Idols All Around

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/11/14/commentary-humans-easily-deceived-idols-every-sort/93588762/

One of the consistent themes that runs all through the Bible is the theme of idolatry. And if we can learn anything from its writers down the thousands of years and hundreds of generations since they lived, it’s that humans are easily deceived by idols of every sort.
It’s arrogant for us to laugh off the idea of stone and wooden deities, and shake our heads at the fish or dragons, serpents or elephants that they represented to our ancestors. (That’s right, all of our ancestors!) Because we’re no less susceptible despite our assertions that we are modern and rational. Twenty-first century man remains a remarkably idolatrous creature.
This is rarely as evident as it is during a presidential election cycle, when we believe that vast power, and all our destinies, rest with the office and person we are electing. If only we elect him, or her, all our problems will be solved and our enemies smitten! We elevate candidates and politicians to places they were never meant to be, not by God, nor indeed by the founders of our republic, who doubtless had a much more suspicious view of human character than we do; else they would never have built in so many checks and balances.
In fact, during elections we also make idols of government in general, constitutions, courts and legislative bodies. We worship commentators and media outlets and anyone and everything connected with the process. We idolize our own opinions and spend far more time in our own personal echo-chambers than we do either worshipping God or (for the non-religious) simply pursuing secular knowledge or simple joy. Pity, as our self-adulating tirades and tantrums change few minds.
But it isn’t only politics. We all have our idols. Thanks to social media, young people take constant photos of themselves in a kind of self-worship. Social media have also allowed Americans to make an idol of the approval of others, whether in likes for one’s selfie, or agreement with one’s views. The disapproval of others is a bitter pill whose side effects include exclusion from friendly society; a kind of excommunication for heresy. How many opinions would be shared more honestly if not for the fear of being shunned or attacked en masse online?
Conservatives often idolize guns or military prowess, as if they could save us from all danger. And yet the Bible says ‘Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the Lord our God.’ (Psalm 20:7) (The chariot being the main battle tank of antiquity, by the way.) And liberals make an idol of choice, as if replacing the word ‘killing’ with a euphemism makes it less like the reality of killing an unborn child, less like a modern adoration of the dark god Molech.
We idolize the freedom of sexual expression and sexual orientation, as if all that mattered in this life were who could have sex with whom. And on the other side, we idolize morality, as if our sanctimonious attitudes about sexual sin were anywhere as important as the forgivingness and redemption offered in the Bible to those who sin sexually, gay or straight. Grace matters more than moralism.
America idolizes the idea of compassion and charity without understanding the moral and spiritual underpinnings that make it reasonable and possible. And yet, we also idolize the American concept that everyone can simply succeed if they try, which is simply untrue. The deck is sometimes stacked and there are those who need our assistance, personally and through state programs. Some idolize capitalism, some idolize socialism, but both can become monstrous deities when not applied with Godly wisdom and caution.
The Decalogue begins with ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery, out of the land of Egypt.’ And follows it immediately with ‘you shall have no other gods before me.’ And of course, after receiving the Ten Commandments, the people promptly made a Golden Calf and ignored God, the source of all their good things. You can be an atheist and still see the truth in this tale. This is the story of all mankind. The worship of those things we shouldn’t, and the rejection of those things that are truly, ultimately good.
Whether a citizen is religious or not, we can surely agree that we all have idols we should take from their altars. Maybe it’s a good time to start.

Are Our Candidates ‘Christian’ Enough? Theology And Politics.

Should our Christianity influence our politics?  Apparently only in some situations.  This is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Not trying to push for one or the other candidate, so I’m not crazy about the title applied to it.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/08/14/ed-leap-but-seriously-would-jesus-vote-trump/88514404/

I’ve seen a lot of commentary lately that says Christians shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. They tell us that he does not, in any way, behave like a Christian. Some of these observations actually come from Christians and are not without merit. But the majority I have seen have been directed from more secular individuals towards Christians.
Instead of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), the question asked of the faithful seems to be WJVT: ‘Would Jesus Vote Trump?’ And it’s a good question, asked for a bad reason. What bad reason? Manipulation of believers for political ends.
It’s a weird election. I think most of us would like to press the reset button and start all over. But it’s August and these two are the main players in the farce which will raise the curtain on its last act in November. I understand both sides of the argument. In a country sharply divided, Trump and Hillary seem (on the surface) remarkably different. Whether they actually are, we won’t know until later. We’ll have to ‘elect one and see what’s in them,’ to borrow from Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
But I’m troubled by something. The same people who told Christians to take our religion and keep it out of politics (and largely out of public life in general) are now berating Christians who support The Donald because they aren’t properly employing their faith in the realm of politics.

Apparently, Christianity properly applied should be used as a screening tool to decide if a candidate is acceptable based on how closely he or she conforms to the popular notion of ‘Christian’ behavior.
I’m trying to imagine the outcry if, when appointing a Supreme Court Justice, a president opined, ‘I’m really not sure she’s Christian enough for the court.’ There would be no end of shocked citizens, deeply angered by a political decision based on Christianity.
I remember, not very long ago, when Christians applied scripture to the same-sex marriage debate. We were reminded in no uncertain terms that our beliefs had no place in the decision. Ditto for abortion. Christianity, it seems, has no place in policies regarding killing the unborn, and certainly shouldn’t play into decisions about whether or not to provide potentially abortifacient drugs! Take that, Little Sisters of the Poor! Silly Christians, keep your ideas and nutty beliefs to yourselves. This isn’t the year 1000, after all!
That is, unless we’re talking about the current presidential election, which is odd. For the most part, past candidates who were very Christian were also considered very unacceptable in the eyes of the media and the secular world. Candidates, for example, like Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist Preacher or Sen. Rick Santorum, the devout Catholic were far too ‘Christian’ to be considered for the presidency. Even Gov. Mitt Romney, Mormon, was just too ‘Mormon’ despite being a very nice, loving husband and father. Good grief, he was the Republican ‘anti-Trump!’
So by now many Christians have learned their lessons. In a grim political and cultural milieu, they have decided that maybe the loud fellow with the bad attitude, who says what many people are thinking, might just be ‘the guy.’ Besides, I don’t really think that Christians voting for Trump are under the delusion that he is representative of Christianity. They just think he might do things that are a little more in line with their beliefs, a little less likely to threaten their values. He might be ‘a little less bad.’ They know they may be wrong, that it’s a gamble. But those of us believers who know our history also realize that our brethren down the ages have been led by far worse (and far less ‘Christian’ ) leaders than either of the current candidates for Commander in Chief. And some of them were quite good for Christians in the end.
I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote for any candidate. Please, vote your conscience. But we should all try to have charity towards those on the other side, who support candidates for reasons probably more nuanced than we believe. (It’s much easier to call our enemies stupid than attribute any intelligent motives to their behaviors.)
And while I believe those who want religion to stay out of politics are ultimately unrealistic, they should at least be consistent. It’s terribly unfair to tell Christians to leave their faith outside the ballot box, but then condemn them for actually doing so.

Can you be a Christian in the ER? Grace abounds…

BOT_F

Many young physicians in training have asked me, quietly or by e-mail, ‘is it possible to be a Christian and practice emergency medicine?’  I think that they ask a good question, and likely for good reasons.

In their rotations they have witnessed, first hand, life in the ER.  They are uncertain, perhaps, because they see the frustration that boils over in the words and actions of otherwise compassionate and caring doctors and nurses. They hear the bitterness and sarcasm, the profanity, the unkind words spoken behind the glass window that separates professional from patient.

They also see, hear, touch…and often smell…the humanity that pours through the doors of trauma centers, academic emergency departments, community ER’s and all the rest.  There is suffering and loss, and the long, piercing wail of the bereaved down the hall, receiving the worst news of all.  They experience the addicted, the drug seeker who will tell any lie, contrive any store to get the pill or injection he or she so needs and desires.  They witness the poverty and need, the hungry, empty eyes of neglected children.   The may witness, or experience, the explosive violence and cruelty of the drunk, the criminal, the wounded.  In such a place, between suffering patients and suffering staff, what young, wide-eyed Christian wouldn’t ask, ‘Dr. Leap, is it possible to keep your faith and work in the emergency department?’

So here is my short epistle on the topic:

‘To the believers in the hospitals and emergency rooms, the church medical, across the land, around the world.  From your brother Edwin, who these years has fallen and gotten up over and over and who loves you and wishes to encourage you.

It is my prayer that you have strength to face the sickness and pain into which you plunge yourself every day.  All around you come victims; victims of disease and accident, victims of violence and neglect, cruelty and hatred.  The drunk and addicted, the angry and the sad, the suicidal and lost, the rejected and abused, the healthy and also the dying; and all are among the dying in the end.  Remember that all of them, and all of us, are also victims of sin, for it was in our separation from God in ancient times that all of this pain began, and in which death took hold of those originally destined for life.

Remember that the guilty and the innocent alike suffer from this, and that our Lord came to be an intercessor, high priest and atoning sacrifice for all.   Your struggle is against the infirmities of the flesh, but also against the wounds of the spirit that underly all suffering in this veil, until we reach the kingdom where death has no power…and you will be out of work for all eternity.  Amen.

Look around you each day, and consider that the emergency room, the hospital ward, the clinic, the operating room, these are places where the gospel is shown forth to you in power, a great gift from the Father so that you may understand by the example of others’ troubles what spiritual truths lie beneath it all and undergird it all.

Although we are all poor reflections, destined to one day (as the word says) ‘be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,’ we are still his dim but ever growing likeness.   And we are His hands, feet, mouth, eyes, mind.  Like Him, we who go day in and day out among the lost, the suffering and those who (despite their willfulness) are hostages to evil.

And although we may have sin in our hearts, although we judge and are angry and frustrated, we do His work.  That is, brothers and sisters, we bring love and touch and healing and comfort to those who frequently have done nothing to deserve it, who exhibit no gratitude or intent to change, but who need our love, need the love and redemption of Jesus.  And like Him, we will show it seventy times seven, through temper tantrums thrown our way, complaints, cruel words, irresponsibility, patient satisfaction, EMR (the devil’s work) and every other difficulty.

Dear ones, in the ER, grace is at work, and a model of grace is there for you to enact and understand.  You give undeserved love and care for everyone all day, every day.  The Spirit gives you strength in hardship so that you may be bold, whether rested or tired, prepared or unprepared.  Also, remember that the spirit works in your sinful heart, to your salvation and holiness.  Those your treat are no worse than you and you no greater than them.  There is a great gift of holy humility in that truth.

One day, on that Great Day, you will see that each act, every stitch, every comforting hand, every EKG, every airway, every psychiatric commitment, each and every weary step into the same room with the same patient and same complaint, every unkind word for another physician restrained, every patient act, these were all acts of grace that molded you.   And the Father, Son and Spirit will welcome you, veteran of ten thousand daily trials.

And it is in this way that one can be a Christian in the ER, in the trauma center, clinic, operating room, delivery suite and all the rest despite the trials, temptations and bitterness that the enemy of our souls inflicts up on us in our work.

May the God of all peace guide you and strengthen you in your difficult work, and fill you with radiant, overwhelming love.

And may you have a quiet shift.

 

Instrument of torture as wearable art; Jesus mocks the cross…

Old weathered wooden cross with blood and tie ropes representative of the cross that was used during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Old weathered wooden cross with blood and tie ropes representative of the cross that was used during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/03/26/jesus-turned-cross-into-symbol-victory/82160182/

My wife has a new cross necklace, given to her by some dear friends of ours. It’s a beautiful bit of silver-work, with flowing lines, flowers and a fish symbol. In fact, our house has a lot of crosses on the walls. People have remarked at the number and artistry of them. We smile and say, ‘every entrance faces one; keeps out the vampires.’ 

It’s odd, though, that the cross became a thing of decoration to Christians. There were pre-Christian cross symbols and pre-Roman crucifixions, but the Roman penchant for this particular form of suffering, and the very execution of Jesus, would seem to have put an end to any illusions about the symbol being a thing of beauty.
And yet, it was first used to represent Christianity as early as the third century AD. At that point, the cross was still being used as a form of execution! (Indeed it probably continued for a few hundred years more and still is used in parts of the world.) Then, as now, wearing a cross was rather like wearing a necklace with an electric chair charm, and decorating with one is akin to having a wall hanging with a noose in the center; rather macabre.
For some, crosses of silver and gold, wood or stone, are nothing more than cultural decorations of minor historical interest. However, to those who really understand and keep Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, to those who take the time to study, pray and reflect, the cross is a treasure of unfathomable power and beauty.
We could say, for instance, that the death of Christ on a cross was the ultimate act of social justice. You see, Roman crucifixion was for the ‘outsiders.’ The only Roman citizens executed on the cross were army deserters. Others were exempt from its brutality. Whether or not you believe in the divinity of Jesus, his death was the death of the stranger, the immigrant, the slave, the criminal. He died with the kind of people he touched, healed, comforted, taught and came to redeem. He was not ‘connected’ or possessed of earthly power.
His cross, blood soaked, embedded with scourged skin, was a symbol of the rebellion of love and non-violence against earthly power and its vanities. He did not resist. He said to his enemies, in essence, ‘fine, have it your way. Even here I work for your good. Hate me, kill me and I will love you through my death.’ Unlike most of history’s rebels, he said of his tormentors, from the crushing height of the cross, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
All of these things make us seen the cross as compelling, even with its stains and jagged edges, ropes and nails. But the reason, in my opinion, that it became a thing we see as beautiful is that on it, Christ finally ended the tyranny of sin and death. It’s beautiful because it is empty; because finally someone died on a cross (with all of its condemnation and misery) but lived once more.
In the ancient world death lurked everywhere, but without even the staying hand of modern science, medicine, hygiene and law. And on that cross Jesus, by dying and returning, put the power of death to sleep forever, and showed mankind that although we would die as well, we could also live again like him. The message is precious to the sick and grieving; that is, all of us in the end.
There’s more; because now as then, guilt and remorse, evil and worry, sorrow, loss and brokenness were everywhere. Christians call it ‘sin,’ as unpalatable as the word is today.
The power of sin, the devastation of the entrenched separation of man from God and all that it wrought, also ended on that hill outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Finally, we could say with joy that Christ mocked the cross and all it stood for by defying its power and the power of those who used it. The old rugged cross, dark god of death, became a thing for necklaces and wall hangings, covered in flowers and rimmed in silver. The wooden torture device liberated and turned to good, like everything Jesus touched.
Easter is a time of flowers, pastels and so many beautiful things. But none as beautiful as the cross and the one who died on it and triumphed over it.

 

Beautiful cross made from flowers

Beautiful cross made from flowers

Church helps bring us together

My column in today’s Greenville News.  You don’t have to be a believer to see that, for all its flaws, the church has had, and continues to have, great benefit for those who attend.  And to the extent that it unites rather than divides, benefits for society at large.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/03/12/church-helps-bring-us-together/81575156/

By way of full disclosure, I’m a preacher’s kid. So, when I write about all of the benefits that accrue from church attendance, I’m speaking from both experience and from a slight bias. But before anyone gets angry and accuses me of all the standard Christian ‘crimes against humanity’ (shoving religion down your throat, intolerance, wanting a theocracy, hating people who are different, being ‘judgmental,’ being a right wing extremist, etc.), let me say that I’m going to talk about the benefits of church without getting into theology at all. That’s right. I’ll try not to even invoke the names of the particular deity that I worship. (I’ll save that for Easter Sunday.)
When I grew up, given that my father was a pastor, church was just what we did. Sunday morning church attendance wasn’t a negotiable (although other services were as I grew older). We got up, mom made breakfast, dad matched ties, polished his shoes and went over his sermon. Then we piled into the car and went to whichever church he was leading at the time. (We were semi-migratory United Methodists.)
In church, we children were herded into Sunday School classes where we were taught and mentored by kind men and women who knew us and our families. From them we learned the stories of our faith, many of which are idiomatic to Western culture at large. And we made dear friends. Some of them are still my friends decades later.
After Sunday School we went to the main church service. There we learned the value of decorum, respect and reverence. We witnessed and participated in the ancient traditions that our fellow believers have followed for two thousand years, and which help anchor believers in difficult times.
In the summer we had Vacation Bible School, that classic church activity held (now as then) in what was surely the hottest, muggiest time of the year, during which we did crafts, heard stories, sang songs, played dodge-ball in the basement and drank our total individual fluid volume in grape Kool-Aid,. We were nourished by sugar cookies and potato chips.
We later dated people we went to church with, although it turns out you aren’t allowed to make out with your girlfriend during church services. (A friend of mine discovered this in a fairly unpleasant manner). We went to camp and on other summer adventures with our friends. And we became adults together, moving slowly out of youth groups into adult classes and adult behavior.
We also learned music. Although these are days of microphones, amplifiers and Power-Point in church (nothing wrong with that), we not only sang in youth choirs and later with adults, we learned to read music and follow along. We appreciated melody and harmony. We read the beautiful lyrics written by great church composers, poetry filled with depth, wonder and hope. Those works are etched deeply in my memory. Many of those beautiful songs are lost to recent generations. It’s a pity. Even Christopher Hitchens, noted and brilliant atheist, suggested the value of reading the King James Bible. I feel the same way about great hymns.
In church, from childhood on, we saw sad, hurt people come to the altar to confess or lay out their troubles. There, friends and family surrounded them in love, in shared tears, touched them with compassion and prayed by their sides. It’s hard to witness that sort of fellowship and not learn to feel sorrow for the struggles of others.
We watched baptisms and took communion (and snuck extra communion wafers), even when we were still learning to fully understand their meaning. These became bits of our identities.
As time passed we enjoyed the delight of weddings. We also went to funerals. We learned with clarity that a group of people who spend so much time knowing and loving one another have to pass through both joy and the sorrow with them. And that death can be celebrated as surely as grieved.
I understand that many people take issue with Christianity. But church gave me great gifts: a community of fellow believers, meeting in love and sharing values and stories that were both culture foundations and individually inspiring. I continue to enjoy that every week.
And in these times of dissension, alienation and isolation, when the only thing we have in common seems to be division, I think we could use a little more church.

We should value each other more than politics

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/02/26/value-each-other-more-than-politics/80922306/

Allow me to spin tangentially off of politics for a bit, if you don’t mind. (I promise to bring it back around.) After all, I suspect even the most passionate political advocate would welcome some news coverage of an alien invasion or a cat that speaks French, or anything just to take our minds off of the endless drone of political conversation. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the classic movie, Groundhog Day. ‘There’s no way… this winter (or election)…is ever going to end.’
Instead, I want to talk about perspective. Many readers and friends will recall that five short years ago my wife Jan had a metastatic throat cancer. She endured some pretty miserable radiation and chemotherapy. After that she had a large pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lung) which put her into intensive care and scared us all.
Over time she recuperated fully and our family went back to life as before, but with some incredible perspectives on the value of life, love, health and the inevitable passage of time. She recently had her last oncology visit and was released. Like a cat tip-toeing on wet grass, the years crept up on us and the thing we hoped and prayed for arrived at last, with less fanfare and perhaps more joy than ever. This year we celebrate her 13th birthday, on February 29th, seeing her as the treasure she is.
The great insight here is that all of our battles, won or lost, illustrate an often neglected fact. Which is that however much we may care about elections or economies or all the rest, the real joy and pain of life circles around that person, or those persons, we love the very most. And anything that makes life better for them, or us, probably won’t come from any elected official of any party but will mostly be the fruit of individual effort (and insight) motivated by intimacy and love.
Indeed, those who govern us have their effects, but hour to hour, day to day, year to year, they remain (quite expectedly) unfamiliar with the unique issues of the many and varied lives of their citizens. We, who love one another year to year, hour to hour, day to day, are best suited to improve the lives of our friends and family members, simply by holding them close in life’s assaults.
Happily, this election too, shall pass. Winners and losers will rise and fall, switch places and mostly end up as impotent to steer the ship of state as all those before them. Scandals will strike, accusations fly, a few good things will result and standard political doldrums will likely set in as always. The political pendulum will pause and swing back and forth as it has for ages, with utter disregard for our messianic political prophecies.
The future will come however we fret about the present. In the end, we will (hopefully) leave behind all of our invective, our screaming, our memes, rallies, slogans and our absolute conviction that a particular candidate will end or miraculously transform life as we know it. We’ll simply move on, as all humans do, to new idols. We’ll then cast the current objects of veneration on the dust-bin of history.
Perhaps, if we are attentive, we’ll then see that the things we dread about the future rarely come to pass at all and suddenly, five years, or ten, will pass and we will still be here, expecting the worst. All the while, of course, living in what is possibly the best time to be human in the history of the world. Many of the things that seemed so immediately critical will probably fade and many of the things that really mattered will remain despite the way we ignored their value. Then we can move forward…till the next election!
Ah, but those we love! Their troubles and victories will remain. Our shared joys and struggles will go on, bonding us together as no election ever could, motivating us far more than any party. They are the arena, they are the causes and campaigns where we make the most difference. They the ‘candidates’ who need and deserve our endless, unwavering devotion and sacrifice.
In our deep need to follow, let’s never forget to follow most closely the ones entrusted to us in the daily trials and wonders of ordinary life.

 

Churches Shy Away From Hard Questions

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  While primary responsibility for teaching our children rests with us as parents, the church often drops the ball in its mission to the young.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/01/24/churches-shy-away-hard-questions/79054658/

I have a problem with the church. It’s not the music, or the ‘mega-church’ concept. It’s not the donuts or the coffee or any other petty issue. The problem I have with the church is that I fear we are doing a poor job of preparing our kids for life.

What troubles me is the way we dumb things down for Christian young people. Maybe we don’t want to frighten them, maybe we don’t want to confuse them or cast any doubt into the faith we’re trying to mold. But frankly, we are failing them. Because it’s a world of hard times and hard questions, and unless we teach kids how to answer them, they’ll have grave difficulties believing all of the stuff we tried to teach.

One of my kids used to come home from Sunday School and we’d ask, ‘what did your teacher talk about?’ He’d shake his little head and sigh. ‘Moses…again.’ Like all of my kids he wanted more than stock stories designed to get through a study guide every year. In fact, our family has often used the term ‘Sunday School answer,’ when having discussions. For example: ‘why is it wrong to steal?’ Answer: ‘Jesus.’ We all laugh at that, but we all know that Sunday School answers don’t always cut it.

The problem we Christians tend to have is that we have a kind of global ‘Sunday School’ answer for the world, which usually comes down to ‘it’s in the Bible.’ Which is great for established believers to say to one another. But at a certain point in time, thinking Christian kids will start to ask about that book we hold as sacred and about that God we worship. And they’ll wonder whether to believe or consign their faith to myth.

Now, if Christian kids ask that, what will non-Christian folks ask them, or say about it? If they don’t recognize the book, or the faith, or the rules, then all of our ‘but it say so,’ and ‘Jesus loves you,’ may fall on deaf ears. So, when our kids go off to work, college or the armed forces, it won’t take long until someone easily shatters their beliefs; not even intentionally, but simply by asking hard, honest questions.

Kids in many churches today are very kind and good. They go on mission trips and they work in the food-bank. They teach the younger kids in children’s ministries, etc. But all too often they aren’t being asked the hard questions in church, or being taught how to deal with them. And I don’t mean that they aren’t being taught how to ‘make the sale.’ I mean they aren’t sure how to face the issues themselves.

What questions do we need to help them answer? Here are some: ‘Why am I here? Do I have a purpose? What is my purpose? Is there such a thing as truth? Why can’t all of our truths be equally true? Did Jesus exist? Does God exist? What do we need Him for? Is there evil? What is sin? Is the Bible reliable? Aren’t all religions the same? How can we be scientific and true to our beliefs? Is Christianity cruel and mean and oppressive? What if I screw up? Why is there pain, suffering and loss? If there is, what does it say about God? Can I have hope in trouble? What happens when we die?’ (Incidentally, many of the same questions are asked by every kid, whether their families are Christian or atheist.)

That’s only a short list. But if we love our kids then we’ll sit down with them and address those life-shaping uncertainties. We’ll do it using the Bible, and by taking from philosophy and history, art and music, biology and physics and every other area of human endeavor, so that they will go into life equipped with solid answers, not fragile platitudes that blow over at the first wind of disagreement.

They’ll ask other questions; sometimes questions we hadn’t imagined. And may of them will have serious doubts. They may walk away from their faith. But they deserve our patience, love and prayers. Because a faith shaken by honest skepticism will be better in the end.

Church leaders and parents, let’s prepare our young people. They need depth to face the world and transform it. They need truth to help them endure life’s struggles. They need to know they are loved and that their lives have meaning.

But Sunday School snippets aren’t enough anymore.

 

Coming Home to The Father’s Beach House

I am doing some temporary work on the SC coast. As it happened, this weekend was the birthday of our daughter, who turned 15 years. Since her celebration fell on a weekend, my wife brought our little girl and her siblings (and a dear friend) to the beach for the weekend.

Since I was there before the clan and found our rental house, it was also my task to stock it. Friday afternoon the family was on the move and I left the ER about 7 pm. Jan had sent me a list of assorted snacks and drinks to buy. So, giddy with the knowledge that my favorite people were headed towards me, I went off to Kroger.

I filled my buggy with chips and Goldfish crackers, with gum, Oreo Cookies, Mounds Bars, Kit-Kats and Hershey Milk Chocolate. I loaded up on Lay’s Potato Chips…Salt and Vinegar, Jalapeno, Barbecue and Wavy. There were water bottles, Coke Zero, Diet Coke and Sprite Zero. And for my lovely wife, a swimming pool of an un-sweet tea from Popeye’s, along with a dozen or so pieces of fried chicken for the late arrival dinner the kids would certainly want. It was exactly the sort of feast that makes a vacation, however short, a vacation. And the best part was that as I shopped, I knew the desires and preferences of each of my loved ones. I was preparing the house for them specifically.

As I returned from the store, the resort community where we are staying was serene, with a cool wind in the pines and palmettos, and humid that air smelled like impending rain. A few cars drove the narrow streets and the waterways under the bridges were still. The guard at the gate was relaxed. No chaos or danger lurked. And on entering the dark house I had left at 6:30 am, I hit the switches and light filled the house, as I turned up the heat to take off the night chill. The heat and light like some foretaste of the love and youth that were only a couple of hours away.

I set about putting groceries away and then arranged the snacks and goodies on the counter for easy access as soon as everyone arrived. And on my daughter’s pillow, a small bouquet of Daisies, a flower she loves.

When they were close I met the family just before the gate to give them a parking pass and escort them to the right driveway. We then parked, unloaded and I went about hugging and kissing. I must have embraced everyone three, four or five times; certainly six or ten for my bride! I directed them to food and I positively danced and skipped around the house, sliding on the hardwood floor in my socks, so happy I was to see them. We laughed and told jokes, we smiled and teased until we could barely keep our eyes open, then it was off to bed.

The next day was more of the same, with lunch and dinner out for the birthday girl, a walk on the cold, cloudy, beautiful beach in between, and games around the table in the evening. Today, as I write, they are all on their way back home, while I have some more shifts to work. The house is empty except for me, although if I am still I can hear echoes of their laughter, their jokes, their wisdom. Their love for one another still hangs in the air of the kitchen and dining room. I can sense the warmth my wife provides to my heart, which still lingers. And I smile at the absolute wonder of our children who are temporarily absent in body, but present in every other way to this passionate father.

Even as I was getting ready for their arrival, I knew this entire event was a message. It was somewhere between epiphany and Theophany. It was certainly a new insight into both my family and my faith. While I did not see God or his representatives, as a Theophany by definition is, I certainly felt a powerful insight into God, the Father.

In John 14: 1-4, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ (ESV.)

That verse resonated through my head, that image through my soul, as I looked around the neighborhood and the house in preparation for my family. I imagined the Kingdom of God, beyond time, outside time, in a way we cannot fathom. And yet, at the end of all suffering, loss and pain; at the end of every separation and hint of loneliness or sorrow.

There, God waits for us. There, He prepares the rooms, knowing who we are and what we love. There He stocks up for the great celebration. There, He waits, checking the unfolding of history, speaking to us, encouraging us, calling us forward to the place where we will be safe and happy for all eternity, loved and cherished. From there he and his servants sally forth to our aid, rescue or comfort, or to bring each of us home in our time. It is the place where the joyous, thrilled Father will kiss every wayward child who made his way on the prodigal road to the Father’s house. And we are all prodigal in our own ways.

And what would the Father fail to give for his child’s safe arrival? Everything up to His own life? There’s the Gospel. The Gospel of Christmas and Easter, where the Father, lover of our souls, desperately desires our presence with him for all eternity and comes to earth to love us, then demonstrates love so great that even death is not off the table, nor is death an end or impediment but one more bit of trouble to be overcome for the children He loves more than they can fathom. The cost of eternity is paid. The gate is open to us in the evening, and next morning, of our lives.

God wants us with Him, and nothing can make Him cease wanting us. He will not force his children to come along, but will do everything else to bring us at last to the warm, well-lit home he has prepared and stocked for our joy, our warmth, our safety and our eternal communion with Him.

Rules and morals? Guidelines? Of course. These are the road-maps to the Father. Don’t turn off here, don’t get lost there, don’t trust any false father for only the true Father loves you, only He knows the depth of your pain and the beauty of your creation in His image. Only He is preparing the perfect place for you. Love the other kids, bring them along. Sin is a distraction, a thing that will keep you from the good. That’s why He’s so eager to forgive all, and keep us headed home.

And when we finally pull in, walk in, fly in or appear with Him, such kisses He will lavish upon us and such delights prepare for us that it is worth anything to make the journey, the last great journey to His side.

1 John 3: 1 says: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ The children of God get to come home to the house of the Father.

St. Paul reminds us further that we cannot begin to grasp it: ‘But as it is written, “what no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”’ 1 Corinthians 2:9.

On that day with him, in the best vacation home of all, we will laugh with tear-filled eyes and cry with joy in our hearts. And if there are soda’s or candy bars, if (as I suspect) there is sweet tea and fried chicken, it will only be the most miniscule hint of all that awaits. Because the best thing of all will be to stand in the presence, at last, of the Father we have longed for all our lives. The Father who has ached for us, planned for us, and sacrificed for us since we first took shape in his great, loving heart.

I pray that I see you there.

 

Jesus wasn’t about right or left. My column in today’s Greenville News.

My column in today’s Greenville News. 

Jesus wasn’t about right or left.

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/10/09/ed-leap-jesus-right-left/73665540/

These are contentious times when it comes to the junction of religious faith and politics. Whether the issue is poverty, same-sex marriage or abortion, there is remarkable division even within the Christian world. This is evident in the fact that people often refer to, or ally themselves with, the ‘Christian Right’ or the ‘Christian Left.’

It’s a fascinating discussion, and indeed, Christians do have political leanings that vary widely. Some are dedicated, hyper-conservative fundamentalists while others feel that Jesus was a kind of ‘proto-communist’ and we should all be the same. Christianity can, in fact, be a rather malleable belief system. And like all ideologies it can be twisted to justify good and bad with equal fervor.

This is all fairly evident in the response to the US visit by Pope Francis. People on the left side of the faith are thrilled that the Pope is concerned with climate change and income inequality. Those on the right hope that he can overcome his Argentine bias against capitalism and see what a functional middle class, and a nation with safety nets for the poor, actually looks like. They also dream that he will speak boldly about the horrors of abortion. Both sides have ‘a dog in the fight.’

The thing is, we all have it wrong when we become a faith of factions. We all have it wrong when we make it about politics and not Jesus. When conservative Christians (like myself) fall in love with war for its own sake, for the power and domination, for the intimidation and machismo of it, we forget the Jesus who loved even the enemies who crucified him. When we fail to be sympathetic to the sick and broken, we neglect the Jesus who touched lepers and healed the blind and fed the 5000. When we love money and success as ends in themselves, we become deaf to the master who reminded us that the journey to heaven is nearly impossible for those carrying bags of earthly wealth. When we believe morality is an end in itself, we abandon the Jesus who came to bring redemption and deliverance from our inevitable sins. We must try our best not to be ‘conservative’ or ‘right-wing’ Christians. We must only be Christians.

But when liberal Christians focus only on patching the wounds of this transitory existence by shifting money or passing laws, when they scoff at eternity and eternal consequences, they lose sight of the Jesus who told Pilate, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ When they say that Jesus was merely a radical thinker who came to teach us acceptance not transformation, who came only to compel us to ‘be nice’ and not judge anyone (not even our own sins), then they turn their backs on the loving teacher (and ultimate judge of all, according to scripture) who lived and taught morality and who promised to transform us into something far better than what we are. The very Jesus who had hard words for every kind of sin, including sexual sin as well as greed, lies as well as hatred, and who spoke about hell and judgment extensively, even as he promised to rescue us from both.

Furthermore, when any flavor of Christianity reshapes Jesus to be more acceptable to popular culture, they forget that He said to his disciples, in Mathew 24:9 ‘Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.’ Popularity, and popular acceptance of our beliefs, are not likely to happen if we truly live the way He wanted us to live.

We will certainly have varied opinions on politics and policies, and on the proper expression of our faith in our daily life and national politics But we aren’t supposed to insult or disdain one another. We should, rather, care for one another and see what we can learn by loving those who share our faith but differ in perspective.

Jesus himself, the night before his arrest, said it best. In John 17:20-21 he was praying for his followers, and then continued, ‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’

Not a word about right or left. May we all be one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fresh New Fundamentalism Threatens America

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News. 

 

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/09/11/ed-leap-face-new-threat-country/72078692/

 

If you haven’t heard the name Kim Davis lately, you’ve either been in a coma or stranded on a deserted island. If either applies to you, she is a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex (and straight) couples because of a faith-based stance against same-sex marriage. She was subsequently ordered to do so by a judge, continued to refuse, was jailed for contempt of court and then released.

She has become, in the eyes of many, the great Satan of American Christian conservatism. Unimaginable numbers of news stories, blog posts, panel discussions, op-eds, Facebook and Twitter posts and all the rest have been devoted to her. The majority of what I’ve seen are well-crafted to highlight the way in which she is a hypocritical Christian (who has been divorced more than once and has children by more than one father). Furthermore, photos of Ms. Davis are not flattering. She is, to cultural progressives, the perfect bedtime monster. She is seen as an overweight, unattractive, fundamentalist Christian hillbilly who dares to stand against both the courts and popular cultural opinion (emphasis on the second) on the issue of same-sex marriage. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to hate, and fear, her.

For the record, as the reader prepares an angry invective against me, I believe that Ms. Davis should have accepted the judge’s accommodation to remove her name from marriage licenses, or she should have resigned. Accommodations are compromises at the intersection of religious belief and work. Still, the law is the law and whether she agreed or not, she should have obeyed it. Render unto Caesar and all that.

Except, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, sanctuary cities like San Francisco have officials who, on moral grounds, refuse to enforce federal immigration law. Four states have legalized recreational marijuana; thus, their state politicians simply choose to ignore federal drug laws. Anti-war protestors in the 60’s, civil rights activists in the South, radical environmental groups, all stood (or stand) against the codified laws of the time on moral (if not religious) grounds. In fact, there was a time when the granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples in California was illegal. It still happened. The furor over this issue, in light of other, more ‘acceptable’ instances of defiance, is a hypocrisy far more stunning than that of divorcee Kim Davis’ chaotic personal life.

Because of Ms. Davis, our country has again been warned of the incredible dangers of letting religion into politics. We are told that we can’t have people using government position or authority to force people to embrace a set of beliefs. Why, just think about the Christians of history and all of their cruelty towards non-believers! How horrible! Wait, that seems odd. Kim Davis was imprisoned for a belief. But remember, she’s a hick who deserves to be taught a lesson! I mean, just look at the pictures!

The most striking thing about this entire issue, and the cases of bakers and photographers declining to do same-sex weddings, etc., is that America, taught to be deathly afraid of people imposing their beliefs on others is now all about forcing beliefs on certain people. Comply, in public life and private, or be fined, jailed or asked to the door. Brendan Eich, developer of JavaScript and (among other things) Chief Technical officer and CEO of Mozilla, was forced to resign over a $1000 donation he gave, in 2008, to the California’s Proposition 8 pro-traditional marriage initiative. The Denver City Council may well refuse to allow Chic-Fil-A in the Denver International Airport because the company’s owners are opposed to same-sex marriage. The list goes on.

In truth, I’m much less worried about who marries who than I am about the religious and free speech implications that come along with same-sex marriage. And I’m far less concerned about Kim Davis being jailed than I am about the giddy delight expressed nationally by US citizens who want to see people punished for having the wrong beliefs.

Anyone who thinks this behavior isn’t the same as ‘forcing your beliefs down someone’s throat’ is simply choosing a new, shiny, post-modern fundamentalism. And First Amendment or not, it’s a dangerous and remarkably hypocritical way to run a country.