Is That Why They Call Them “Possessions?”

Cluttered Basement by Tom W. Sulcer

“Clutter in Basement” by Tom W. Sulcer.
Luckily, I don’t have a basement. If I did, it would probably look like his.

When I think about how much stuff I have, it boggles my mind.  The third bedroom in our house is my “office,” but it’s more of a storage room.  Time after time I go in there to clean it out.  I start strong, but quickly run out of steam.

Getting rid of stuff is hard.  It’s incredibly energy-intensive to sort through stuff and get rid of what you don’t really need.  Incredibly energy-intensive.

If not for Katherine, my wife, my whole house would probably be this bad.  As it stands, the chaos is largely contained to … my room.

Time after time I go in there with full hopes of redeeming the space, of separating the wheat from the chaff, of making the room useful and beautiful again.  And time after time, the stuff beats me.

If I were truly free, truly strong, I would have no problem going in there and winning that fight.  If my priorities were in order, my office would be, too.  But they’re not, and it’s not.

I wonder if that’s why they call them “possessions,” because they own me more than I own them?

Advertisements

Hunger and Thirst for … Distractions?

This morning, the preacher talked about the beatitudes (from Matthew 5),  especially verse 6:

“Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (NASB)

To hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That’s an amazing thought.  Most of the time, I have to push myself to read the Bible.  Most of the time, I have to push myself to take the time and really thing about my own behavior, my own attitudes.

Yes, writing draws me, because I have to write.  It’s just something I do. It’s been a substantial part of my self-identity for as long as I can remember.  But I do not really hunger and thirst for righteousness.  I honestly don’t hunger and thirst for much.

And I got to thinking: why?  Why don’t I hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Honestly, I think it’s for the same reason I have trouble getting any school work or writing done after I come home from work:  I get distracted.

Now, part of the “distraction” is my wife. But she’s not really a distraction, she’s my wife.  Spending time and attention with her is a top priority.  But other things distract me, too.

Earlier, I said I was selling my X-Box 360 to raise money for World Vision.  I’ve sold a couple of games so far, and raised $13, and I’m pretty sure I’ve found a buyer for the system itself, which will raise more.

Thinking about the X-Box and how much I get distracted, and how easily I get sucked into a game if I do start playing one, I started to say “I’m selling ALL my video game systems.  This is taking up too much of my time!”

Yeah.  Okay.  Am I shutting off the Internet?  ‘Cause I waste a lot more time on the Web than I do on video games in an average week.  Am I going to shut that off?  I write a BLOG.  Am I going to shut off the TV service (not for two years: we just signed a contract with DirecTV)?

The point is, the game systems aren’t the problem.  The TV isn’t the problem.  I Can Has Cheezburger is not the problem.  I am the problem.

I have a problem managing my time and priorities in a way that is truly Godly.  I have a problem focusing on that which is perfect, that which gives glory to God.

I want the distractions.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because true contemplation and communion with God is hard.  Maybe it’s because real study brings me up against things I don’t like.  Maybe, maybe, maybe…

We all have thorns in our flesh.  This is one I need to struggle against.  I need to learn to fight the distractions.  Only by fighting back can we learn to love righteousness, can we learn to hunger and thirst for it.  And only then will our hunger be satisfied.

Does Welcoming Homosexuals Mean Accepting Homosexuality?

Shaking hands

As Christians, we like to think that we’re unpopular because we take a principled, Biblical stand against homosexual sexual relations.  But the things that stain our reputation most are not at all theological.  They’re not about the belief that same-sex sexual contact is sinful.  They’re about the way we so often treat homosexual people.

There are plenty of churches that actively seek to welcome lesbians and homosexuals into to their midst, while still holding to the theology that homosexual sexual relations are sinful in god’s eyes.

They believe that those who are completely homosexual (and not at all bisexual or attracted to the opposite sex at all) should be celibate, and those who are bisexual should focus their romantic and sexual attention on members of the opposite sex, effectively living as if heterosexual.

These churches are occasionally called intolerant or anti-homosexual, but they actually have homosexual people in their congregations.  They love and worship with and share communion with people who are sexually attracted to the same sex.  They do not hold themselves sinless or blameless or better than their homosexual neighbors.  And so they are able to witness and minister to people who are so often excluded from the Church.

People act like the alternatives are the Family Research Council (which spreads horrible, often false, ‘information’ about homosexuals and works against all their civil rights) or the Episcopal Church (which ordained its first homosexual priest in the seventies, and has created an official blessing for same-sex marriages).

That is a false dichotomy.  You do not need to change your theology to change the way you treat your least popular neighbors (Don’t get me wrong: I believe you can be a faithful, prayerful Christian and not believe homosexual sexual relations are sinful.  But those Christians aren’t the ones I’m writing this post to).

In other words, the evangelical churches of the United States do not have to start blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining homosexual ministers.  But we do need to stop actively working to use the government to attack homosexuals.

In many states, homosexuals can be fired because of their sexual orientation for no reason.  In many states, they cannot adopt.  In many states, they are excluded from hospital visitation for their partners.  Until 2003, having homosexual relations was felony on par with forcible rape in many states.  That’s oppression: “if you’re gay, we treat you like a rapist.”

In other words, homosexual people are treated like second-class citizens, and it’s mostly because of political pressure from conservative Christians.

As Christians, we are called to love all sinners, not just sinners who sin like we do.  As Christians, we are not called to use the empire’s hammer to beat down people we don’t like.  That is antithetical to Christ’s behavior when He was on earth, and I believe antithetical to Christ’s message.

Jesus ate with the outcasts of Jewish society – Samaritans, tax collectors, and more – and He loved them.  He loves them still, just like he loves the outcasts of our American society.  If we love Him, we need to suck it up, step up, and start feeding His sheep.

The Great American Persecution

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1883

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1883

Let me start by saying one thing:

Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.

Let me repeat that:  Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.

This sentiment bothers me, because it not only promotes an ugly, us-versus-them mentality among American Christians, but it cheapens the blood of actual martyrs worldwide.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as quoted in 2011 in Catholic World News each year approximately 105,000 Christians are martyred.

That means they were killed.

Some were hacked apart with machetes (common in sub-Saharan Africa).  Some were shot (common everywhere).  Some were tortured to death, even raped (unfortunately, that’s also common everywhere).  Some just “vanished” thanks to repressive governments and their secret police.  That is persecution.

Not being able to have mandatory school prayer, or even authority-figure-led school prayer at government-run, tax-funded schools is not persecution.  It’s the government actually taking the First Amendment seriously.  Students can still lead prayers, so long as other students’ presence is not mandatory.  Religious student associations can still meet and pray or study the Bible (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example).

I grew up in a small southern town, surrounded by grandparents and great grandparents, an unincorporated community that time forgot.  So don’t get me wrong, I understand how much of an adjustment it can be to go from a safe, comfortable set of small differences (Baptist vs. Methodist jokes, all in good humor, and told over cold, tangy coleslaw and crispy-hot catfish breaded in cornmeal) to a wide world that defies such easy categorizations.

Interracial marriages?  Gay couples?  Immigrants with brown skin and “strange” religions?  Body alterations, online communities, people creating new categories to put themselves in, satire-religions like the Pastafarians, the Dischordians, and the Church of the Sub-Genius?  Is anything ‘normal’ anymore?

No, and it never was.  Homogeneity can become an idol, and we end up worshiping the time when our cultural brand reigned supreme, unchallenged by tides of immigration, litigation, and information.  Losing that isn’t persecution.  Losing that stranglehold on culture isn’t persecution, but it might feel that way sometimes.

Losing our cultural supremacy may even be the beginning of authenticity, of being more like the Apostles:  a dozen good Jews who’d been raised in their Judean monoculture, but who carried the Gospel to Greeks and Asians and other foreigners who spoke with strange accents, ate strange foods, and followed strange customs.

It may even make us more like Jesus, who actively engaged with and loved people society placed as outsiders – racial and religious outsiders like the Samaritans, social outsiders like the tax collectors, and economic outsiders like the poor and disabled.

7 Ways to Keep the Election in Perspective

1) Pray for the other guy.  Whether you’re a fan of Governor Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, or whether you’re like me and can’t vote for either man in good conscience, take some time to pray for “the other guy.”   Pray that God will guide him and give him wisdom.  This is especially necessary if “the other guy” is President Obama.  He’s our current President, and will be leading this country at least until January, and we are urged, as Christians, to pray for the leaders of our nation. [1 Timothy 2:1-2]

2) Realize that neither guy is gonna blow up the world.  As Americans, we tend to make every election into an epic battle between good and evil, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.  Neither Obama nor Romney is going to “launch the nukes” on January 21st.  World War III isn’t coming.  They’ll keep bombing “militants” with Predator Drones, in countries (even allies like Pakistan) that are too weak to stop us, but they won’t pick on anyone our own size.

3) Remember that neither guy is Nero or Caligula (or Hitler, or Stalin …).  Political partisans and Evangelical Christians have at least one thing in common: we’re all really quick to see ourselves as persecuted.  As Christians, we’ve survived much worse leaders, especially in the early days.  And there are much worse leaders in the world today, in places like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.  Neither man is going to bring back the Spanish Inquisition or the KGB. 

4) Remember that we’re fighting over 10%.  Obama and Romney agree on a lot of things: the basic shape of government and entitlements, military interventionism, corporatist “capitalism,” and so on.  Most of the time, when one or the other party says they’ll “cut” a program (whether welfare or military spending), they mean they’ll reduce the rate of increase, not actually reduce (or even freeze) the current levels of spending.

The two major candidates mostly disagree about things they have limited ability to change: gay marriage (which will be decided in the courts) and abortion (which has already been decided in the courts, and which the last four Republican Presidents managed to do almost nothing about).  Neither man is going to radically reshape America.  Governor Romney has even said he’d keep many of the Obamacare provisions, and Obamacare was far less of a radical government takeover than the healthcare systems most other industrialized nations have.

5) Democracy, at least at the federal level, is mostly theater.  Nobody reading this blog has the power to make any difference at that level: it’s all multi-billion dollar corporations and political action groups.  You can make a difference at the local level.  If you want to get involved, there’s the place to start.

6) Our hope is not in Washington DC.  Our hope, as Christians, is in the God who comes to us, the God who dwells within us.  Jesus is still our hope, our real leader.  As Dave Ramsey often says, we have to beat the recession in our own lives before we can expect America to recover.   It’s a cliche that we have to “be the change we want to see,” but it’s one that actually bears repeating.  If you want a more just, compassionate, industrious world, build those virtues in yourself and encourage them withing your personal sphere of influence.

7) No matter who votes for whom, we are still one.  As Americans, we are one nation.  As Christians, we are one people in Christ.  And ultimately, our humanity makes us one with every person on the planet.  If we love as God loves us, we can transcend partisan bickering, transcend Facebook flame wars, even transcend big money bought-and-sold politicians.  We have hope, and we have to live that hope. 

Beyond that, vote how you want.  Or don’t.  And Tuesday night, join in the Election Day Communion at a church near you.

Election Day Communion

Election Day Communion 2012

Over 500 churches across the nation are gathering on election day, November 6, 2012, to hold communion.

We gather to remember that whoever wins, God is still in control.

We gather to remember that whoever we vote for, we are all still one in Christ.

We gather to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, who don’t get to vote, who don’t get to gather publicly.

We gather to pray for our leaders, whether we voted for them or not, that God will give them wisdom and compassion.

We are gathering at South 28th Avenue Baptist Church.  We may be few in number, but we will gather.

It’s not too late for your church to join the communion, to remember our unity.

Remember, we are all one in Christ – liberals,  conservatives, independents, Evangelical, Reformed, Mainline, Catholic.  We are all one in God’s love, all saved by the same Son, the same Redeemer.

Learn more here, at http://electiondaycommunion.org

 

7 Simple Steps to Combat Animal Cruelty (Wrestling the god of the Gut, Part 3)

Free Range Egg.  Photo by Borb, Creative Commons

Free Range Egg. Photo by Borb, Creative Commons

As I wrote here, I’m boycotting factory farmed meat and eggs, because of the cruel treatment of the animals.  So far, people have been pretty supportive.  Some have even been curious, though it’s awkward, because the conversation always comes up around meal time, and my southern courtesy upbringing makes me reluctant to talk about battery cages, gestation crates, animals that aren’t properly killed, and so are alive while being dismembered, and so on.

I’ve come to realize that I took a pretty big step.  Eating at restaurants is hard.  Finding the meat is expensive and difficult.  I live in Mississippi, which is just about the least conscience-eating-friendly place in the country.

Despite seeing tons of cows grazing in open fields along the highway, finding locally sourced beef is all but impossible – even the free-range stuff I have found is from the Midwest.  Katherine was able to find a farmer in Lucedale who sells pork and chicken (she got me cruelty-free bacon.  I love that woman!).

Needless to say, I haven’t made any “converts.”  But it’s been a big jump.  Maybe if I had a few “small things” people could do without radically altering their lives, it would help.  So here are a few suggestions:

1) Buy “cage free” eggs. 

They’re about $1 a dozen more than factory eggs, available at Winn-Dixie or the local farmer’s market.  They also taste much better. Just dedicate a couple more dollars a week to eggs, and you’ll gently push the industry toward more humane treatment.

2) Eat one meatless meal per week. 

The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.  That’s more than the average American weighs.  We all know that’s too much.  Make one more meatless meal per week than you usually do.  It doesn’t even have to be vegetarian.  Try fish or seafood.

3) Reduce the proportion of meat in a given meal, without removing it entirely.

Next time you barbecue, include some roasted vegetables, baked potatoes/sweet potatoes (cooked on a charcoal grill – YUM), and roasted onions (cut an onion, fill the cuts with butter and garlic salt or Italian dressing, wrap it in charcoal, and roast it).

Don’t forget the meat, but alter the proportions.  Steak is good, but steak with baked potatoes and roasted vegetables is better.  Pan-fried chicken is good, but a pan-fried chicken salad with cranberries, mandarin oranges, and walnuts is better.  Okay, I’m making myself hungry now.

4) Request free-range/cruelty-free meat at your local grocery.  Talk to the manager.

 Corner Market gets its free-range meat on Fridays.  By Saturday, it’s gone.  I don’t know why they keep under-ordering.  If it sells out in one day, you’re not ordering enough.  Winn-Dixie always has something, but almost never chicken, and the selection is always thin.

5) Ask where your local restaurants get their meat.

Just knowing that someone cares enough to ask can help raise awareness.

6) Reduce your use of dairy.

In the U.S., dairy pretty much comes from the same uncaring agribusinesses that provide beef.  In fact, the conditions are arguably worse for dairy cattle than for beef cattle (though most of the time the dairy cattle do end up slaughtered for their meat after a few years).

I’m working on this one myself, but it’s not easy around here.  Wal-Mart used to carry soy cheese (cheaper than regular cheese, and it melted better, too), but I haven’t seen it lately, and there’s not a Whole Foods within shopping distance.

7) Spread the word.

“American farmers” conjures images of people like my grandparents in the minds of most people.  In the past, American farmers were small farmers, who cared for their animals like Psalm 12:10 says.

But now most of the farming in American is done by a few large corporations, subsidized by our tax dollars (10% collected 75% of the subsidies between 1995 and 2011, almost $208 billion).  Nanny Jet and Pa Clarence no longer represent the face of American farming, and they haven’t for a long time.  Let that be known.  Speak the truth.

If you want to do something, but aren’t ready to “take the plunge,” try implementing a few of these.  They’re relatively easy.  They’re good for your health.  And most of all, they help nudge American agriculture back in a saner, more humane direction.