War and Peace Part 2. “Dinner with the Devil”

If many of us don’t who we’re against, we don’t know who we’re for. If we don’t who we’re for, we don’t who we are. 

This dualistic tension holds the very fabric of modern society together, all of war depends upon it. 

All of peace depends upon forgetting it. 

Because the labor of peace is not itself violent or fraught with tension. Rather, the life of a peacemaker is absurd; utterly foolish as some might say. 

In one of the most unexplored ethics of human history, in Jesus we see an alternative.

The largest justification for human violence remains the notion that state violence, war is the only means to thwart evil. Such a perspective is necessarily connected to hubris. Specifically, the arrogant premise that my nation maintains an exclusive handle on morality.

Such flawed systems of belief simply perpetuate the dualistic tensions that perpetuate armed conflict. Many profit from the wars, many suffer. Those who suffer are rarely given a voice, those who profit often have the ears of the nations.

And so in the business of peacemaking it is very easy to fall into a new dualistic trap–the nations are the bad guys, but the poor and outcast civilians are the good people I must protect. This is simply a new “us” and “them.” It’s inevitable conclusion is more violence.

In the classic story of Zacchaeus, Jesus publicly befriends an evil man. Not because he was icky or socially ostracized like some that Jesus was said to befriend, but because he was pure evil.

He sold out his faith and family for power, prestige, and money and actively joined the Romans in oppressing the poor people and belittling Israel. As the chief tax collector, he was directly responsible for the forced economic enslavement and oppression of hundreds of thousands of people. He was absolutely complicit in maintaining the Roman rule which slaughtered innocents and mercilessly maintained its grip of authoritarian power.

This is no “personal” sort of sin like many of the gluttons, and drunks, and sexual misguided Jesus was said to befriend. This dude was a little fascist on his way to selling out his own people for profit.

And Jesus publicly befriends him.

Because this vulnerability, this willingness to sacrifice image, this dangerous move to love the oppressor as much as the oppressed–Hitler as much as his victims–is the utterly paradoxical and petrifying foundation of the Jesus message.

And no one that I can think of has tried this.

Starving with the oppressed I get.

But dinner with the devil?

Perhaps it’s time to ask Assad if he has dinner plans.

War and Peace Pt. 1: “I Can Hear Those Fighter Planes”

I can hear those fighter planes,
Yes I can hear those fighter planes.

Across the mud huts where the children sleep,
Down into the valley and quiet city streets.

We take the staircase to the first floor,
We turn the key and slowly unlock the door.

A man breathes into saxophone,
And Through the walls we hear the city groan.

Outside is America. Outside is America….

…I feel a long way from the hills of San Salvador where the sky is ripped open and the rain pours through a gaping wound, pelting the women and children, pelting the women and children run, run in to the arms of America.

-Bono from U2 in “Bullet the Blue Sky”

I just put my daughter down to let her nurse with her mom to fall asleep for the night.

I woke up this morning to images of children in Douma, Syria suffocating from the latest of atrocities in that neighborhood.

What if instead of seeing the sleepy, relaxed joy inside my daughter’s eyes tonight, I saw the struggle for the final moments of life while toxic gas choked out her ability to breathe?

I can barely write those words for the pain that comes with those mental images.

I can shutter away and try not to think, but my neighbors in Syria cannot. Their plight is one that has persisted the entirety of human existence. For them, this is real life.

So I want to pose the daring, dangerous question,

“Is there another way than endless cycles of violence?”

Or to put it anther way, in the words of the famous peacemaker St. Paul I ask in the name of the human race,

“Who can deliver me from this body of death?”

St. Paul wrote these words to his brothers and sisters in Rome where the punishment for murder was to physically carry the corpse of one’s victim strapped to his/her back. Paul too felt like a man carrying around his “dark side” destined to haunt him for the rest of his days.

Today, I relate.

I consider those children, men, and women dying once again at the hands of a twisted government and I wonder, who can deliver me from this body of death. Their memories and their plight strapped to me like the victims of my own complacency.

If I was in Douma this morning, I would wonder why no one cares about me? Why no one cares about my innocent daughter? How did my neighborhood turn into hell?  Why are we alone to suffer?

Then the tweet from the highest offices of government in America runs across the internet,

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big Price to pay.”

This on the heels of an uncertain future regarding the growing few thousand American Service Members slowly creeping into Syria.

Such visceral images usually illicit strong, bellicose reactions. It seems almost as human as crying or laughing to want retaliation, tit for tat, eye for eye. The only way to keep the world in check is to stop evil, with violence if necessary, right? Isn’t that how it works, isn’t that how this country works? If we don’t do something, then what?

I fear, however, that those of us not in Syria, especially here in the states grinding away at our own livelihood, don’t really care much about justice for Syrians.

I’m not sure how we could while we actively labor to shut our borders from refugees of war–like the ones in Syria. To date, this country has only allowed 44 Syrian refugees to settle here. I’m not sure how we could think we care about Syrians while we continue to spend our money on worthless material possessions and neglect the needs of these desperate people. I’m not sure how we can say with a straight face that we actually care as a country, when we stand to profit so much from entering into another endless conflict in the Middle-East.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, the county’s largest defense contractor, earned a personal salary of $20.6 million last year.

The war business is good.

We’ve been at war continuously since 2001, and only at peace in this country for less than 20 of our 239 year existence. Our greatest export is violence. The Department of Defense the largest employer in the WORLD.

Real quick, this means that more human energy and labour is spent on the American Military Industrial Complex than anything else.

The truth about our world, is that evil is not able to exist unless their is a strong and well developed code of morality that allows it to thrive. Like the one we have here in the States. It’s why words like, “Big Price” are actually frightening, double-sided, and potentially devastating.

History has shown us that genuine love for neighbor is making oneself utterly vulnerable in the name of solidarity. It’s touching the untouchables, starving with the starving, dying with the dying. Somehow, it’s also loving the evil, violent, and dangerous.

It’s why Jesus on the cross isn’t a way of saving a few people from an angry God, it’s a model for how to set the world right. You take the blows of the cycle of violence. You stop the downward descent into mutually assured destruction by not transmitting it any farther. If the violence stops with you, it can no longer touch those for who it was intended.

Two days ago, a radicalized man in Germany drove a car into a crowd of people in the name of his twisted religion. Germany quietly mourned, picked up the pieces, and carried on about their business. It hardly received press. They have their own struggle with immigration, a radical right, and religious radicalization as many countries face in the EU. Without knowing it, though, this week they accepted and killed off an arm of violence in the world.

I learned at West Point that terrorism derives its power from its ability to illicit bellicose and violent reactions from enemies that are unequally matched. The purpose of 9/11 for example wasn’t the incident itself, but the longest war in American history that came right after. That’s terrorism at its most successful.

When we choose not to retaliate, we quietly and humbly put a piece of the world back together. When we chose to die because we must suffer with the suffering, or because we can see the humanity and potential and divine spark in our enemy’s eyes, we are choosing something different.

We become a seed of change that sprouts into a mighty oak in the forest of eternal peace.

This is why genuine Christianity appears as utter foolishness.

But one must compare this foolishness to our current state of affairs. In America, the people via their House of Representatives has completely abdicated their role in preventing war. By doing so we have made ourselves utterly complicit in the destabilization and evil that persists in the Middle East. When it comes to a leader resorting to violence to maintain control over his land as is the case in Syria, we have to  recognize our part in that. The destabilization that began with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has a part to play the Syria’s suffering.

After 9/11, congress temporarily authorized what is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF. This new doctrine was liberally mixed with the War Powers Act of the Constitution. This political cocktail was supposedly created in the name of allowing the Executive to temporarily consolidate power to make responding to 9/11 simpler.

This act gave the Executive unilateral power to deploy the American Military. Mind you, I’m in the process of getting out of the Army for issues of good conscience, but this military force is unparalleled in its raw, destructive potential in the history of mankind. This power was formally abdicated by Congress in 2001 and never returned.

At the moment, one man has the ability to deploy, commit, and direct the most powerful military-inustrial complex in the history of the world. This isn’t a personal attack against any one president either, because this has now persisted through 3 presidents, some multiple terms. Furthermore, the largest lobbyist and contractors in America stand to profit from another endless and public war in Syria.

“Big Price” might have a double-meaning in this case. Many in this country are standing to profit (remember that $20.6 million a year salary) if our Executive can get angry enough to send troops. Of course, this response would look like more violence, chaos, destabilization, and innocent death in Syria more than redemption.

I desperately want to offer the people of Syria something other than more death!

And so I ask, who is foolish enough to leave it all behind and go die with the dying? To go starve with the starving, to love the evil in spite of their evil, to serve the malnourished and forgotten.

Maybe, to go to the evil one’s house for dinner as Jesus did to Zaccheaus? (more on that later.)

Tonight I meditate and remember the most radical and unexplored ethic of human consciousness,

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What if we became an incarnate prayer for victims of war? Instead of hating the evil ones and contributing to more violence, what if we incarnated the solidarity of Jesus on the Cross? What if we let go once and for all that somehow more bombs, more planes, more radar systems and soldiers could do anything other than cause suffering of the innocent while profiting the companies that make them.

What if we stopped funding and working for ourselves, for war, for death and destruction and became conscientious and empathetic?

Can you see it?


*These views do not represent any of the organizations aforementioned including West Point, the US Army, and Department of Defense. They are solely and exclusively those of the author. 

Visit Link To Help Displaced Families in Syria

Hey everyone,

If you don’t already know, the last 24 hours in Syria have been some of the bloodiest. There’s about 400,000 people suffering from escalated violence between armed rebels and government forces.

Their houses are quite literally falling on top of them.

If you’re interested in helping, click the link below to learn more about what you can do.

Preemptive Love is actually on the ground so all donations go to buying food and other urgently needed items in neighboring areas and is brought directly to these families.

Much love,

Matt

Click Here to Watch a Video About Last 24 Hours:

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Click Here to Learn More and Donate

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The Road To Damascus

Growing up in protestant churches all across the world, I began noticing some striking similarities.

Men in the pulpits.

Defined and often unequal gender roles.

Preformed and rigid rules about “purity” and social hierarchy.

Ungrounded feelings of victimization.

A collective striving for moral perfectionism.

An undying, almost blind support of our government (so long as they happened to be conservative.)

The logical basis for the majority of this behavior can be found in the writings of Saint Paul. He has become the sort of protestant “standard bearer” for how to church.

His ideas, his ecclesiological experiments, his relationships, and his ministry have become the model for Protestantism—especially evangelicalism—worldwide.

But what if we got Paul all wrong? What if his writings aren’t the blueprint that the evangelical world paints them to be?

After all, what of the other Church fathers—Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Augustine—and other historical leaders—Justin Martyr, Abba Anthony, Francis?

The powerful currents of the evangelical sub-culture often limit the spiritual experience to remain contained to the 66 book text now called the Bible.

But what if we’re reading it wrong? What if we’re missing the point?

What if Paul was writing more about his own imperfect relationship with the Divine, filled with feelings of inadequacy and shortcoming, than he was a blueprint for how to plant churches.

He insisted on seeking the influence of the emperor and furthering his “ministry” all the while disbelieving that his salvation alone, could have been enough.

No, he had to take this thing to the king!

His writings portray a man who works out of intense passion and maybe even fear or guilt. This is a theme in virtually all of his writings.

Perhaps Saint Paul makes the mistakes that a lot of church leaders make today—outbursts at other leaders, controlling literalism which stifles growth, a false sense of ownership over other people which causes him stress and anguish, and a need to save others which drives him tirelessly all across the empire.

Maybe the point of Damascus was simply Paul becoming aware of unconditional love? So much so that he would lay down his honor killings. So much so that he would lay down his religious ministry, his righteous agenda.

Lately, I’ve come to view the Road to Damascus as a sort of archetype for modern western Christians. A story which many of us, including myself, share today.

A man so passionate about his cause he kills his enemy on his journey to self-importance. He’s an evangelist. And after conversion he changes teams, cleans up his act, but keeps his evangelistic and self-important nature running away from the simple presence and availability of God.

I think he is quite aware of this tension in his life as evidenced by his often referencing to it in his writings. I don’t think Paul’s words “to die is Christ, to live is gain,” was so much an authoritative position on how one ought to life one’s life. Perhaps it was more a vulnerable glimpse about what he was trying to achieve, though he continued to feel inadequate.

I don’t know that Paul arrived so to speak at Damascus or even in the three years after, or five years after, perhaps if ever!

But that wasn’t the point. He was set free.

He was rescued from his enslavement to murderous jealousy. And like Israel being led out of Egypt, if that’s all God did for Paul, it would have been enough.

In fact, part of the millennia old passover celebration in Judaism, is the dayenu hymn. This word, dayenu, captures the only necessary movement and awareness of coming alive, of connecting to God, of becoming fully human.

To receive the freedom of realizing there is nothing to attain, no spiritual laundry list to mark off, only the boundless and unconditional generosity and love of the Divine.

Roughly translated this word means, “It would have been enough.”

They sing, “If God had only brought us out of our slavery in Egypt, it would have been enough.”

Because this is the spiritual destination. This is arriving.

Realizing that letting go and receiving your freedom from the prison that is the constructs of human injustice and oppression is always the end of the spiritual road.

To put it another way, it’s why the story of Jonah isn’t about the Ninevites, it’s about Jonah.

Jonah thinks God hates his enemies, but God goes to an extreme length to demonstrate the significance of the Ninevites personally to the prophet. Their humanity, their significance to God.

The story of Jonah isn’t about getting swallowed by a whale or a holy man’s disobedience, it’s about God teaching Jonah that his enemies are loved by the same God that loves him.

It’s why the writings of Paul aren’t about how he says to church, it’s about Paul. It’s about Paul’s story, his journey to realizing things like, “without love I am a noisy cymbal.” That even Paul, once an enemy of God, is loved by the same God that loves Jesus.

Maybe there aren’t really any enemies to begin with. Just illusions of separation and division that confuse us about who really are. And so slowly, Paul must remember.

Perhaps the entire Pauline ministry was less of a church model to which we must remain limited, and more of one man’s struggle to let go of his ego, and let the love of God be enough.

Jesus, if you remember, said evangelists like Paul (before and after Damascus) make other men “sons of hell.”

It Is Good.

Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.-Jesus

Let go.

I wish I had realized long ago that this is the main message of following Jesus.

I wish I had realized long ago that this is the main message of all wisdom–often called sophia perennis.

Because, as Tony Parsons once said, the only thing to attain is the realization that there is absolutely nothing to attain.

It. Is. Finished.

And so within the paradox of wanting and having, we fear letting go.

Of our plans, our future, our finances, our goals, our ambitions.

So instead we collect, we hoard, we scheme and plan, we build our 401ks, mortgages, nice jobs of meaningful employment, and settle in for the long cruise.

This game isn’t easy, so we find joy in the struggle.

But as for letting go, no such thing. That’s only for the spiritually elite.

Perhaps. But, what if spiritual elitism is as simple as realizing such a freedom is available for free, without your need of achievement.

It’s the invisible hierarchy and ladder of Christiandom that has kept so many from the freedom of letting go, waiting for us to grasp it just around the corner.

There is absolutely no action necessary for it. Even letting go places too much of the onus of this decision upon our egos.

Just stop playing the game. The 9-5 cubical rat race. The get, get, get, provide, provide, provide cycle. It’s the greatest positive feedback loop ever devised. The great gamble. The great game. The wonderful dream.

Work, work, work, earn, earn, earn, get, get, get. Do it again.

It is God’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. If you spend your hours on food, clothing, water, and shelter you’re making it harder and harder to let yourself fall into the arms of unconditional love.

It is so hard for a wealthy person to inherit the Kingdom. He has no need of it, he’s made his own, of his own devising. And he loves it.

The Kingdom of Heaven–or to put it another way, the true reality–is waiting to reveal itself to you just on the other side of the curtain. But, this Kingdom is a simple life. Much simpler than you’re used to.

No money, no possessions, no plans, no ambitions.

These constructs are the sedative drugs of the middle class that keep us coming back for more.

Because the education costs money, and the job pays it back, but to live cheaply and wisely you need a mortgage, so you shell out even more. You wind up shackled to a job description where you spend at least 8 hours a day any way so why not consider this your chief identity.

Hi, I’m Joe I’m a…

And don’t think this is unique to America, or even unique to our generation. Granted, the scheme as has been perfected as of late, but this has been the bent of humanity since the dawn of its consciousness.

Food and Water, as some have labeled the phenomenon.

The more we have, the more we need, the harder it is to let go.

And so we don’t just hold on to our stuff, we hold on to people, to relationships, to idealism, and mental constructs.

It surely is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle.

So we wake up the kids early on Sunday and fight our way to church.

This should put a band-aid on the existential crisis at least for another week. Let me just get the boost I need to make it one more week.

Yeah, that’s it, I feel better I think I’m ready. You know what, I think I know how to solve that issue at work, I can’t wait to get back…and spend 50 hours at the office this week. I better go home and write that email. Got to provide for the family after all. That’s my duty!

And the loop continues endlessly.

The truth is, I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else.

But I’m hoping not much longer.

I’m hoping to wake up.

Because it really is God’s good pleasure to give me the Kingdom. And Jesus said don’t worry about about anything else, the food and clothing!

I don’t even have to try to get it. I don’t have to hold onto it. Once it’s given the only thing I could do wrong is try so hard to hoard it (like I do everything else) or use it so ambitiously (like I do everything else) that I lose it.

Because the great lie of religion is that there is a seperate seeker and a separate kingdom to seek.

The Kingdom is at hand, and it’s inside you. Inside me. Inside us.

But it’s selfless, and free. So I can’t put a fence around it and charge rent.

This breaks every mental construct that’s ever developed in my life.

So maybe the Kingdom isn’t in my mind. Maybe it’s not even in one singular location. Maybe, it is. Just like, I AM.

And maybe, for me to consider myself distinctly separate from God, from others, from the Kingdom is the great fib of human consciousness. Maybe, there’s nothing to earn, nothing to find, nothing to get, nothing to plan. Perhaps it’s always been my inheritance, I’ve simply been too egotistical to accept its boundless generosity.

So I leave the treasure that’s always been mine, to go find it somewhere else.

I’m the one that’s left.

Maybe, I just need to stop trying and come home.

And maybe, when we come home, we realize that to be human is simply to look back on all of creation, and with the uniqueness of our consciousness say, “It is good.”

 

 

 

Dr. King, Racism is My Fault. And I’m Sorry.

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”

Dr. King wrote these words from prison in what would become known as his Letter From Birmingham Jail. He was helping to organize Nonviolent Resistance in Birmingham when he was arrested. I would  highly recommend the letter, especially on today of all days.

But it wasn’t until recent years that I have come to experience such solidarity with Dr. King. He often preached concerning the Great Triplets of Evil.

These were poverty, racism, and militarism.

I first understood the soul of Dr. King in his preaching concerning the last term on that list. Ironically, it was this idea for which he was least remembered, and most likely killed.

Today, I could dissect any number if his sermons, one-liners, or timeless words. The list is truly endless. However, rather than making this post about me, I want to make it about Dr. King.

Instead of using his words to talk about my life, I want to make my life fit into the truth of his words.

The truth: most of my life I have been a paternalistic white moderate male. Meaning I held the most responsibility of any other demographic in this country concerning racism and violence.

My demographic is the mast in the wind, so to speak. Change us, you turn turn the ship.

Most of my life, I have either been ignorant or complicit toward racism, most the of time simultaneously. For this, I repent. I have been so wrong, and I am so sorry.

I am a white moderate, who no longer will accept any form of racism in this nation. I’m not exactly sure what I am going to do about that yet, but it has been in this last year of my life that I believe I truly understand Dr. King’s words.

For too long I have played the double-faced diplomat asking why “we can’t all just get along” while I totally ignore the plight and reality of what it means to black in America.

For too long I have assumed that if I felt a sort of pity toward the black community than I am not a racist. In fact, this only served to accuse me more of my latent racism.

For too long I have shied away from Race tension in my land because it didn’t really apply to me, because we were clearly over all that, and because it was the black community’s fault for keeping this old wound alive (man these confessions are hard to write.)

For too long I have let my palms get sweaty when I see a group of black men pass me by, even though I would wave and smile if they were white men. (How can I let myself feel this way?)

For too long I have looked for ways to blame the black community for their age-old oppression in order to feel better about myself.

For too long I have ignored the obvious history that has caused continued race tension all over the world.

For too long, I have been complicit in keeping the genuine voices of the black community quieted and unheard for the sake of my own peace of my mind. And as Dr. King has said, a riot is the language of the unheard. This is violence, this tension, this drawn out drama is my fault more than any others.

So I must stand and say to these pithy dismissals that I believe the real plight of my black neighbors, that I acknowledge and embrace the genuine struggle of what is means to be black in America, and I will tolerate nothing less than change.

As much as I desire to see a change with the American love affair with militarism, today I want nothing more than reconciliation and ownership of the systemic and long-term oppression of my black neighbors.

Today I want to learn how I can love my neighbor as myself. Because if Dr. King examined my life to this point, he would declare that my shallow understanding has been more harmful than any amount of ill will I could muster.

And so I put my hand to the plow of this awareness, this consciousness, this solidarity with those who are oppressed.

And in the style of Dr. King, in the spirit of Jesus, I won’t resist those who are evil with more evil or more violence. Rather, I will join the movement to love, listen, and serve the world out of its adolescent stupor into something much greater than I could ever envision.

I believe this was Dr. King’s dream.

Peace,

Matt

P.S., I’ve written a bit about Dr. King’s influence on my life in a book I’ve been working on for a few months. Subscribe to my email list or send me a message on the Contact page for an expert from the work in progress.

 

 

Sons of Hell

You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice the sons of hell that you are. -Jesus

I stood over the Haitian men self-assured.

I was also worthless.

The only person who couldn’t see that was me, until much later.

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“A generator,” they say. “Can you fix it!”

Their eyes light up with excitement.

I’m a philosophy major on a church trip to Haiti, of course I can’t.

A few days earlier, shocked by what I have seen in Haiti, I blame the poverty on their supposed mutual pact with the devil.

They chose satan, it’s their fault.

Of course. Because anything that feels uncomfortable to my white, middle-class, American upbringing is from satan.

“Why did you come to Haiti?” they ask.

“To talk about the love of Jesus!”

I started by barging in on their garage like some sort of British Aristocrat inspecting his estate. Then I blame their struggles with post-colonialmism on their pact with satan.

To spread the love of Jesus. First barging in on them. Second blame them for their poverty behind closed doors in sharp judgment.

Maybe my answer should have been, “I’ve crossed land and sea to succeed at making these people twice the sons of hell as I am.”

This reframing of a mission trip I took a few years ago is the sort of eye-opening I’ve been experiencing these last few years. So much of what I believe, how I perceive the world, and the way I interact with others has been dominated by a very specific worldview.

For most of my upbringing I was inundated in the evangelical framework, going to school and church in the same place.

If you take a step back, you might notice how much the evangelical church mirrors its business-minded spirit. Cold-pitching, convert statistics, brick-and-mortar upkeep, income (tithe), and even business attire has long dominated this peculiar religious institution.

But I also have to remember, that in these pews are genuine people desperately seeking to be good people, to be on the right side, to make sure they are living righteously. There isn’t some intentional, aggravated assault on human flourishing.

But, this does not mean that this culture–most predominant in the American South–is healthy. In fact, it is directly responsible for massive amounts of human suffering from war, to famine, soft-genocide, and the destruction of our planet.

Such a paradox is precisely the soil in which all of the prophets have had to speak a message. Their message is consistent: “Free God up for people, and people up for God.”

So first, a few apologies are in order.

If I have ever hurt you, directly or indirectly, from the rooted place of this evangelical worldview, I’m sorry. And on behalf of any other evangelical-types or Christians in general, I say sorry. It isn’t right, your offense is real, and there is a good chance it was unwarranted.

I even cringe at the way I have said things to people in my family, blaming the demonic instead of agreeing to disagree. I’ve been trained to see division as sourced from the pit of hell. I have been blind as to how pre-fabricated my mental stream of conscious has actually been. I’m sorry.

But, as I turn into 2018 I feel pressed by something new. I really want to grow into a new awareness of life. I want to shift my writing away from criticism.

If you have seen in my earlier posts, I was uncovering criticism as a love-language of the institutions I care deeply about. It was in this place that I was trying to call for reform from the edge of the inside, as some have labeled it. REFRAME was the culmination of that experience.

But this year, I want to transition away from loving criticism, and instead move into what is.

For a while now, I have been obsessed with cause and effect. Basically, I would feel stirred in my soul deeply about some issue. As I moved closer to whatever the problem was, I would begin to see how the problem arose.

Take the church’s interesting love-affair with money, or war for example. I’ve spent countless hours trudging through as much history from as many different sources as possible to understand why we have used God to justify so much evil. (I even wrote an ebook about some of those findings, if you’d like a copy leave me your name on the Contact page with a request and I’ll get you one.)

But lately, I’m coming to outgrow cause-and-effect.

Think of it like this: why do we call a fist, a fist?

It’s a hand making a fist after all, right? And, if that hand were to be extended the fist would become a palm, correct?

The fist isn’t some sort of concept created as a response to something else over the course of time. It’s not like the fist emerged out of a succession of events which naturally created its emergence.

Rather, both the palm and the fist are expressions of the hand, and an expression of the same hand at different moments, regardless of a linear progression of time.

In nature, time isn’t so rigid and linear.

A heart beats in cycles.

An acorn becomes and oak, and oak becomes an acorn.

You inhale, and exhale.

Your body is composed of the same minerals that derive the soil, and when you die these minerals are accepted and used again by the earth.

It exhales life, and inhales death.

Comparing the ticking of the clock to the time of nature is like comparing a military march to a spontaneous stroll in the forest.

And, in the wisdom of Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun. There only is, what is.

I Am, what I Am, if you like.

And so, this moment is actually all we have, it’s all we ever have. Because this moment is nature’s way of becoming the future. Of evolving. In rhythm.

God could have crafted a fist as an independent object for the purpose of punching, but he made a hand, connected to brain and heart capable of both violence and gentleness.

And so in this moment, I must make the same decisions that everyone has had to make since the dawn of consciousness.

Do I chose the tree of life, marked by love, awareness, and genuine pursuit of the kingdom of heaven?

Or do I chose, death and the patterns of a wounded world?

Patterns of hate, violence, division, unforgiveness, evil, and oppression?

This is the distilled message of Jesus. But, unfortunately, we as Americans in 2018 often find ourselves on the wrong side of the oppression to understand the radical message of our Lord.

Because the wars are “over there,” the sweat shops out of sight, the damage to our planet hidden in plain view and discounted, the atrocities of negligence limited to famines in post-colonial wastelands.

So perhaps then if you allow yourself to be fully in this moment this year, the kingdom of heaven might be revealed inside you. Jesus did not teach us to strain to a super-moral being floating in the clouds, but to recognize the image of God that is inside us at this very moment. That’s inside our neighbor. That’s inside our enemy.

Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll use our carefully crafted God to justify all kinds of evil without realizing it.

So maybe this year, we should give religiosity a rest. Perhaps we should trust our ability to know the love inside of us that is the Kingdom of Heaven. And, like the master said, perhaps it really is at hand.

Peace,

Matt

P.S. this message was heavily influenced by a few of my favorite thinkers. If you’d like to know more about who they are and what they’re saying, drop me a note on the Contact page and I’ll send you some material!

 

The Athlete

This is the story of the fastest man in history. He lived in ancient Rome and to this day no one has managed to match his skill. He trained with a veracity that was as intimidating as his performance. He manipulated his diet, his schedule, and his sleep that he may out-perform any who challenged him. He was meticulous in his routines. His coaches were ancient mystics who had learned the secrets of achieving human athletic perfection. He was relentlessly obsessed with winning every race he ran. And he did.

One day the emperor—upon hearing of this man’s legend—invited the athlete to compete in his annual private competition. The emperor traditionally held the exhibit in the innermost area of his massive castle-like complex near the coastline. He would bring in the best athletes from around the Roman Empire and personally witness their substance. Athletes left this competition a validated god, or never to be heard from again. Those who left in the latter condition were often sighted years later as beggars on the street or in dark, lonely pockets of the empire.

Upon arriving to the race, the world’s fastest man found a feast waiting in his honor. He ate according to his diet—focused for whatever competition the emperor had for him the next morning. The emperor spent the feast quizzing the athlete on his drills, diet, routine, and methodology. The athlete answered politely though he remained continuously anxious and distracted by the ensuing race. He left the meal having forgot what the food tasted like, and having forgotten what the emperor has asked.

The next morning the athlete woke up early, anxious anticipation and dreams of glory warring in his head. He did his best to quiet his mind with mantras and meditation. Upon arriving at the stadium, he was escorted to the start line for the race. He surveyed the track to find he was the only one there. He stood alone for what seemed like an eternity.

A single man emerged from the northernmost entrance and slowly approached the lone athlete. His face was warm and inviting—the lines around his eyes seemed to be a road inviting the young man somewhere new, exciting, subversive, and dangerously adventurous.

“Life is not a race.” The man spoke.

“And the victory you seek in this race or any other will not put an end to the aching that you feel for glory. You will never win the race that you truly seek. If you want to win that race, you must lose. Recant your glory pursuit and follow me into obscurity, into the streets of the poor and marginalized, into the depths of who you are without anything familiar, and here you will find the medal for which the deepest part of you longs. And it matters not the race that others run. In order for you to find what you’re looking for, they must win, and you must lose. You must simply follow me out the door.”

Suddenly the athlete found himself among the other athletes as the emperor approached his special seat in the imperial viewing box.

The emperor said, “For the one who wins there will be immeasurable glory. I will call you to sit at my right hand and lead this empire as equal with Caesar, as the true son of god that you will prove to be.”

The athlete stood dumbfounded. He looked to the emperor in shock, then he saw the man with the lines around his eyes standing by the door from which he entered—holding it open. He stood frozen in the moment. He took a step toward the door in frightening adventure. The emperor watched in disbelief as the athlete walked out the front door, never to be heard from again.

“Make it a Cheeseburger…”

“Life is so uncertain,” Lyle Lovett once quipped in his song, Here I am. What a boring, painful existence is a certain life after all. “Make it, a cheeseburger,” Lovett continues in the next line humorously exposing the trivial problems of such a life of assurance. Is this certainty not the American Dream articulated?

A few nights ago my wife and I wept as we gained perspective and freedom against our living with strong headed ambition and its soul-sucking limitations—that life of certainty. As we sat wrestling about the future and what to do next (as many young people do), the parable of the prodigal son emerged into the conversation. But I realized this was my story. Only, I am the son who never leaves, who plays it safe, who seeks approval and is crushed by the seeming apathy of anyone who doesn’t laud my do-gooding. I realized I am not ready for the Kingdom of Heaven for if it appeared today, like the second son, I would choose to sit outside the front gate and weep because the party wasn’t about honoring my lifetime of faithfulness.

Instead, it would celebrate the people which I now seek to love and honor—the poor, homeless, outcast, underprivileged etc. To be honest, I am expecting that when the Kingdom comes, finally this man (me) who humbled himself and served the least of these will be first, noticed, honored, appreciated! Instead I believe that in those days, the party will be for those people and for the people who had the presence of God right next to them their entire life but never knew it. The wise, the woke, the Muslims, the ignorant, the important, the poor, the included and excluded, the Hindu, the farmer—all who were one with their father and never knew it. And the father is going to throw a feast for them because what was lost has been found. And there will I sit outside the gate because I thought I was going to be the life of this party. I served the poor, and rejected status, and rallied others for good.

Where is my reward!?

And I imagine a very sympathetic God hugging me and saying, “What’s mine has always been yours. I’ve been with you every day. Every time we spoke in prayer. Every time you loved your wife and served your child. Every time you woke up in the morning. Every time you fought depression and anxiety. Every time you wrestled with guilt every time you celebrated with joy. Every time you failed and succeeded there I was too. These people spent their entire lives alone but alas, now they are found!”

But I could see myself wallowing out the front gates because I had a dream, I had an agenda, I had a selfish motive. I wanted a reward, notoriety, honor. And God instead honors the people whom I’ve tried to serve already? I would sit alone and weep because all of my doing was worthless. And I would realize that I HAD the Kingdom every day, all along—it was at hand inside me! But I insisted on earning it. I earned nothing but instead missed a lifetime of intimacy, unity, love, and oneness with the Divine. I HAD God every day but missed it because I thought deep down that if I was pious and good and pure he would honor and reward me in Heaven.

Instead I’ve had heaven here and missed it. I’ve been taught I must practice the presence, and invite the spirit, and usher in His will. Instead, this was all available in every moment—in every emotion, breath, act of love, moment of anger, controlling my tongue, going to bed, and enjoying the sunset. Instead of receiving like a child I wanted to earn it like a businessman. Quid pro quo.

And I would weep at a life wasted. Doing good to experience God, never accepting that God has been there the whole time, “to the end of the age.”

There is no condition on God’s love. Why do we reject it and insist on controlling it?

In the story of the two sons, I still want to be the second son. Only I want to put down my shovel and rake and instead pull up a chair and enjoy every breath next to the Divine Presence that is God. I want to listen. Let God love me. Let God teach me. Enjoy “being-ness” itself.

I’ve realized I spend about 99% of my life trying to do more and do better, and focus on MY SIDE of the friendship with God. This is so backward, controlling, and exhausting. I’m ready to focus on what God is giving, initiating, and inspiring and put down getting, achieving, ambition, and working for reward. I am meant to help, serve, and save NO MAN, but rather myself to BE saved, redeemed, and loved.

Perhaps then the hardest part about following Jesus isn’t serving others or serving God. Perhaps the hardest part is allowing ourselves to be poor and needy enough that we would allow Jesus to come and serve us.

“If I do not wash your feet, you have no share with me.” (Jesus in John 13.8)

And I want to be like John who, after resisting understands Jesus and says,

“Lord not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”

And like the second son, something in me remembers,

“…But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your commandment, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends…”

But God whispers,

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”