It is amazing how my view of myself has changed so drastically in the past six years or so. It began when I started working on our diaconate, it progressed as I saw my political idolatry and consequentialism, and now it is broken wide open as I see my lack of humility with brothers and sisters of color. I always identified with God in his anger at Israel's rebellion, I identified with the prophet Hosea rather than with his adulterous wife, and I identified with Jesus and the disciples who I imagined were shaking their heads at the rich young ruler (although that's not what the text says they did, but it's what I always did). But I have begun to see that I and my community are most often intended to identify with the wayward Israel in need of mercy, with the unfaithful prostitute, and with the rich young ruler in need of humility and transformation. The following, then, is a reimagining of the rich young ruler story as told in Luke 18, with me and my community standing in for the man who proved his unbelief through his inability to act in love.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
I've always heard that it becomes much easier to understand our relationship with God after becoming a parent. I continue to find a great deal of truth in this. Right now Catalina and I have a hectic life. We have four kids under six, with two boys who are at peak craziness, and a five year old teenager. The big word running around in my mind the past few months has been obedience, because it is very clear to me that my children's obedience could significantly change how life runs right now. How do I develop obedience in my kids? If I could figure that out, it would make my life a whole lot easier. I have been thinking long and hard about how to handle my relationship with my kids, which has also begun to get me thinking about how my obedience (or disobedience) to God may have a similar appearance and patterns.
Obedience had always seemed like a cut and dry thing to me. If someone is in authority, you obey them because they said so. It's just the way it is. But as a parent, the anger which wells up inside me when my children disobey indicates to me that there is a lot more to obedience than some simple mathematical equation. When my kids straight-up look me in the eyes and disobey, I am infuriated. I have done a lot of soul searching on that, because the way I feel anger inside me is very clearly not good. It's not a righteous anger. It's a selfish anger. I recognize that in disobedience, my kids didn't merely fail a moral math equation, they offended me. Obedience is personal. Why is that?
[To hear the extended podcast episode on this topic, check out our episode here].
Every week, from thousands of churches across the United States, requests for help are sent out. Food pantries are in need of workers and food. Women's shelters need volunteers. Children are in need of being fostered or adopted. Families are in need of financial assistance as they try to pay medical bills. And the list could go on. While the church does much good in the world, many requests go unanswered, and needs are left unfulfilled. And though I'm sure it's true that the church could do better, we also recognize that we will never be able to meet every need in such a fallen world. Decisions have to be made about how to use our time and resources in the way that best loves God and others.
There are quite a few characters you can criticize when it comes to the story of Jesus's crucifixion. The disciples were cowards and ran, with Peter even openly denying Christ numerous times. The religious leaders hounded Jesus and held a kangaroo court to convict him. The fickle crowds who were praising Jesus only a week before, now yelled out for his blood. In Luke's account, we even see Satan come into play as he enters Judas and has his hands in the mix. But for as cowardly, evil, or lost as some of these agents were, there is one character we often overlook. Pilate.
I think Pilate gets passed by so often because we can empathize with his position. Whereas the disciples were committed to Jesus and should have been loyal, and whereas the religious leaders were malicious and pursued Christ's blood, Pilate was caught in the middle of something he didn't want to be a part of. He had no loyalty to Jesus, but neither did he hold any malice. He was as impartial a judge as we could hope for in overseeing Jesus's trial. In fact, as we progress through the story, we see Pilate recognize Christ's innocence and attempt to free him using the various means he had at his disposal. To most, it seems like Pilate is a fairly decent guy who is trying to do the right thing, but ends up having to make a difficult decision in order to do his job by maintaining order.
I am a product of America. I've been trained to be a good citizen of the American Kingdom. I've been supportive of upholding the Constitution and founding documents. I've been patriotic. I've taken on my responsibility to vote in every presidential election for which I've been eligible. But during the last election cycle I realized that while I had been well-trained and indoctrinated in kingdom ethics by my country and community, I hadn't been all that well trained in certain Kingdom ethics by my spiritual community, particularly as it pertained to politics. Growing up, I was always told who to vote for or what issues to vote for by my spiritual community, yet I was never taught to evaluate that decision making process. I was to be like a questioning Berean when it came to the scriptures, but not when it came to political parties and issues. This is probably because the moral answer was always so simple in the political sphere. The Republican party is the only party which has a chance of winning and which doesn't support the great moral evil of abortion. The Republican party obviously deserves my unquestioning vote. On top of that, the Republican party has become so tied to the Religious Right - a huge demographic - that they'll give my Christian community more power and influence. With the Republican party, conservative Christians have the greatest chance of making America godly, or at least the greatest chance of staving off the impending moral decay by holding back God's judgment on our nation through the legislating of morality. So I voted Republican for the first three elections of my life - quite literally without thinking twice.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.