struggling through the complex

I wrote the other day about the need to engage with the complex. It’s important that we dive into it rather than simplify the issue so we don’t need to change.

But how do we do that?

We’re busy and complex issues are well……complex.

How can we engage with them?

These are less steps as much as they are a few things I’ve found really helpful to consider when I’m looking at large complex issues. These aren’t absolutes and won’t apply in all situations but they are valuable as starting points. When the spectrum of the issue is beyond me and I can’t possible get my head around the entirety of it what do I do? Well…

  •  No absolute statements – I’m not an expert and to speak in the absolute encourages arguments and not discussion. It creates a space ripe for us vs them and I’m coming to believe an us vs them perspective is one of the most dangerous ways for people to view a problem
  • Does this encourage change or support the status quo? The status quo in the west is sadly one built upon exploitation.
  • If the change doesn’t mean less for me then its probably not what God wants me to do. If this change isn’t about me as a privileged white male releasing some of my privilege and power than there a good chance I’m working towards maintaining it. The maintenance of my privilege and power is often at the expense of the already marginalized.
  • I don’t get to talk about my rights. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, so my rights die with him. This is way bigger than it sounds too. We are raised to fight for our rights and encouraged to stand for them. Jesus calls us to stand for those who have no rights, no power, no place and in most places that means me relinquishing rights of my own.
  • Ask those with lived experience. Confession time, I don’t do this enough. I make really great excuses why but ultimately I just don’t try hard enough. But I don’t understand what it’s like to be poor. I have glimpses and can imagine, but the daily grind of never having enough is something I cannot understand. Nor can I understand what it means to be marginalized minority. I just don’t get it. I want to and I understand much more than I ever have how much privilege my gender, orientation and skin colour afford me, but I’m still worlds away from understanding what it’s like on the other side. I’ve found the more often an issue has a face that I trust the harder it is for me to continue in my ignorance, willful or otherwise.

I’m sure there are way more things I’m missing but it’s a start. When it comes to the most important and complex issues we cannot over simplify them, but in reality few of us have the time or skill to see the totality of the issue. Because of that I consider the things above as a way remaining humble and working as hard as I can to place others first.

If I may simplify my process for not oversimplifying the complex it would be this.

How does what I’m doing/advocating for show those who are on the margins love?

choosing to change or not

I was talking with a friend and she asked “couldn’t we just talk about the weather? Sometimes you are exhausting.”

She’s right.

I can be …….. a lot.
I’ve written about it before. Everything is something and that something is fascinating. I needs to be thought about and considered. It needs to be poked, prodded and examined in every which way.

And there are times when this is profoundly helpful. Times when this idiosyncratic part of me finds things that are interesting and in some exceptionally small circumstances even enlightening for people.

But my goodness can I make simple thing complicated.

We all do it from time to time don’t we?

The simple, obvious answer or choice is right there but we complicate it.

I wrote not long ago about how we create op-outs for our love. How we take something super clear like “love your enemies” and affirm it in our words but then slip these little opt outs on the end. These qualifiers.

“Of course you love your enemy, BUT if my family is in danger…”

“Of course we need to love everyone, BUT they need to be trying to change…”

And when a truly complicated issues arises? Far to often we refuse to even engage with it. To think about the implications and the way we are a part of it. Complicated issues involve other people in other parts of the world. We don’t need to get into it.

What are we doing?

We complicate the clear so we don’t have to act and we simplify the profoundly difficult to justify how we act.

The simple call to love your enemy is unbelievably difficult so we complicated it. We spend a lot of time trying to define exactly what is an enemy is or who our neighbour is. And until we get it sorted we feel fine loving no one. We don’t know who we’re supposed to love. We need to figure it out.

And the more we complicate it the longer we put off doing the things we know we are absolutely supposed to.

In almost the exact opposite way, we take the outrageously complicated and simplify it to reinforce the way we see things and the actions we are already taking, rather than do the hard work of changing our current behaviours.

Systemic oppression is still a huge issue in our society. But rather than understand the complexity of the systems and impact those systems are having on the people being oppressed by them, we simplify them.

“People are poor because they are lazy” simple, clean, easy. Let’s not let any context or understanding of one of the most complex issues facing our society creep in. It’s all about effort, making it entirely their fault and since it’s their own fault they can fix it themselves.

No need to get involved. No need to see how we are actually supporting that oppression. No need to be part of the change. The answer is easy, go get a job.

We do this over and over and over. Creating ways of thinking that do nothing more than reinforce the norm. A norm that often benefits us at the expense of the very people we are called to love.

In the end both of these ways of thinking do exactly the same thing. They stop us from changing. They stop us from loving.

They stop us from being Christian.

what we miss about redepmtion

While we all know in our heads death is terrible. I struggle to think of any instance where we truly rejoice. But we approach it from a strange place in church.

It’s our vehicle the ultimate prize. It’s the goal line. We’ve run the race and are ready for our reward.

So despite its purely destructive nature, we take a strange approach to death. We see the redemption that Jesus has brought to and through death and it’s now just not so bad.

This redemptive nature of Jesus is so powerful it must be acknowledged and celebrated. It must be trumped and exclaimed for everyone to hear. It’s the power of the gospel. Jesus has come to redeem everything.

But that redemption is a process. It’s not a static action. It’s not that everything that has occurred and will occur has been redeemed. It can be, but may not be yet.

And it’s this temporal nature of redemption that I think leads to a lot of pain.

Pain when we say “don’t worry its God’s plan”

Pain when we say “God’s in control”

Pain when we see the possibility for redemption and speak as though it’s already happened.

The pain is real.

The loss is real.

The devastation is real.

When we speak as though redemption has happened we speak as though the pain, loss or devastation isn’t real. We speak as though we should no longer feel the pain, loss or devastation. We speak as though life will continue in the same way it always had.

These aren’t scars of a past memory but open wounds that need tending and caring.

I think we miss this as a church body. We miss this by a long shot.

Tending to those wounds requires proximity. We have to be in the mess with them. We have to see the damage. We can’t skip over it. We have to call it what it is and address the reality of it. We have to see the fullness of the damage to have a prayer of mending it.

We take part in the long, sometimes agonizing healing process. We are part of the search and journey of redemption, which is often only seen when we reflect back.

Even if we’re told its coming we don’t often see redemption as it’s happening. We can’t understand it until we’re in it look at back at it.

We dream and hope and desire for it.

I have experienced few things as hurtful and damaging as someone talking like my pain and struggle has already been redeemed. Few things as painful as someone taking from me the option to grieve and process. Doing everything they can to support but in reality doing everything possible to invalidate and minimize the depth and impact of the experience I was living.

And none of it was experienced as love.

this is dark…

Death is horrific.

It is purposeless and devoid of meaning. Death is violent and visceral. It’s abusive and unyielding.

We strive to bring meaning to it. We hope and pray for purpose in the darkness, but there is none. And that’s terrifying.

We say it’s all a part of Gods plan, but it’s not.

It was never the plan.

The loss that comes with it is crushing. If it hasn’t yet, death will fundamental change the way you see the world. The world is never the same.

The relationships is lost, and with it part of you is lost. It can’t be redeemed, it’s never coming back.

And how do we feel?

Sadness? Nothingness? Profound pain? Less than whole?

We call this grief.

Greif is the response to the loss of that which we love. When we love and that love is ripped from us, torn away in such a permanent manner that it cannot be reconciled we grieve. It’s what our love pushes us to do.

From time to time I volunteer with grief support groups.

I can’t tell you often I’ve heard people struggling through their loss say “I wish it was me.” How many people would give anything to bring the wholeness back into their lives. Who plead for anything the fix it, willing to give up everything, knowing in the depths of their soul there is nothing to do.

Death is darkness in a way nothing else can be. It’s to permanent. It’s to one sided. There is no going back and there is no way to process or reconcile once it’s happened.

What’s done is done and it can never be undone. That relationships can never be anything more or less than it was. Old wounds can’t be address and past trauma can’t be reconciled. They will remain open and unfinished.

This is the power of death. What death takes with it, we can never get back.

I told you this was dark.

But it’s love that longs for an answer. It’s love that desires renewal and change. It’s love that demands we try to find meaning.

But we’re powerless. This darkness has no meaning and it’s everywhere we turn. We are left with the simple reality that we must accept that we can do nothing more. That horrific, pointless pain has come and we cannot change it.

But what if we weren’t?

What if we could redeem it? What if we could reconcile all that was lost?

Wouldn’t you, even if it cost you dearly?

It’s the deep and unwavering love God has for us that caused Him to reconcile the death now a part of all of us. It was the crushing grief over the loss of relationship with us, the undeniable change in how we now interacted with Him that drove Jesus to do something.

Hate had nothing to do with it. Sin so greatly grieved the heart of God that His love motivated Him to do whatever it took to make redemption possible.

We so desperately miss the point when we make it about sin. It wasn’t about abolishing sin but about redeeming all that was lost. It was about a love so deep and a God who could do something we can’t.

Who could bring life to the dead and redeem the unredeemable. Who loved all of us, the dead parts as much as the rest.

It was grief motivated by love.

How did we ever let hate into the equation?

ideas with faces

Can God hate?

The more I think and pray and roll the idea around in my mind the more and more ridiculous it seems.

How can love hate?

Part of this entire issue is around what love is. We all use the word but when we say it what do we mean? While many would simply say “Go read 1 Corinthians” there’s more to it than that, and not just because I like to think there is more to everything.

Is love a feeling?

Is it an action?

Peter Rollins has said that love doesn’t exist but is the thing that allows other things to exist.

I took a course in university every so many years ago now and I was presented with a view on love that resonated and worked on so many levels that I’ve used it ever since.

Love is a motive.

Love is why I am patient. Patience is the action of my loving motive.

As a motive I can choose to let that be the reason I act or not. I can choose love. I don’t need to feel it. Which means I can’t opt out when love doesn’t work for me. When I’m mad, offended, scared, I can choose to be motivated by love.

Is hate motivated by love?

Is it love of God that motivates hate?

Is it love of the church that motivates hate?

Is it love of the one we hate that motivates the hate?

I can see how our love could motivate a choice to hate. A deep love of family could cause some to hate those who would mean to do harm to my family. It seems to be working until those that would mean to do harm have a face. Until I ask how my actions towards are motivated out of love towards them? How is love causing me to act towards them?

I feel like this is where it always gets muddy. The notion of hating an idea works. But ideas wear faces.

I could see God hating the idea of sin. This thing that separates us and has corrupted His creation. But once that brokenness became a part of us, once sin wears a face, I struggle to see God hating us, no matter how ugly.

Perhaps its in this dichotomy we find how a God of love can hate. Hate ideas that separate and harm, but once that idea is manifest in a person I continue to see an issue with God hating that part of them. Loving only bits and pieces rather than the entire whole.

If God doesn’t hate parts of us, how does he feel towards sin in us?

This is going to take some more thinking.

a hateful God

This idea is far less formed than usual and that’s saying something because few of my ideas or things I write about here are particularly well formed.

They are often more of a glimpse into something I’m currently considering, but have been pondering for a while.

This is a far more raw kind of thought. While in some way or another it has crossed my mind, it’s never been exactly this clear.

Can God hate?

I feel like I write the follow sentence every time, but I guess it’s just part of my charm (or lack of creativity, whatever works for you).

It’s seems like the obvious answer is yes, but I’m starting to worry that it creates some serious problems.

And this is the raw nature of this particular idea. I’m working and thinking about the implications and possible problems that a God how can hate creates, but these ideas are really new and not fully formed at all. So if you see an obvious issue here I’m interested. I’m just starting to roll this idea around in my mind so any new ways to approach it are helpful.

I’ll lay out how I got here and the starting point for the possible problem I see.

It started with justice. Specifically the notion that we may put our idea of justice onto God rather than look at God for what He means when He talks about justice. Quick recap, so much of God’s work is restorative it stands to reason that His justice would be similarly restorative rather than mimic our punitive process of exacting justice.

This idea stems from a God who describes Himself as love.

God is love.

And so God’s justice must be love. It must take the form of love and be a display of love. Everything God does is an expression of love because He is love. To do something that isn’t loving would be counter to His nature and His essence.

As a tree can’t be any less a tree, God by virtue of His nature will be love.

So how is the hate we often ascribe to God an expression of love?

How is hate a loving act?

How is hate not counter to the very nature of God?

Most we agree that we shouldn’t hate people. We should love them, but I’m wondering if the type of love we are showing is God’s love of a projection of our broken understanding of love.

I was reading a blog earlier today and the writer was talking about how we should react with love no matter the situation. The write then went on to describe all the people we should love.

Gays, lesbians, transgender people, heterosexual adulterers, atheists, white-lie tellers, good-churchgoers-without-a-shred-of-grace–any and all people who have issue with the hard words of Scripture–these are not our enemies.”

I posted the following comment

“I know for myself. If the way I was defined, labeled and grouped was based on a list of things people hate, I would struggle to find any reaction not matter how well intended as a loving one.”

And so again I’m left wondering, how do we lovingly hate?

Are we called to only love parts of people? To parcel them into pieces, those worthy of our love and those that we get to hate.

Is that the radical love of Christ or ours?

It may be, but I’m far less sure that’s how it’s supposed to work than I was in the past.

does sin matter?

I was talking with a rather clever high schooler I know about church, Jesus, the bible, all that good Christina stuff. She brought up a really common, but never the less interesting issue for Christians. How do we know what’s sin and not?

The question went something like this “how can someone say everyone is equal and woman should be able to do everything a man can, but then say you can’t be gay?”

To her there is some obvious inconsistency. In her mind the way we decided what is and isn’t sin isn’t being properly or equally applied. There appears to be a glaring inconsistency.

But too many there isn’t.

And to me that’s fascinating.

Both of these topics touch on defining what is and is not sin. The argument can be made for both sides, and as such it makes identifying sin in either of these situations hard. It’s the fact that good people working hard to understand the scripture and can come to very different understandings that leads to these debates still existing.

As I tend to do I asked a question that appears to not be particularly helpful. I asked the obvious to me question “does it matter?”

Clearly to a lot of people it does or the conversations wouldn’t come up. But the question and the reflection it dictates are important.

Does it matter if homosexuality a sin? Does it matter if woman in leadership is sin? Most would start with an obvious yes.

But why?

I may be wrong but I’ve never seen the exhaustive list of all sin. Is there a website we are listing them all so we know? Like supersinlist.com or something that we are all working towards so we can make sure we agree on them?

If it’s not for our super sin list, it’s got to be about leadership. Because no one who sins is worthy to be in leadership……..

So if it’s not about sin in leadership (because it can’t be or no one ever could lead anything), what is it?

Remember these are not actually all that clear. Most of us see these issues as clear but there is a wide divide in the church so it’s not. People are praying, reading, struggling and coming to entirely different opinions.

So back to why it matters, because I think most of us would agree it does.

Is it about accountability and love? Calling out sin in love for our brothers and sisters who have been led astray? This strikes me as ultimately the most prevalent reason. We can’t allow someone to continue in their sin. We see a better life and need to bring them into that new life.

Maybe but there is very little I would call loving in the way most people talk about sin in other people’s lives. We are really good at calling it out and expecting people to change while we do nothing about the obvious sin in our lives. In fact we often become indigent when someone does it to us.

Jarrod McKenna recently tweet a picture of a slide that I believe he is ascribing to Brad Chilcott. It reads:

“If it sounds like hate, feels like hate and makes people feel hated then it’s certainly not love. “

Do we live a life that looks like the life of Christ or one that we can defend with a verse in the bible? Do we act in love or in something that is certainly not love? Do we live a life modeled after the one who is love or one that we use to try and justify and sanctify beliefs and ideas that may not be as great and loving as we once thought they were?

Remember, those are different and I worry too often we try to live a life that we can defend with scripture rather than one that is modeled after Christ. Sure we sprinkle some Jesus in there but it’s right along with some old testament practices we like, an in or out perspective on a certain sin we find particularly offensive, and a belief that 7 days were 7 literal days.

Somehow all of those beliefs make us Christian or not rather than the obvious, is our life more like Jesus’ example of how to live than it was before?

This isn’t about salvation. That’s a big topic and to be honest I have no idea how it works. I don’t know when you cross the line form saved to not.

This is about being a Christian.

This is about being Christ-like.

This is about being love.

So, does it matter?

It’s hard to say, but I can be sure of this. Unless I’ve been invited to working it out with a person I know and love, I’m going to try and not make any judgments on what is and is not sin in their life.

Too much in my own to sort out.

justice, restoration and hell

I like controversial topics.

The controversy is fun. I like the mental experiences of debating. Looking at a problem from a mix of perspective and possibilities. Probing the idea, looking for cracks and inconsistencies.

It’s just fun for me.

Wow, does that sound sad. Please pray for me.

It’s not as hot a topic as it once was in so many circles but it’s one that will never go away and is once again coming up.

What do we as Christians believe about hell?

It’s a topic I’m seeing more and more of as we are faced daily with atrocities around the world. The beheading of 21 Christians by ISIS brought it back to the fore front. What would happen to those who murdered our Christian brothers?

The discussion quickly turns from what will, because truly no one knows, to what we think should happen. What does a just God do with this type of horror? What does God’s perfect and holy justice look like?

Before we can talk about God’s justice I think it’s wise to take a step back and look at ourselves.

What is our version of justice?

Justice for us is punishment. It’s punitive and it’s harmful. We like our justice to be a deterrent. We lock up offenders for years and say justice has been served. They deserve it. Actions have consequences and the consequents of grievous actions need a punishment that fits the crime.

My question then – is our justice the same as God’s justice? When God calls Himself just what kind of justice does he mean?

God is just and will bring about His justice. Since the only way we often think of justice is in the punitive, deterrent type we expect the same of God. We expect God’s justice to be like ours.

We expect God to be like us. In that context hell makes a load of sense. It’s the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime of rejecting God.

If you murder someone, we want you locked away. We want you to suffer the way that the family suffers. And sadly this is a collective we, because we as a society continue to reinforce this with our politics and practices in the prison system. While I or you individually may not agree our society firmly states that it does.

Justice is served when that monster is behind bars and rotting.

It curious to me the type of language we use to describe criminals.

Monsters.

Predators.

The one they are not is a person.

But God sees people. God loves everyone. So how does he see criminals? How does he see those who have wronged him? What does his justice look like?

We’ll how did God see us? What did he do while we were still sinners?

God is about restoring. God calls us to be agents of that restoration.

Resorting creation.

Restoring relationships.

Resorting the image of God that is inside of all of us.

If so much of what Jesus does is restorative why would his justice be any different?

Remember we are becoming more like Christ, not the other way around. And while this seems so obvious saying it is almost ridiculous. That is until we expect God to act like we would. Especially when that actions isn’t rooted in love.

I wonder if the way we expect God to enact his justice is a reflection of the bible, the person of Jesus and the love that he embodies or is it us putting our desires, expectations and wants for justice on our terms on God?

I don’t know to be honest, but hell as it’s often described sounds a lot more like somewhere you’d send a monster you hate than a person you love.

to what end?

Lent started this week.

Lent leads to two obvious questions in a lot of Christian circles.

“Are you doing lent?”

“What are you lenting?”

But I often struggle with talking about it. This is more of an internal struggle than an external one because I love to hear myself talk. To an extent it’s the same reason I struggle with a lot of social media.

My mother’s voice runs through my head every time I think about posting anything. The question of “to what end?”

I can’t escape it.

That said, my mom and I have never talked about Facebook or Twitter with any real depth. We do however talk about work and life and often the idea of “to what end” comes up. I try to consider it with any important decisions, but Twitter and Facebook aren’t really important so why is it creeping in here?

It creeps in I suppose because lent is important. Perhaps more to the point who I am, my actions and the way I share myself is important.

And what does my online sharing say about me?

What does it say about what I value?

To what end am I posting _______?

Is it to encourage people, is it to draw them into community, is it to love them…

Or am I just saying look at me, look how smart I am, look how much I care, look what I’m doing, aren’t I great? Why does everyone know that I am lenting ______ and that it’s such struggle? Why do I make sure people see all the volunteering I’m doing and all the people I’m meeting?

We’ll most of you have come here through Facebook, so I’m clearly not opposed to Facebook entirely.

I just wonder if we should be more critical of what we post, why we post it, and what it says about us.

Are we commenting to be encouraging, to build community, to support others or because everyone else is and we want the world to know we care to. I worry that the ease with which we can say happy birthday, I’m sorry for your loss, excited for you, etc takes away from our desire to really engage. We miss being in the moment, in the messiness, in each other’s lives as much as we once were.

I think this is where community becomes so central.

Community is where we can go and share because our community knows us. They know why we’re doing what we’re doing. They can call us out when we’re being boastful and showy. They know our intentions and our hearts. They want this type of encouragement and challenge, because we know them relationally. We can lean on them and they will support us, because sometimes we need more than a few likes to get by. Sometimes we need someone to hold our hands, wipe our tears and listen as it all falls apart.

I worry that if we sat and reflected we’d find we pose/share/comment so others see how caring, smart, funny we are rather than to love. That when the option is presented we’d rather comment on a post then send a message, make a call, walk to their house because if we were being honest, part of why we’re doing it is so people know we’re doing it.

It’s not everyone, nor is it always, but if we never think “to what end” it might be happening more than we think. I know it does for me.

maybe Christian isn’t the right word

I don’t like to read my bible. Never have.

It’s just one point in a long list of reasons I’m not a great Christian, but I’m’ trying.

If you know me you know that everything is a question to me. My wife could not be less interested in all the things I find interesting, the actions we need to consider the implications of or the obvious questions everything we do seem to raise. Everything raises an interesting question. The problem is that more often than not, they are really only interesting to me.

But this issue I have with reading the bible lead to what is an obvious question to me, can you be a Christian without the bible?

The clear answer is yes but wow does that seem strange the write.

But the idea is so foreign and strange. The bible has such a place of esteem, and rightfully so, in the churches I have been a part of the idea that you could be a Christian without a bible seems ludicrous.

How would I know how to live, or what to believe about creation, head coverings and pork without a bible?

I dunno, but the early church, who the letters we now read as the bible, were sorting it out.

But how?

Well, they were Christians not Biblicists. They followed Christ not the bible and yes those can be really different.

Strictly speaking, it is entirely possible to be a Christian without a bible. While formative and massively important, it’s not required.

And we implicitly understand this, thought we live often in a Christian culture that refuses to acknowledge this. Again we know the early church didn’t have a bible.

So let’s take a moment to look at how we interact with the bible today

Be it head coverings, eating pork, selling all we have, or simply loving our neighbour, the bible is full of commands and actions we choose not to follow. Some, like head coverings and pork we interpret as cultural or part of a covenant we are no longer held to. Some like selling all we have we interpret as contextual or an outward example of the in workings of someone’s heart. And still some we rationalize away creating systems, categories and excuses to not love people because it’s hard and messy and requires more than we’re really willing to give.

The bible is interpreted.

Is the creation story a poem, an account handed down that mixes history and mythology from a people group, or a purely factual account that can and should be scientifically proven and defended?

I dunno but those are some really diverse ways to read the same thing.

All of those question and issues are important and worth of discussion, but they don’t make us Christian. But we feel, argue, and sadly condemn people as though they do. I worry that at times we defend the bible more vehemently than we defend Christ. His way, His love and His call to discipleship.

We understand the bible is important because it points us to Jesus. We should also get that while bible is important it’s when we make it more important than Jesus that we lose our way. It’s when we transition from Christian to Biblicist that we lose our way.

It’s when we use the bible and tradition to justify a system/belief/desire rather than look at the life of Jesus and try to be more like him.

It’s when we’d rather hide behind the bible than be the people Jesus calls us to be that we should really consider if Christian is the right word for us.