Election Crazy & The Jesus Way

I awoke today distressed, and not about the impending results of the election today. (Though, if I’m honest, that alone is enough to distress me. I seem to care more about this election that I probably should.)

This “caring probably more than I should” is why I really empathize with others who are deeply invested in the outcome. Whether their vote matches mine or they vote differently, I understand that today is wrapped in an awkward bundle of passion, hope and fear.

I get it. BELIEVE me, I do.

But that’s not what’s behind my distress.

Surprisingly, it’s not the sour taste that a long campaign season leaves, or the general weariness resulting from my attempt to consume somewhat balanced media regarding “the issues”. It’s not the ads, the opinion pieces, or the yard signs.

It’s about how many who openly call themselves followers of Christ are handling the ‘bigness’ and stress of today. And it breaks my heart.

Spending time on Facebook during election season has involved my seeing which of my friends ‘like’ Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama. Though I know this type of activity drives some people to a self-imposed media fast, it doesn’t bother me. I confess, the Social Studies teacher in me appreciates seeing the democratic process at work, and feel that it can be valuable for people to put words around the reasons why they support specific measures or candidates.

Checking Facebook last night was different, though. A political group appeared in the sidebar ticker that provides updates about what friends and family are doing online. I was not terribly surprised to see a group called “I will NOT vote for (fill in a candidate name here, since there are groups for both major candidates) in 2012” pop up in my feed, as I have family and friends all across the political spectrum. As I looked closer at the ticker, I noticed that a number of my friends were members of one of these groups, all of whom are Christ-followers, several who hold positions of leadership in the Church or community of faith.

Intrigued, I clicked over to see what kept the group going after members shared to whom they would (or would not, as the case may be) give their vote. The overall tone felt disrespectful toward those who felt differently about the upcoming election. The site moderators primarily posted opinion pieces, political cartoons/memes and election news coverage while group members engaged in name calling and open mockery of people who believed differently.

As I was thinking about the cognitive dissonance I felt over Christian leaders participating publicly in groups characterized by disrespectful and overtly negative tone, a new group showed up in my ticker: “Christians against Obama’s reelection”. Like the previous group, several publicly professing Christian friends were members. Hoping that there would be a difference between the tone of the two groups since the second publicly declared itself to be Christian, I clicked over to check out the page.

I was horrified.

Aggressive and abusive language. Name calling and hate speech. Verses pulled from the Bible and applied with seeming disregard for context.

The worst came with a short scroll down the page. A group member composed an election day prayer that the moderator(s) shared publicly. Among accusations of the President being a treacherous, lying Muslim who is “owned by the Brotherhood”, the prayer calls on God to “rid the world” of President Obama, explicitly calling him “evil” and “Satan’s child”. Last night at midnight there were 41 ‘likes’ and several comments supporting the message, most with an all-caps ‘amen’. (Mercifully, the comments section is now disabled.) By mid morning today there are 199 ‘likes’ and 82 ‘shares’.

My heart breaks over this.

199 Christians publicly judging that our President acts on behalf of Satan and calling for his death.  82 Christians sharing this ‘prayer’ in the name of Jesus.

Is it any wonder that people aren’t always jumping to learn more about the good news of Jesus?

God, forgive us.

This morning I found myself singing one of my favorite songs performed (and composed, I believe) by William and Jacob Jolliff: “Oh, the Jesus Way”. It feels timely in light of what I read last night on Facebook and what type of conduct today almost certainly holds as election results unfold.

Oh, the Jesus way

Is the way of peace

Oh, the Jesus way

Is the way of peace

Oh, the Jesus way is the way of peace

When He is King all wars will cease

May his peace begin with me.

When Christ is King, all wars (including political fighting) will end. When we choose the way of Jesus we choose peace: in our hearts, in our families, in our work, and on Facebook. Even on election day.

May we remember, today and always, that in Christ alone our hope is found, not in any candidate or political party. May we remember we have an incredible privilege and responsibility to represent Jesus with our actions and words, for better or worse. May we be constantly mindful that choosing the way of peace is an act of worship, and lean into the reality that the Jolliffs share: the peace of Jesus begins with us now.

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Little Less Talk

I stumbled upon a quote by one of my favorite authors yesterday, and it’s been in my thoughts ever since.  These words capture so beautifully an idea that I’ve been increasingly drawn toward the past few months.

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, or telling them how wrong they are and how right we are…but by showing them a light so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Less telling, more showing. Less condescension, more grace. Less talk, more action.

The more I consider the quote, the more true it becomes. It feels simple to see how L’Engle’s words apply to a life of faith, but I wonder if we cheat ourselves by stopping there. I wonder if her words might carry an even broader challenge to those of us who choose to follow Jesus. In a season of politics and opinions, are we more concerned with discrediting the opposition (whomever we believe the opposition to be in this particular election) or humbly sharing our understanding of the good in the beliefs we hold?

Beyond politics and general faith, these words connect deeply to how I see many in the Church treat our gay friends and neighbors. With the stated concern of “drawing others to Christ”, some who follow Christ seem to get swept up in the business of “not condoning”, in essence speaking condemnation and judgement to the very people with whom they hope to share faith. The results of this witness have been abysmal, and, far too often, deadly.

I wonder how differently things might unfold if we who follow Jesus took L’Engle’s words to heart. What if we expressed our witness through actions of service and sacrifice rather than word? What if we shift our focus to a pursuit of living Christ’s joy so fully and vibrantly that it becames palpable to those with whom we’re in relationship? What if we lived in a manner that reflected trust that God is able to connect with people even without, and in many cases in spite of, our words?

I suspect that radical, God-breathed transformation just might take place.

Praying today for grace to soak in this truth that L’Engle shares, and to live into the challenge I hear in Toby Keith’s lyrics (though I’m certain he never intended them in this way):  faith that’s “a little less talk and a lot more action”.

Unwittingly Defined

After weeks of nursing my three littles through the nasty summer crud that’s been sweeping through town, I succombed. And, as is often the case for mamas in the sick-bay trenches, my sleep-deprived body was no match for the crud that hit me like a ton of bricks. What began as a nasty cold/flu evolved into a nagging cough, which blossomed into a full-blown lung infection.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time.

All that to say, I had some extra time recently to catch up on my reading and Facebook. I clicked over to a friend’s page who had recently moved, hoping for an update on her new life in North Carolina.  What I found instead were words she shared with hurting and upset friends after suffering deep injustice.

“The way we fight defines us.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, nearly choking on my tea.

The words were so simple, and at the same time profound. They rang of truth, and have stuck in my head since I read them.

The way we fight defines us.

These words weren’t  spoken to people of faith, but without a doubt they have challenged mine.

For those of us who represent Christ when we call ourselves his followers, what does the way we fight say about him? Do we take the high road, even when the invitation to travel the low is desperately tempting? Do we hit back? In the midst of deep frustration and anger, do our actions point others toward or drive them away from Jesus?

Facing Inward

So, where did we leave off?  Ah, yes.  Fighting.

I really believe that the spark of disagreement is often faned into a blaze of an ugly fight by the magnification of difference and perceived lack of common ground. Our perspective informs our feelings, which often drive our actions. More often than not, the situation isn’t as desperate as we fear.

It seems that it all boils down to fear. Fear that we’re alone, that we’re not enough, or that our work to see the perspective of the other person might uncover our own wrongs. We fear that our weakness will be exposed, and that we’ll be hurt deeply. We fear that we’re so far off from each other that we need to fight more extreme even have a chance of being heard.

Our fear seems to drive our desire to self-protect and to “fight beyond”, and does little to move toward restoration or healing.

Something that’s helped Jeff and I get through the these “standing together but looking outward” cycles has been counter intuitive, and often really, really scary. In the moment of deepest vulnerability and frustration, we try to (note the inclusion of the words ‘try to’ lest you think my feet aren’t firmly anchored in reality) step away from our attacks on the other, and look at why we feel so defensive. There’s usually a reason, often only tenuously linked to the topic being argued, that is a deep insecurity or wound. Whatever the reason, we feel so vulnerable that we shift seamlessly from conversation into defense mode, lobbing attacks on the other person to fend off assault (real or perceived) on our place of hurt. It’s only when we realize our insecurities and wounds that we are able to break the nasty cycle.

Realizing our own insecurities and wounds, actually naming them and saying them out loud, is horrible. What’s even harder, though, is sharing those vulnerabilites with each other during conflict. It feels like a major tactical error—like mailing the enemy a map to the weakest section of the fortress wall during a fierce battle, with a direct route to the slumbering King’s bedchamber clearly displayed. It feels like a death wish. It’s scary because we don’t know what the other person will do with our disclosure. Will they hold it gently? Or will they use it to destroy us?

It seems that sharing weaknesses with each other is the key that opens the door to grace, though. Sitting with each other, holding brokenness and humbly asking for mercy, opens our hearts to see another perspective. It loosens the entrenching work that’s been done, and changes our posture of facing outward back toward the middle. Facing the middle brings relief— we see each other on the same spectrum, and realize that we’re not actually as far off from each other as we originally feared.

In a climate of polarization, in the world of politics as well as in the Church, how do we avoid letting our insecurities, wounds, and fears dictate our actions? How can we move toward vulnerability with each other, even (especially?) those with whom we disagree? How can better ask for, receive, and extend mercy?

Asserting Love

I’m not a Southerner myself, so this is admitedly hearsay. However, I understand that there’s a Southern coloquialism that’s quite popular: “bless her heart”. What on the surface sounds to be a sweet, well-meaning phrase is in practice used to preface something unkind, harsh, or that we’re not proud to say. You know, like saying “Bless her heart, she can’t pass up a donut to save her life.” That kind of thing.

I feel like I’ve stumbled across the Christian equivalent of ‘bless her heart’ recently: “I say this in love”. Just like its Southern counterpart, the way this phrase is used sometimes feels like a magic wand, or a secret code. It seems to allow Christians to set aside responsibility for any consequences of their words about to follow. It functions as a free pass to say whatever we want.

This past week I’ve seen many things said “in love”, especially in regard to my creating space for conversation about how we understand homosexuality in the Church. Despite the stated intent, being “spoken in love”, I didn’t experience it as such.

“Saying this from a place of love”, or any of its derivatives, feels eerily similar to something Jeff and I call the “I’m Funny Rule”. The rule is this: an inversely proportional relationship exists between how often a person feels the need to tell others how (adjective) they are and the reality of how true that (adjective) is in actuality. The more often a person says “I’m really funny”, the less likely it is to be true. It’s the same with humility, inteligence and physical attractiveness: the more a person talks about how that characteristic applies to them, the less true it seems to be. The most hysterical people typically don’t run around announcing it—they just are. The same thing holds true with those that are highly intelligent, and is especially true for the humble. They don’t need to convince others how true those things are, it’s plainly obvious.

This rule reminds me of  how my 4 year old daughter plays ‘make believe’. The majority of time spent playing ‘make believe’ is comprised of her running around asserting who she is pretending to be. “Hey, Mommy!  I’m Cinderella!  Look at me, Daddy!  I’m Cinderella!  Hey, brothers—it’s me, Cinderella!” This cycle can (and often does) repeat for hours, with no end in sight. She is so busy asserting that she’s Cinderella (or whatever role captures her attention that day), trying to convince us of who she wants to be, that she often never actually gets around to the business of being Cinderella.

Lately the phrase “I’m saying this in love” strikes me in the same way. If we are confident that our message is inherrently loving, there should be no reason to convince others of the point. It almost seems as if we doubt our own motives so we try to cover our bases by “saying things in love”. I wonder if we are acting out our faith the same way my daughter plays “make believe”? Do we assert that we’re acting out of love, or do we simply act out of love?