My First Coronavirus Vaccine Shot

If you are a part of Tapestry Church I would like to tell you that your pastor got his first coronavirus vaccine shot today. I highly encourage you to do the same thing when you get the chance. #GetTheShot

I don’t really understand why this is political for some people. It isn’t for me. I suspect that it has become political for some because for so many people in our culture your political ideology is basically your faith. It is what brings meaning and purpose to your life. In such cases, people who hold such views would rather their kids marry someone from a different religion than someone from a different political affiliation.

When such beliefs are held whose side you are on becomes the determining factor of whether you are a good person or a bad person. Then everything has to be understood through political ideology. The vehicle you drive, the restaurants you eat out, where you shop, where you get your coffee, and whether or not you get the coronavirus vaccine is viewed as a chance to tell others what side of the political spectrum you are on. It is all about whose team you are on.

For me the vaccine is a way of upping my odds of not needing to go to the hospital for COVID-19 complications and thereby helping my neighbor. This is why I encourage you to get the shot.

Pardons & Forgiveness

I started thinking about this post a while back on the last full day of Trump’s presidency. The last full day of a presidency is typically the day in which the more controversial presidential pardons are issued. The reason being that the outgoing president typically knows these pardons are going to have more political ramifications and they want to avoid as much of the backlash as possible. So they issue the pardons as they are going out the door. I, therefore, thought I would take this moment to talk about one of the aspects of pardons that I believe connects closely with forgiveness as articulated within scripture.

It is a bit of an oversimplification but presidential pardons typically involve a recognition of guilt.

I am not a lawyer, nor the child of a lawyer, so please bear with my analysis hear as that of a very ignorant layperson on the subject. What I know is that  Burdick v. United States (1915) states that acceptance of a pardon implies a confession of guilt. Now there are other circumstances under which a pardon may be issued. For example, a pardon may be issued on the grounds that the person is now viewed as innocent or that the whole act was a miscarriage of justice. In addition, a person may have been legally guilty but morally innocent because the law was a bad law. I know there are other reasons but I want to focus on the recognition of guilt in regard to forgiveness because often those being asked to forgive can see such forgiveness as letting the perpetrator “off the hook” and even more often the perpetrator can hope that forgiveness is literally avoiding the rightful punishment for their actions.

Forgiveness implies guilt and that guilt needs to be recognized.

Of course, looking at and actually confronting our own sin is a difficult thing. It is so much easier to point out someone else’s sin than it is to acknowledge our own. I once ear Miroslav Volf say that it is always a work of the Holy Spirit when someone repents and acknowledges their sin because this is not something we typically can do in our own human strength. Forgiving someone is an act of taking back power, you, not them, are determining how you will respond to something someone else has done. Want an example of this? Watch Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement to Larry Nasher. There is nothing passive about that statement. It is an act of taking power back.

Repentance, on the other hand, is an act of vulnerability. It is opening yourself up to someone saying “No! I am not going to forgive you!” You can get hurt when you repent. I believe that is why it is so hard to do and so miraculous when it does happen. Laying our sin bare and truly admitting our guilt is incredibly difficult.

Demond Tutu is the man!

This is why the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission was so powerful. The people who admitted to their crimes there weren’t “let off the hook.” No, they were seen clearly for the first time. They were no longer allowed the veneer of respectability. They were seen as murders and bigots because their guilt was made public for the whole world to see. There was no denying it any longer. This is why many decided they would rather face punishment than have the truth laid bare for all to see. Their sin being made public was simply too great a punishment for them to bear.

Like them, instead of admitting our own wrong we often would rather deny it, deflect to someone else’s error, or offer bland apologies that aren’t actually repentance. “I am sorry if your feelings were hurt.” There is no pardon that comes from such actions because no repentance has been made.

To be pardoned you have to recognize your sin. That is when we are really set free. That is when we receive the gift of forgiveness. We can be forgiveness without recognizing our guilt because that is the act of the one forgiving, but we never really receive the freedom that comes with forgiveness without acknowledging our error.

SIDE NOTE – none of what I just wrote is true for the turkeys that are pardoned each year by the President. To my knowledge those turkey have done nothing wrong, other than being delicious.

Jesus vs Influencers

Yesterday (at least it was yesterday when I began this post last week) I bumped into a friend of mine who is a pastor at another church (he is a wonderful minister that I like and respect a lot, but I will not name him since I haven’t asked his permission). While shooting the bull we hit on a few different subjects. We solved most of the problems of the world – I love these bump in conversations, they are one of the things I miss the most right now. One of the subjects we alighted on was a discussion he was going to have with some Christian “influencers”.

I can not stand the idea of “influencers” in general and I really struggle with the idea of “Christian influencers”. If you don’t know what an influencer is here’s a definition:

An influencer is someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.

definition from Influencer Marketing Hub

What this means in real life is that an influencer is someone other people believe they want to be like and thus will buy products and experiences if the influencer promotes those items. Thus a “Christian influencer” supposedly draws people to Jesus because people see them and want to be like them. It is about the power of the influencer being alluring to others.

Apparently to be a female influencer you have to own this hat – there is even a reddit thread discussing it.

It isn’t that I am against the idea of influence, that can be a great thing when done in faithful manners. I have many people who have influenced me in my life and I am grateful for that influence. Of course, their influence was that they were faithful, not that they were trying to be influential.

Usually “Christian influencers” aren’t just being faithful but instead actively trying to present a picture of influence and power that pretty much mirrors what the rest of the world values, only with some spiritual language. They are very much a part of the culture and leaning into the values of the world around them. There seems to be very little difference between them and the non-Christians influencers, from their look to their values, other than spiritual issues being sprinkled into their content. “Christian Influencers” wear the same “influencer hats” and tattoo sleeves, and pretty much do the same things as secular influencers, in my opinion, because it is more about the influencer brand than it is about the beaten and disgraced Lord.

When I was a youth minister every now and then I would hear someone make reference to a ministry model that was focused on drawing in the “cool” and “popular” kids, with the mindset that if they came then all the other groups would come to the church too. Draw the powerful and the weak will come along too. So the ministry would be structured in such a manner to draw the powerful people. Clearly, this isn’t just a youth ministry problem.

Thus churches and Christian ministers are tempted to fawn over the powerful and long for success. Thus we put on our stages the “hot” and influential in hopes of impressing Jesus with our success rate. We strive for excellence rather than faithfulness, thinking that smooth transitions and high skill levels make up the foundations of the Kingdom of the crucified God. Our pastors exchange our roles as shepherds of the sheep and wounded healers for the titles of author and speaker because we think what Jesus wants is a very well-done TED Talk or TikTok post. Jesus had a few things to say about such actions (Luke 14:7-14).

But when we think like influencers we often tell ourselves, “more people will be reached with the gospel if we do this”. After all, more power and influence will equal more people in the pews, right? We neglect the nagging feeling that such thoughts are the modus operandi of the Roman Empire rather than the gospel of the meek and mild Jesus. When He began His ministry He quoted Isaiah as describing the gospel as “good news to the poor,” “freedom for the prisoners,” “recovery of sight for the blind,” and “set(ting) the oppressed free” (Luke 7:22) – subjects decidedly focused or the weak and marginalized not the powerful and influential.

I get the desire to influence people though. As a pastor and a chaplain I feel that jolt of energy and pride when someone tells me that something I said or wrote helped them. I produce a video every week and two podcast episodes every month for my chaplaining gig and I would be lying to you if I said the “likes” don’t make me feel good when they occur. Those small, electronic thumbs-ups feel real nice. My ego and self-worth receive a little boost when they occur. Yet those momentary digital encouragements are usually more about me and than the kingdom of the Crucified One. I have to always remember that. Narrow is the gate to walking in the Kingdom, not because Jesus wants to exclude, but because the Kingdom life of strength being made perfect in weakness and following the crucified God by taking up my cross and denying myself is otherworldly and goes against the way of the world. Jesus had lots of people following Him till “many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60) Hard teachings have a way of affecting us this way. They are difficult and we want the easy way. The way of depending upon God to work through weakness and requires much more trust than thinking we can do things through our own power and influence.

That is my frustration with the idea of “Christian influencers”. When I read scripture I see the opposite of a Kingdom made by being stylish and cool, from having money and power. One of my heroes, Jurgen Moltmann once answered a question by stating:

“Well, first I would ask them if they had read the Bible; then I would ask them if they had understood it.”

His point was that if the people in question read the Bible and understood it they obviously would not think the way they were thinking. I am convinced that when we read scripture and understand it we will see the Lord Who makes Himself at home with the marginalized and the weak and is a threat to those in power. That Jesus is the Messiah Who taught that it is “not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” and thus He was with the “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13).

Like the sons of Zebedee, we long to sit in places of power, on Jesus’s right and left (Matthew 20:20-28). We seek to have influence and power for the Kingdom not realizing that it was thieves and rebels who were on Jesus’s left and right, the places of honor that had been prepared for them because Jesus’s place is with the weak. People without influence. This should lead to us not seek to influence but to serve. Not to seek power to proclaim but to ask ourselves if greater sacrifice is necessary. I believe it will lead us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and die surrounded by sinners and thieves, rather than buy cool hats and take influential pictures.

Unmarked Cars and Emotional “Fines”

As I was driving down to Madison today I saw a fellow driver who was pulled over for some driving offence by an unmarked police car. I am not a fan of unmarked cars in traffic stops. I don’t even really like police and trooper cars that blend into the surroundings. Police cars should be loud and proud in my opinion. Paint them with the boldest colors possible. Bright blue and glaring green.


Because unmarked cars and boldly visible marked cars have different purposes. Unmarked cars (in traffic stops) are for the purpose of catching someone committing a violation while boldly marked cars are for the purpose of promoting public safety. Unmarked cars operate from the view that you don’t want the driver to see you and have a chance to correct the behavior. When you see a cop car you slow down and that is a good thing. When the car is unmarked you don’t modify your behavior until you see lights flashing, and then it is too late.

One of my favorite examples of this from New Orleans. When I grew up along the Gulf Coast, and eventually moved to Baton Rouge, there was a broken-down cop car that was pretty famous in the NOLA region. It was placed along I-10 so that you would visibly see it, think that an officer might be hitting you with radar. You could see the tail lights go off ahead of you as you got closers to the car, as people saw the car and hit their brakes. It was there for decades. It may still be there as far as I know. What I loved though was that it wasn’t there to give you a ticket or generate income for the city. Nope. It was just there to cause you to slow down.

If I had my way police cars would be more like the top example. Bold & bright!

Sometimes we can judge people in the same manner. We love to call someone out after the fact when they have done something wrong. It builds our ego up and makes us feel more righteous. Such judgment isn’t about helping another to live a better life and prevent them from engaging in destructive behavior. Nope, it is about us generating ego “income” at their expense. We feel better and they feel worse.

I once had a manager who loved to tell people that she didn’t want to give us strict instructions and bind us into a certain way of doing things because she wanted us to be “free” to do what was right. We would ask for guidance on how to make sure that we were doing what this boss wanted and she would respond with “don’t worry about doing what I want, just make sure that you are doing what is right.” Then we would get chewed out after the fact because we didn’t type up a form in the manner that this boss wanted. It was never an action that someone would get fired over, just something that this boss could chew someone out over whenever she needed stress relief. There were “unmarked” expectations that always led to an “emotional fine” rather than guiding us in what to do and what not to do.

I much prefer “marked” expectations and judgment. Such marked items lead to safer, more productive lives, rather than emotional “fines”.

Batnabas ≈ Daugther of Encouragement

If you are a “thread” you might have picked up on a statement I made during the message two weeks ago and that was that two weeks ago (specifically the weekend through the beginning of the week) had not been a very positive week for me. Nothing major or anything just had quite a few blows to the ego. You probably know the type of week that I am talking about. One of those weeks where you have multiple things in a row happen that make you think that you aren’t really very good at the things that you care about and that are important to you. Well, I had one of those weeks. Not a terrible thing but not a great thing.

Thankfully though I know people who are the remedy for such weeks. They are people who are regular encouragers. One of those people is a friend named Megan. She is just plain awesome. What is even better is that she tends to send encouragement when it is most needed without actually knowing that it is needed. I seriously doubt that Megan (who is on staff at an awesome church in Baton Rouge – if you are not a part of a church I cannot recommend highly enough that you check out Living Hope Fellowship in Baton Rouge) heard the message I preached two weeks ago and therefore I am pretty sure that she had no idea that a kind word would make a difference for me this week. She is just the type of follower of Jesus that regularly encourages people and when you regularly encourage people you often end up giving that encouragement at just the right time.

In the New Testament it was Barnabas that did this. He was literally a “son of encouragement“. Lifting up others was so much a part of his character that his friends nicknamed him as an offspring of encouragement. You have to be doing some serious inspiring for people to give you a nickname like that. My nickname growing up was “rat” – I’m not sure what that says about me.

Anyhow Meg is a female Barnabas. A daughter of encouragement. A batnabas?

We all need these daughters and sons of encouragement in our lives. People who say the kind word so often that it regularly comes at just the right moment. If I am correct that we all need such people it probably also means that for at least one person we each have the potential to also be one of those people. Some of us will be naturals at this and some of us will have to work at it, but I think it is within reach for all of us. Therefore we should try to encourage someone.

It helped me out today (Thanks Meg). I’m sure if you do it you will help someone else out.

Not a Fan

Back before the 2020 Presidential Election my future daughter-in-law introduced me to The Church Politics podcast from the & Campaign (thanks Abby). It is an excellent podcast that focuses on a belief (that I agree with) that there is a cross that neither liberalism nor conservatism is fit to bear. If you listen to podcasts, are a Christian or are interested in Christianity, and aren’t presently listening to the podcast I would encourage you to subscribe to it.

I listened to their episode from February 10th today and particularly liked the last section of the episode in which they discussed Senator Ben Sasse’s response to threats of censure from the Nebraska GOP. What I specifically liked about the section was their discussion that Christians can’t react to politicians as fans of those politicians.

Fans get all excited about merely being in the presence of the one they are fanatic about. Fans want autographs and desire to agree with the one they adore. Fans are team-based and their side can do no wrong while the other side can do no right.

But people of faith are called to hold accountable those in power – both those we like and agree with and those we do not. Look at the Old Testament prophets, they spoke to the powers of their own country and the powers of other countries too. Thus Nathan calls out David over the sin he committed against God, Israel, Uriah, and most likely Batheseheba (did she really have any power to say “no” to his advances?).

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?

2 Samuel 12:7-9

Also Daniel comes before King Nebuchadnezzar and interprets the king’s dream of a great tree being cut down in the following manner.

“My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree!

(Daniel 4:22)

Daniel then tells Nebuchadnezzar that he needs to renounce his sins, do what is right, and take care of the oppressed. Daniel was not a fan. Nathan was not a fan. They were prophets and prophets tell people “thus saith the Lord.”

The church is called to do the same thing. We are supposed to be the ones who praise our political foes when they do what is right and call to repentance our political allies when they do what is wrong.

Unfortunately we are often just fans, and cheer for our side no matter what. Don’t be a fan.

Men are from Plover, Women are from Stevens Point

This week I listened to an episode of How to Money concerning how men and women handle money. How to Money is a podcast that I recently began to enjoy after being introduced to it through the Clark Howard Show. One of the things that I really liked about the episode was the discussion they had concerning some of the thoughts that often surround gender and the supposed universal differences between the sexes.

They briefly mentioned the 1990s book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” The book focused on stereo-typical differences between the sexes. Of course, the author, John Gray, isn’t the only one to have ever done this. Lot’s of people take these generalities and focus on them, sometimes to the point of making them universals. Another example of this is Mark Gungor’s Tale of Two Brains.

Now back to the podcast.

What I really liked about the podcast episode is that while it recognized that there are some generalized differences between how most (not all) men and most (not all) women handle money, the sexes have far more in common. That’s the problem with these gender-based stereotypes, they treat the sexes as though we are different species – to make an implication from John Gray’s title, as though we are from different planets. That simply isn’t the case. We have far more in common, emotionally, financially, etc., etc., than we have differences.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences that can be stereotyped. For example, in general …

But once again those are just generalities, not universals. These generalities may be cultural, they may be biological, or they could be a combination of both. One thing is definitely true and that is that they are not true of everyone. When we treat them as though they are true of everyone and say “men are like this…” and “women are like this…” we at best lie to ourselves, and at worst exclude people who don’t fit into these generalities. As though they are less of a woman or a man.

We have much more in common than we have different from one another. Or, to readapt Gray’s book title, men are from Plover, and women are from Stevens Point. There are some differences, but not much. We basically all like good cheese.

Augustine of Hippo is Looking at You Qanon’ers

Read this quote from Augustine of Hippo in Francis Collin’s wonderful book “The Language of God” which I am currently reading with a wonderful group of people. Augustine writes the following:

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

If Augustine was writing in our own time period instead of 4th & 5th centuries he might have written much the same thing to some believers who keep promoting wild conspiracy theories.

I-It Relationships & a Recording of MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Pam and I were talking about MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail this morning and what a remarkable piece of writing and thought it is. If you haven’t read or listened to it lately you can find it at this link from Stanford University (among many other places). The bonus here is that the audio recording is MLK reading the text himself.

This version isn’t read by MLK. For that version you will need to go to the Stanford link above.

There is so much that is challenging in MLK’s letter. I want to briefly focus on his use of Martin Buber’s I/Thou argument. The basic premise of Buber’s argument is that humanity far too frequently finds itself in I-it relationships with each other, a relationship between a subject and an object, or even worse in it-it relationships, a relationship between two objects.

Objects are things we use. We don’t have true mutual relationships with objects. They are for our use, our enjoyment, or production.

Far too often humans see other humans as “it”s. Creatures that are less than image-bearers. Not really worthy of respect other than the respect we may give to a tool that we really enjoy. Any respect we give to an ‘It” comes from its value to us, not from any value that is possessed inherently within itself. You can treat an “it” in any manner that you want because, after all, an “it” is nothing more than an object to be owned and used. When we begin to view a person created in the image of God as an “it” we are at best missing the mark of what is best and very likely sinning.

Martin Buber - a great thinker and a fun name to say.
Martin Buber – a great thinker and a fun name to say.

Instead, we were meant for I-Thou relationships, subject to subject relationships. You have mutual relationships with subjects, even when you strongly disagree with them or they are your enemy. You see the image of God on them no matter how you may feel about the person. Such knowledge restrains and directs how we respond to a person when we are angry or disagree with them. They are always subjects and we must continue to relate to them as subjects worthy of respect.

Most times our us-vs-them relationships are I-it relationships. We disagree with them, perhaps rightly so, and begin to view those we disagree with as evil and less than human. Thus we are justified in any actions we do towards them. We don’t see our counterparts as humans and image-bearers first and foremost. Instead, we merely see them as an object to be defeated. This makes it easier for us to justify a whole “Flight 93 mindset” – they are evil and we have to take them down no matter the cost before they do real harm.

MLK saw Buber’s i-it relationships in racism and realized that was what needed to be fought against. To treat an image-bearer as an “it” hurts both the one viewed as an “it” and the one doing the viewing. It is thus a loving act for your enemy to confront this evil. MLK loved his oppressor and the most loving action he could do for his oppressor was to point out the harm that such i-it relationships did to all of humanity.

I believe we need to do the same with so many of the i-it relationships that still regularly continue as a part of our world, and sadly our faith.

Speaking to Our Kids During Scary News

I’m still a bit shocked by the events of the last week. A crowd attacked the U.S. Capitol while the people who are 1st (the Vice President), 2nd (The Speaker of the House), and 3rd (the Senate President Pro Tempore) in the line of presidential succession were in the building. If we are disturbed by the events that are going around us you can rest assured that our children pick up on these same feelings and they may or may not have the same skillset for managing how they feel and experience such news and events.

As a pastor and chaplain, it is not uncommon to be asked “how should I talk about these subjects with my kids?” I’ll begin by saying I am by no means an expert on this matter. I am just a minister who has dealt with many difficult circumstances and has dealt with the ramifications of people, both young and old, receiving and dealing with information about such circumstances.

That’s why when I heard NPR’s Upfirst episode this weekend concerning how to discuss such events with our kids I thought I would share the podcast episode (HERE) and summarize its contents. On a side note, if you like podcasts I would recommend Upfirst to you. It is a short (10-15 minutes) daily episode concerning news that matters for the day, plus a longer weekend edition on a specific subject that relates to the week.

Here are the main suggestions of the podcast for dealing with scrary news with the children that are in our lives.

  • Limit their exposure to breaking news – If you have the news on 24/7 they are going to hear it no matter what you do. Control the amount of information they hear or see.
  • For big stories, ask: “What have you heard and how are you feeling?” – Limiting doesn’t mean avoiding.
  • Give kids facts and context – We all know that in the heat of the moment lots of things are said and reported which are at best speculation, only share with your kids what we know to be facts (from trusted sources). Saying “we don’t know right now” is your friend.
  • When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like “bad guys.” – instead talk about people being in pain, being angry, and making bad and wrong choices.
  • Encourage kids to process the story through play and art – kids often process through art. Let them.
  • “Look for the helpers” – Fred Rodgers famously said “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mr. Rodgers knew of which he was speaking.
  • Take positive action together – Do something that helps. Even small things make a difference. Give some money, do an action, attend something that is helpful, write someone a note, etc.

So many of these suggestions ring true to me from my own experience as a parent and as a minister. Personally, I am still haunted by some of the drawings made by the kids we worked with after Hurricane Katrina displaying their experience of their homes being flooded. But I also know those drawings helped them to process what they were going through..

One of the kids’ drawings from Katrina.

If you would rather read than listen to the discussion on these suggestions you can find the same basic information in this NOW article “- What To Say To Kids When The News Is Scary. Our children pick up on the things going on around them and us. We need to be proactive in helping them to understand and handle such events without being overwhelmed with fear.