Tag Archives: christian

Politics, Violence & Blame: is Trump responsible for the violence?

Donald Trump.pngI was recently listening to the radio (yep, I’m that old) and heard about the violence outbreak at the canceled Trump rally in Chicago.  I also then saw news headlines and commentators saying Donald Trump was responsible for the violence.

This got me thinking.  A dangerous thing to do in the midst of our current political climate.  But still, it got me thinking.  And in my thinking I began to wonder to what degree is Trump responsible, or not responsible, for the violence associated with his campaign and at the rallies.

As a teacher I remember some students who had stolen money from a kid who was selling candy bars. “It wasn’t my fault!” they said. “He left the money out where I could see it.”  Huh?

As a leader, I am responsible for my actions.  And my words are a part of my actions.  I am able to use my words to build people up. Encourage others and challenge them to live out the Gospel.  Love, the kind of love Jesus calls us to, compels me to use my words and my actions in a way that creates helpful urgency and still lowers anxiety.

In an election year, all the candidates have a choice to make about how they will use their words.  And Donald Trump has been a master, all along, of using language to his advantage. He is a master at communication. His sentences are simple. They provoke strong emotions. He speaks from an assumption of agreement. And he almost always stays on message.

However, and you knew this was coming, right?  However, one of the roles of differentiated leader is the ability to remain less anxious in the midst of anxiety.  And as a less anxious leader, the system you are part of becomes less anxious through your less anxious presence.  

Through his masterful use of language, Trump has created a compelling case for urgency.  He has also, through his masterful use of language, added to the anxiety that is already present in our culture today.

In fact, I believe Trump has been irresponsible with his language.

But that doesn’t answer the question.  Even as just a candidate at this point, Donal Trump has a responsibility to use language well – in a way that builds, challenges, exhorts and encourages.  But does irresponsibly adding to anxiety make him culpable for the violence?

Unless there is a gun to my head, nobody makes me do anything.  Not even the devil.  I choose to speed when I go over the speed limit.  I choose to gossip when I share juicy news.  I choose to be selfish when I am not generous.  Nobody makes me.

In other words, nobody makes me act violently.  Or, do they…?

When a system (think family, congregation, city or nation) is already highly anxious, and a leader intentionally sabotages that system by intentionally increasing emotional anxiety, that leader is culpable.  There has to be a level of responsibility assigned.

And yet, nobody makes anybody act violently.  Each violent act perpetrated by an individual capable of personal agency, is personally responsible for his/her own actions. When those actions are not rooted in Love – love for God and love for others – in a way in which we will and act for the good of others – those actions are then self seeking and are initiated in order to assert our will over others.

Violence.

So, is Trump responsible for the violence?  Yes.  And no.  Donald Trump is responsible for how he has led in this election year, for the way he has conducted himself and for how he has added to the anxiety in our already highly anxious country.

But.  So are we.  We each make choices.  We each live our lives.  And today we live in an election year where we are making deep lines in the sand.  We are defining ourselves as either for Trump or against Trump. And when we do so, we also add to the anxiety.

I wonder… What if we choose to define ourselves differently?  What if, like the angel who appeared to Joshua, we were neither for nor against Trump.  What if we defined ourselves by something bigger, more important than politics or personalities.

What if we chose to define ourselves by love.  What if we defined ourselves by the Gospel this election year.  What if we defined ourselves as being for the “other” in our midst.

In the Fall we will cast our votes and we will elect a new president.  But more than voting, we have an opportunity to rise above the fray of campaigns and live lives of love.  We don’t need to let the anxiety of the candidates determine our behavior.

We can love. 


Pastor! Do You Love Your City?

kalamazooCityBkgThe above is a picture of my city.  Kalamazoo.  The place we have been called to and have chosen to live.  As a friend of mine would say, it is beautifully flawed.

Our community, the Kalamazoo community, is still reeling from the violence which has recently shaken us.  It has shaken our faith, our ability to trust – not only God but others. It has shaken our sense of security.

In the midst of this aftermath, there is something that has not been shaken in me.  In fact, I believe it has deepened. My love.

I could talk about my call to this community, but I believe you can experience a call to a particular place you do not love – think Jonah.

But love.  Several times I have been asked how the recent shootings in Kalamazoo have personally impacted me.  And at first I wasn’t sure how to answer.  Over the last two weeks, in the midst of a life-giving learning community, I began to realize the deepest impact has been love.

As a pastor my call is to a particular congregation (Haven) within a particular denomination (the RCA); but my call has always been to much more.  It has always been a call to the larger Church and to the broader community.  Always.

The call to pastor in the context of a city, or a community, is a call to love that city with the love of Jesus.  And the events of the past few weeks have clarified and deepened my love for Kalamazoo and the community surrounding it. I love the congregation with whom I serve, I love the larger Church of Kalamazoo and I believe I cannot truly seek the Shalom of God for the Kalamazoo area if I do not love Kalamazoo.

Jeremiah 29:7 tells us to seek the welfare of the city we are in, to pray for it to prosper.

In the last two weeks I have had several interactions which have caused me to ask this question:

Pastor, do you love the city you are in?

I’m not asking if you love what you do.  I’m not asking if you love your congregation or denomination.  I am asking if you love the city you have been placed by God in to partner with Him in reconciling and restoring all things.

Do you love your city?

Your city knows.  It experiences you.  The city you are in has a heart beat and knows.  Would you wonder with me if your city experiences you as a Jonah who didn’t want to be in Ninevah or if your city experiences you weeping along with Jesus over it?

Pastor, do you love your city?


Sometimes Being Stuck Is Good

stuck in mudMany years ago.  Many.  Six of us took a guys trip to the national forest in Colorado camping.  It was a father-son trip.  Two dads a little older than me each brought their sons and I brought my dad.  We drove to Colorado in an old van that didn’t have all its seats.

In Colorado we rented a Jeep Wrangler to play with in the wilderness.  We were set. 1 big expedition style tent, cots, bags, food, fishing poles, the jeep and more food.  The weather was amazing, the sky so clear at night.  I had a pile of books I read sitting in the mountains.  It was an amazing trip.

On the trip we took the jeep everywhere.  There were six of us and the jeep held 4.  We didn’t care, we doubled up and put all of us in the jeep.  

One evening we went out on some 2 track trails through the forested mountainside.  Several times we had to gun it to get through some deep, slushy mud.  It was muddy and it was fun!

Cruising down a hill and a quick turn to the left brought us to a stop, however.  Before us was a good 40 – 50 yards of deep, wet, fun looking mud!

John is driving and my dad is in the front seat next to him.  “Do we go?” John asks looking at me with a grin on his face.  His son Daniel is on my lap and Mike, sitting next to me, has his son on his, “I’m not sure we can make it” he says.  My dad is quiet.

“Yes, let’s do it!” I exclaim.  My dad turns and looks at me, “I thought I raised you smarter than that,” he says with a smile.  “I’m just like you, dad!  Let’s go!”

We make it half way.  Not even close before we spin to a stop.  Mud is up to the floor boards and the wheels have nothing to grip.

Climbing out we are all over our knees in mud.  It’s glorious.  Driven by our anxiety, immediately a flurry of talking erupts about how we are going to get unstuck – Nobody is excited about walking miles back through the wilderness to a real road to find help.  Prospects of getting unstuck on our own looks slim.

Pushing forward and backward and forward and backward. Back and forth and back and forth with mud flying everywhere. No progress except to be covered in mud!  “Let’s stop trying,” I say.  “When else can we just enjoy being stuck in the mud in the middle of something so beautiful, look around us!”

And it was beautiful.  Gorgeous.  But we were so hopelessly focused on getting unstuck we couldn’t see it.  The beauty in the mud.

We caught our breath.  We breathed.  We laughed at our mess.

Whenever we get stuck – spiritually, in life, in doubt, in messes – we tend to work really hard to get unstuck.  Being stuck can be scary.  Its uncertain how things might turn out.  We have doubts and our doubts scare us.

Does God care?  What if I don’t survive?  I don’t think even God can fix this.  I don’t think God even loves me enough to care!

Our stuckness and doubts can be really uncomfortable and we want to get out as soon as we can.  We want to feel safe, be secure and know everything is always going to be ok.

But sometimes our doubts – our places of stuckness – are exactly where God wants us to be.  More often than not, those are the most beautiful places.  And the mud isn’t dirty, it glorious. Messy and glorious go together. 

Putting the jeep in 1st gear, we slowly drove ourselves out of the mud.  We were unstuck but the adventure was over.

It isn’t until we stop striving against our circumstances that Jesus shows up and lifts us out.  The same Jesus who cried out, “My God! My God! Why have your forsaken me!” is the one who loves you enough.

Do you have doubts?  That’s ok – so do I.  Are you stuck?  Me too.  Let’s be stuck together.


The Sacredness of Black Friday

ChristmasRetailand the commercialism of Christmas.

First, a confession: It isn’t Thanksgiving yet and I am listening to Christmas music as I write this in my office.  I love Christmas and I love celebrating the Birth of Jesus – God, King, Savior, Life Giver & Life Changer.

Because I love celebrating, talking about and inviting others to experience Jesus, it would seem natural for me to have a certain disdain for the consumerism/commercialism attached to both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But I don’t. Not completely. I believe there is a sacredness to it.

And that creates some tension for me. And maybe you?

Deep, deep down we all are aware, if we are honest (and what are we if we aren’t honest?), that consumerism has infiltrated the church, diluted the Gospel and all but rendered God’s people in Western Culture ineffective ambassadors of the Good News.

But – no – I mean BUT, I would like us to consider two things:

First, I wonder this question.  When did the Church become so inert that we would depend upon manufacturers, retailers, businesses & culture to keep Christmas about Jesus? Rather than living exhilarating lives of faith, we find ourselves sitting in our lazy-boys throwing popcorn at the screen of life and yelling at the players & coaches to turn things around. And then, when we get tired of yelling, we get up and participate in the very thing we say we scorn.

Church, it is not the responsibility of Best Buy, Starbuck, Kohls or Amazon to keep our Faith alive.

But maybe they are!

Second, would you consider this next question with me?  What if Thanks-getting, Black Friday and Christmas Commercialism are actually part of God’s answer to a prayer Jesus taught us to pray?

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus teaches his disciples a simple way of praying.  Many of us have it memorized and call it The Lord’s Prayer.  Some of us pray it every week in worship. Verse 11 simply says Give us today our daily bread.

Now, the Israelites and even Jesus ate more than just bread.  There were fruits, vegetables and even meat.  That piece of the prayer is not just about bread, but all that is necessary for the sustaining of life and references God’s daily provision for His People as they wandered in the wilderness hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

And what if a successful Black Friday and retail season leading toward Christmas Day is part of God’s answer to that prayer?  Traditionally there have been two markers for us regarding the health of our economy: home ownership, especially new homes; and retail season beginning with Black Friday.

Best Buy employs about 125,000 people.  Target about 366,000. Kohls 140,000.  Imagine with me how many people would go without their daily bread (read that as “unemployed”) if our economy didn’t work because we killed off 4th quarter spending.

Black Friday and the Christmas retail season provides is a significant piece in our overall economy and without it, many more would be unemployed – hundreds of thousands.

Do we need to be excessive? No.  Do we need to go into debt? No. Does it need to consume us? No.

But because it provides all kinds of jobs for people all over the world, jobs that allow people to buy their daily bread, it becomes part of God’s answer to the prayer.

There is a sacredness to God’s answering of prayer.


Awkward…!

imageThe half dozen or so people were spread throughout the fitness center. Each one doing her, or his, own thing.  Most were on some sort of cardio machine and only one other was over by the free weights of this Houston area Planet Fitness.  I followed the unwritten rules of gym ettiquette (mostly because it wasn’t my regular gym) and worked out without engaging anybody in conversation.

It’s an interesting phenomenom, belonging to large nationwide gym.  And with Planet Fitness’ “no gymtimidation” policy, most people work out in silence, with headphones on and only on occassion even making eye contact.  Even then the eye contact is usually some sort of non-verbal communication around the use of a piece of equipment – not relationship…

Not here. Not Houston’s little PF on Fondren.  Not with LeRoy.

Let’s face it, public locker rooms are always a bit awkward; and when you are leaving the shower area with your towel wrapped around your waist, you feel particularly vulnerable!  Just saying… That’s how it was for me when I met LeRoy. Still sweating from my workout, but freshly showered before heading to the couple’s therapy training I’m in Houston for, I had my towel around my waist when I hear a southern accent say, “I don’ think I’ve seen you ‘roun’ here before?”

I look to my right and there before me is a tall, thin African American of about 60 years of age. He had a huge smile and held out his hand, “LeRoy.”

“Brian.”  And inside my head there is only one word sreaming loudly, AWKWARD!!!

LeRoy asks when I moved to the area and I explained to him that I was here on sabbatical getting some training on couple’s therapy. LeRoy’s smile immediately is replaced with a look of deep regret.

While we both got ready for the day before us, LeRoy told me about his failed marriage, that he moved to Houston to try and rebuild relationships with his kids and grandchildren, and how much he regretted not working hard to make his marriage work.  He was going to meet his two year old grandson for the first time later that day.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me to learn a lot. Then he paused and asked, “Would you pray for me today? Maybe you have more pull with the Big Guy than I do.”

I’ve never prayed for anyone in a locker room before, at least I don’t think so, but I’m glad I did.  I will probably never see LeRoy again. But I think our world is full of LeRoy’s. People, like you and me, going through life with its struggles and joys, hurts and pleasures, successes and failures.

And all of us longing to connect more deeply with one another and with God.  Only very few of us will find the courage to step out of the unwritten rules of culture and become vulnerable enough to reach out and connect with others. 

I’m really glad LeRoy had the courage to start a conversation in a locker room – even if it was awkward.


Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!