Jesus Of Nazareth, PA

The older I get (I’m only 33), the more I’m amazed at how things keep coming full circle. Most of us, I’m fairly certain, can say that we see it most often with fashion. Once, when I was in college, a classmate was rocking his brand new penny loafers with utmost pride, as if he had just discovered the latest and greatest in men’s footwear. And then Dr. Murray, who, being from Texas, only knew one way to address an issue – bluntly – said,  “Hey! I remember when those became popular when I was in grade school…IN THE SIXTIES!!!” I don’t think I ever saw those penny loafers again. 

(Note: For those wanting to bring back the 80s, you do you, but please, for the love of all things kind, leave the hairstyles and rock music alone. We never need to see those come full circle.) 

I became a Christian in the late nineties. And what I remember about every youth related material for churches, is that they all centered around the mantra “Let your walk match your talk.” (Ironically, the one man in my life who pounded that drum the loudest at that time, is very often a complete jerk. But I digress.) But, despite hearing that phrase every week for years, for whatever reason, one day I stopped hearing it for the next 15 years. 

And then 2016 came along, with its polarizing election. 

After the numbers were fully tallied, it was found that 80% of white evangelicals voted for The Donald (give or take a percentage or two). Either word you choose to focus on (white or Evangelical), that number is way too much support for a man who openly ran his campaign on lies, fake news articles, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. In a recent article for Christianity Today, missiologist Ed Stetzer pointed out that such a large number has potentially damaged the witness of white Christians for years to come. Both Stetzer and philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins have each pointed out that, while this number is staggering and heartbreaking, it is important to remember that not every white evangelical voted for him because of his hateful rhetoric. Some voted because they thought they were choosing the lesser of two evils (better a man who says bad things, than a woman who does bad things). Others voted out of desperation, because they felt left behind by Democrats. Still others, because they were hoping he would make good on his promise to select pro-life judges for the Supreme Court. Both Stetzer and Rollins cautioned against treating every Trump supporter the same. (Rollins himself, living in Northern Ireland, had just experienced the fallout of Brexit.) This was also a similar message that Martin Luther King had in his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he warned people of color not to treat all white people as racist, because some of them were actually in the trenches with them. 

I do not want to paint all 80% with the brush of hate. But, Christians in general, and that 80% specifically must  do some genuine soul searching. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love all people. And yet, we elected a man who wants to discriminate against certain people groups. 

As Christians, we claim that God loves all people, regardless of whether they love him back. And yet, we elected a man who promised success only for Christians. 

As Christians, we claim to love the truth, and hate dishonesty. And yet, we elected a man who, according to Politifact, lied 75% of the time, from the moment he stepped off that escalator, to his victory speech. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love the least of these. And yet, we elected a man (and a congress) who wants to strip the least of these of the basic human right of healthcare, and dump them with the weight of the nation’s tax burden. 

As Christians, we claim Jesus’ words that leaders must be humble. That to be first, we must be last. And yet, we elected a man whose whole life is a living monument to himself. 

As Christians, we claim a savior who has broken down the walls of hostility. And yet, we elected a man who wants to erect them. 

As Christians, we remember the quiet witness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And yet, we elected a man who has a long history of treating women as objects for his own sexual gratification. 

Christians, we have so much soul searching to do as it is, given our own history. But you 80% have a major uphill battle ahead of you. For you allowed a man’s words to speak louder than his actions. 

Christian leaders, especially Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James MacDonald, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, must answer for their clear partisan politics done in the name of non-profit status. Being a baby Christian does not excuse human indecency. And you must consider the implications of your choices. 

We must allow that old mantra to come full circle, especially if we are going to claim any faith in a God who wants to draw all people to himself. 

I conclude with the words of a new song. 

I met a man from Nazareth,       who called himself Jesus.             But since he was from PA,                  I knew they weren’t the same.  Just because you claim a name, don’t mean that’s who you are. There’s a Paris, Texas.                   And an Eden, Caroline.                 I’ve spent some time in Vegas,   But never crossed Nevada lines. Just because you claim a name, don’t mean you are that one. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                    a rose is still a rose.                    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart.            Call them anything you want,    they are just what they are.    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart. 

Preacher man opened The Book,  And screamed about his God.        He looked for some souls to save, But barred them at the gate.            Just because you claim a name,     Don’t mean you represent.              There’s Benedict Arnold,                 And Judas Iscariot.                             Brutus was Caesar’s friend,               But stabbed him in the back.            Just because you claim a name,         Don’t mean you will next time. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                             These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want,              They are just what they are.                These stems, thorns, and petals,         Still warm a lover’s heart. 

Actions speak louder than words,   Or have you never heard?              You can speak in angels’ tongues,    But beat your brother numb.          Just because you claim The Name,  Don’t mean you love his world.     There’s no shortage of evil,               And wickedness abounds.                 But the worst kind of sinners,          Were born and raised in church.     Just because you claim a name,      Don’t mean you really are. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                          These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want, they are just what they are.                    These stems, thorns, and petals,       Still warm a lover’s heart. 

I met a man from Nazareth,             Who called himself Jesus.                  But since he was from PA,                 I knew they weren’t the same. 

Looking Beyond Mere Letters

“Doom to you who buy up all the houses and grab all the land yourselves – evicting the old owners, posting No Trespassing signs, taking over the country, leaving everyone homeless and landless.” Isaiah 5:8

What does this look like today? 

Gentrification. The real estate market. Monopolies. CEOs who are paid multi millions, while their employees barely scrape by. Indian reservations. Black neighborhoods and schools. Wall Street. Agesm, where the elder looks down upon the younger. Certain denominations (like the PCA) requiring their ministers to have an M.div, knowing full well that people of color rarely have the financial means to pursue such a degree (especially when it comes to the seminaries that these denominations trust, such as RTS,  where financial aid is not available). Lawmakers who make $180,000+ a year, and limit programs for those who make $25,000 or less, and tell them, “This is America, the Land of Opportunity.”  Corporate lobbyists. Apple, Walmart, and the like getting massive tax breaks despite being billion dollar companies. 

We must learn to look beyond the mere letter of the text, and grasp the heart and spirit of its meaning. Jesus was the MASTER of this!!! “You’ve heard it said…but I say…” 

Because Isaiah’s text continues later: 

“Doom to you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness in place of light and light in place of darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Doom to you who think you’re so smart, who hold such a high opinion of yourselves! All you’re good at is drinking – champion boozers who collect trophies from drinking bouts. And then line your pockets with bribes from the guilty while you violate the rights of the innocent.” Isaiah 5:20-23

I’ve seen verse 20 used a lot by Christians who want to accuse other Christians of backsliding. “You want homosexuals to have civil liberties? That’s calling evil good!”

Is it? 

Meanwhile, these same folks vote for legislators who steal civil rights from people just because they can. My current home state of North Carolina is so ethnically gerrymandered, it got national attention! “This is unconstitutional!” was met by “Obama is such a divisive President!” What the what?!?

I’ve heard the argument that socialism leads to laziness.

Does it?

Isn’t that more of a smokescreen to cover up the real reason you don’t like universal healthcare and college tuition? It’s “your” money? Never mind the fact that you send your kids to public schools, have a bank account, or have insurance (all of which utilize a form of socialism). 

It’s easy to use this verse to remove the speck of dust from your brother’s eye, when there’s a whole blanking building sitting in yours. All because “sin” has become “bad stuff,” like murder and theft, and not also “good stuff” done for the wrong reasons.

Just this week, on two separate occasions, I’ve heard Christians defend their love of God, by propping up all the things they do for him. “I have been a minister for 25 years!” “I’ve been in prison ministry!””I do biker ministry!” Propping up their own resumes as if God is giving them a standing ovation! Not once taking into account that Jesus and the prophets more often than not throw resumes in the garbage, because they see right through them!!! “You didn’t do that for Yahweh! You did that for you! Your heart is far from me!” Which is promptly met by a, “How dare you judge me! You can’t say things like that! I am FILLED with the love of God!” It happened to the prophets. It happened to Jesus. It still happens today. 

I always want to respond, actions speak louder than words! I have yet to meet a well respected Christian who had to reassure people of their love for Jesus. It tends to go without saying. 

Challenge for the day: What are you propping up to appease your conscience, and appear good? What do you hope people will pay more attention to, so that they’ll take you at your word, rather than your lifestyle? What do you call good – in yourself, in the church, in the culture – when, if you do some research, is pure evil?