christmas Eve service.

But what if, in the midst of celebrating the peace of Christ through ritual and routine, we have actually neglected peace in our lives?

I find the bookends of Jesus’ life to be an interesting irony.

On one end, his birth is announced with the hopeful refrain, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Yet, when we fast forward 30 years to the other bookend to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the Holy Week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus weeps over his people and cries, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.”

In Jesus, there is the great anticipation of peace in his Advent, yet a great lament when peace has been missed by the very people who longed for it.

I wonder if, we too, are in that place of great celebration, seeking, anticipation, and longing this Christmas season as we join in the heavenly chorus, “Peace on earth,” but then leave the peace of Christ abandoned as an unrealized ideal, as something celebrated but then forgotten, as something hope for but then lost in our daily lives.

If the birth (and then life) of the Christ was anything at all, it was to be a light in the darkness for all people, and then between people. It was to be the way to straighten paths that had been made crooked, the way that brings the peace of God to all people and then their relationships in the present.

But again, there is great joy in celebrating that peace, while lamenting how we missed embodying that peace in our lives and relationships.

What God intends for us is, not simply the celebration and praise of the Prince of Peace this holiday season, but lives and relationships that exist in peace, that flow in harmony, that are immersed in the shalom of the Christ.

That is the goal- that each of us would find the wholeness and completeness and harmony of Christ’s shalom in each of our lives and then extend that shalom in each of our relationships in the present.

And I know I am not surprising you when I say this, but this is incredibly difficult, because we will inevitably experience, or even cause, fractures in our relationships, whether they be with friends, spouses, family members, or other people with whom we come into contact throughout our lives. 

We are not perfect. And I am certainly not perfect. 

But I also have to balance all of that by saying that there are very few people guiding us into this ideal. The general narrative in most faith communities is to be a good person, to be a kind person, to be an upstanding citizen, but rarely, if ever, are we told to be those who work toward extending shalom in every interaction and every relationship, even though the majority of Jesus’ teachings were relational.

It is enlightening, and kind of mind-blowing, that Jesus put a higher priority on us seeking peace in our relationships than on our religious rituals and celebrations. In one of his teachings, he tells his audience that they should actually leave their gift at the altar if they remember that a brother or sister has something against them. According to Jesus, forgiveness and restoration in the relationship, embodying and extending peace through reconciliation, is actually more important to God than our worship and celebration of God! 

This is an absolutely radical teaching, if you think about it.

Can you imagine telling church members that the doors of the building will be closed until each member is reconciled with everyone who has something against them?

No Sunday Services.
No Christmas Eve vigils.
No Eucharist celebrations.
No worship songs.
No Sunday School classes.
No baptisms.

Nothing.

Leave your rituals, your routines, your celebrations, your worship… and go make peace, reconcile with your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your wife, your husband, your neighbor, your friend, and the guy at the grocery store whom you have wronged and then, and only then, can you proceed with worship.

IMG_7256 2

This is seriously radical stuff! But it gives you an idea of how essential it is for the people of shalom to, not just read the stories of the Christ-child and sing the Christmas songs of peace, but to actually be the people of peace above all else. The means are never greater than the ends. Our celebrating and remembering is never more important than our embodiment.         

So what relationships have you have strained? Is there anyone with whom you need to reach out to right now and say that you are sorry? Is there anyone with whom you need to be reconciled?

Meditate on this for a bit.

What would it look like before that Christmas Eve service, before your annual reading of the Incarnation account, or before the next rousing verses of Oh Holy Night to make that call or send that text of apology? This is how shalom begins to move outward for the healing of others and our relationships. Sure, it’s possible that they may not want to reciprocate in the healing and mending of the relationship, but so long as it depends upon you… be peace.

Shalom,

Brandon

My new book Beauty in the Wreckage: Finding Peace in the Age of Outrage is now available at the following online stores.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Apple Books

If you would like to hear the introduction of the book, please head over to my podcast. You can find that link here.

Lastly, this book is so important to me. Please tell others about it and spread the word on social media.

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