There's something you need to know about me, and it might be a bitter pill to swallow. I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in angels, especially guardian angels. I believe in the saints. I believe in heaven and hell. I believe in the Bible. But here's something most people may not know about me. I believe God loves me. I believe God loves you. I believe God loves ALL of us. Yes, I do mean ALL of us. Men. Women. Children. Teenagers. Senior citizens. Non binaries. Transgenders. Homosexuals. Republicans. Democrats. Independents. Northerners. Southerners. Easterners. Westerners. White. Black. Indigenous peoples. Asian & Pacific Islanders. Native Americans. Indians. Latinx. Irish. Italian. Greek. Scandinavian. British. Scottish. Americans. Canadians. Dogs. Cats. Goldfish. Ferrets. Rats. Mice. Athiests. Catholics. Buddists. Evangelicals. Jewish. Orthodox. Presbyterians. Muslims. Hindus. Judaism's. Rich. Poor. Middle class. Homeless. Strong. Weak. Obese. Thin. Healthy. Sick. Physically handicapped. Mentally handicapped. Businesspeople. Artists. Craftspeople. Athletes. Politicians. Journalists. Horiculturalists. Writers. Actors. Dancers. Librarians. Bakers. Scientists. Doctors. Nurses. Dentists. Optometrists. Chiropractors. Veterinarians. Chefs. Part-time workers. Full-time workers. Homemakers. Vegans. Vegetarians. Meat lovers. Activists. Pacifists. Soft spoken. Outspoken. Single parents. Same gender parents. Multigenerational families. Broken families. Foster children. Those who've lived for a long time. Those who are barely starting to live. You get the idea. Before I go too far, I have to say something important. I'm NOT going to quote all of scripture throughout this blog. I'm NOT going to damn people who are different from me to hell. I'm NOT going to tell you to come to church. I'm NOT going to list all of the saints and their patronage. I'm NOT going to harden my heart towards those who disagree with me. I'm NOT going to tell you which religion (if any) you should follow. I'm not going to do any of those things. I just want to talk about something that's been weighing on my heart and mind as a Christian AND as a human being. And it comes from a powerful book I finished reading a week ago. It's called Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It's been a tough year for all of us, and yes, I do mean ALL of us. We've been separated from our loved ones, friends, acquaintances, communities, jobs, places of worship, and much more for the past year. It finally seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel with more and more people getting vaccinated. However, as the pandemic began, people were just not comfortable with the idea of being separated from the places they congregated to pre-pandemic. Especially churches. On the news, there were reports of churches opening their doors to hoards of their flock to worship, many of them without masks and in close proximity to each other, and with total disregard to the CDC or state guidelines. There were people that would say "God will take care of us," or "I must receive communion from the church," or "I must worship my Lord & Savior in a building. I can't do it at home!" Sigh. I'm only going to say this once, so please pay attention. Yes, God will take care of you, but I don't believe he wants you to be stupid and put your lives in jeopardy by attending service like you normally would in pre-pandemic times. He would want you to be safe. You're literally playing with fire by coming together with no regards for the safety and wellbeing of others, and have a severe lack of compassion towards others who are doing the right thing and making the best of a tough situation. Yes, I know you miss worshipping in a building, but that's not the only place you can worship and pray. I've been known to discover that you can worship and pray just about anywhere these days, even at home. It doesn't have to be anything official or proper. All God asks is for YOU, no matter how good or bad your day was, no matter how relaxed or stressed you are, no matter where you are in the world, all He wants is YOU. And it's okay if you're not in a church building. I've been worshipping from home this past year, and as my church starts to open back up (AND follows the state guidelines, mind you, so all of you churches with a total disregard for that, please start paying attention!) with a small number of people, they've offered the option for live-streaming services for those who aren't comfortable with worshipping in person right now. It's been a struggle to not be around the people that follows the same beliefs I do, but I've learned to make do with what's going on and I've learned not to complain, like so many of you are doing. And what about communion? I get it. You have to have the body and blood of Christ, but you shouldn't be risking your lives just to make it official. Do what most of us have been doing this past year - use what's around your house! I've been using Triscuits and cranberry juice (which I need to get more of) for partaking the body and blood of Christ. You can use matzo, you can use saltines, you can use grape juice, you can use fruit juice (berry flavored, preferably), you can use whatever in order to take, eat, and drink of the Savior who gave up his life for us. Yes, it's hard. Yes, you miss worshipping in a building with your fellow members. Yes, you miss taking communion. Yes, you miss being in person. But I hope you realize that God would rather want you to be safe, healthy, AND smart about this. So many lives were taken this year because of your selfishness and carelessness of not wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands, using hand sanitizer, and more. And I would imagine that God's heart is broken by all of this. Do me a favor: if you really want to please God, just do the damn right thing and stay safe! Wear a mask! Social distance! Wash your hands! Even as churches are starting to open back up slowly and following the CDC guidelines, keep on doing the right thing out of compassion. It's not going to kill you if you're not in a building worshipping on Sunday mornings. It's not the end of the world if you have to use what's around your house to take communion. It's not backwards to watch a livestream of the church service on your laptop or phone. Is it too much to ask to simply stop thinking about yourselves and start thinking of others, as Jesus himself explicitly said to us? Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's get to the real matter at hand. I finished reading a fantastic book called Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and it's a personal look at her life, reflections, observations, and empowered messages to share with others. One of those chapters dealt with her struggles and realizations about God and the church as a whole. While I won't go into everything she says about these things, I will share with you one thing I've read in this particular chapter that is quite eye-opening. Ms. Doyle starts off by describing a meeting she had with her pastor at the local church she attended, and was questioning about the sins of homosexuality and abortion as if they were the pillars of the church. She asked him a simple question: "Why - if your church is based on the Jesus who spoke incessantly about orphans and widows, demilitarization, immigrants, the sick, the outcast, the poor - are you choosing abortion and gayness to hang your hat upon?" The pastor told her that much of what she said makes sense, in the ways of the world, that is. But that God's ways are not our ways. "You shouldn't lean on your own understanding. You seem to have a good heart, but the heart is fickle. Faith is about trusting." Do not think. Do not feel. Do not know. Mistrust your own heart and mind, and trust us. That is faith. In Ms. Doyle's eyes, her pastor wanted her to believe that trusting him was trusting God. However, he was not her connection to God. Her heart and mind were her connections to God. If she gave up trusting these central parts, she would be trusting the men who led the church instead of trusting God. In other words, she would be relying on their understanding. Pretty powerful observations, right? But there's more to this chapter than you realize. Ms. Doyle also said this about the religious institutions. Whenever hate or division is spread in our churches and communities, we as members of the congregation have three choices: 1. Remain quiet, which means we agree with what is being said or what's going on.
2. Loudly challenge power, and work like hell to make change. 3. Take our families and leave. Something else to think about. Which leads me to yet another important point I discovered. Ms. Doyle did some more research after her discussion with her pastor. The idea of leaning on his understanding and not God's was based on a memo that came only 40 years ago. In the 1970s, a few rich, powerful, white (outwardly) straight men got worried about losing their right to continue racially segregating their private Christian schools and maintaining their tax-exempt status. They began to feel their money and power being threatened by the civil rights movement, and in order to regain control, these men needed to identify an issue that would be emotional and galvanizing enough to unite and politically activate their evangelical followers for the first time. So, they decided to focus on abortion. Six years after the Roe v. Wade decision (the evangelical position believed in life beginning with the baby's first breath, at birth), most leaders had been indifferent to the Supreme Court's decision, and some were cited for actually supporting the ruling. Not anymore. These men wrote a new memo using freshly feigned outrage and rhetoric calling for "a holy war... to lead the nation back to the mortal stance that made America great." (Sound familiar, anyone?) The leaders sponsored a meeting of 15,000 pastors - The Religious Roundtable - to train pastors on how to convince their congregations to vote for anti choice, anti gay candidates. The pastors would then share the memo to evangelical ministers, which was passed down to pews across the US which read, "To be aligned with Jesus, to have family values, to be moral, one must be against abortion and gay people and vote for the candidate that is anti abortion and anti gay." You don't believe me, do you? Well, believe it or not, Ronald Reagan started using the language from this new memo. From there, evangelicals threw their utmost support behind him, and actually voted in a bloc for the first time to elect Reagan to the presidency. From there, the Religious Right was born, and the face of the movement was the "pro-life and pro-family values" for millions of followers. But the blood that was running through the movement's veins was racism and greed of the few. And that is how white evangelicals became the most powerful and influential voting bloc in the country, as well as the fuel of the American white supremacy engine. This was how evangelicals leaders get away with the hypocrisy of keeping their money, racism, misogyny, classism, nationalism, weapons, war, and corruption while claiming to lead in the name of Jesus, who dedicated his life to ending war, serving the orphans and widows, healing the sick, welcoming immigrants, valuing women and children, and giving power and money away to the poor. Wow. That's heavy stuff, and I do mean HEAVY. Now that I've shared what I've read with you, it's time for me to ask you several questions weighing heavily on my heart. Okay, here goes. If Jesus called for us to love one another, no matter who or what a person is, why do some of you stand behind a religion or belief about a certain group of people and ideologies out of fear and hatred? If Jesus stood up for the outcasts, healing the sick, welcoming immigrants, and so much more, why do some of you refuse to do the same? If the Bible tells us not to put our faith in princes, why do some of you put your support behind leaders, no matter what their personal ideologies are, strictly because they are against the LGBTQ+ communities and women's rights and they're your only hope? If Jesus took the opportunity to be kind and understanding to others needs, why do some of you only care about yourselves and are careless with your actions & decisions, sometimes endangering others? If Jesus found time to pray everywhere he went, inside or outside, why do some of you insist that the only way to get close to Him and God is in a building? If Jesus encouraged, even insisted, giving to the poor and needy, why do some of you support churches who use their funds to build gigantic houses of worship instead of using those funds to people and organizations that need it the most, specifically that are centered around the poor, homeless, sick, women and children, and so many more individuals who need help? If Jesus showed love, understanding, and respect towards women and treated them as human beings and not objects, why do some of you do otherwise? Why do you continue to treat them as if their on a pedestal and not worthy to be individuals, or even devalue the rights of women in general? If Jesus' message rings true for some of you, why do you twist the message and use it for your own personal gain and power, especially where politics is concerned? If Jesus stood for love, why do some of you throw that to the side like an afterthought and value wealth, power, comfort, and even disdain for everyone else? All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for blindly trusting leaders who align with our religious morales just for the sake of the vote, no matter who they are as human beings. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for not extending kindness to others, when Jesus taught us to do so. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for giving into fear, anger, and hatred against those who are different from us. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for being silent on the issues that matter to each and every one of us. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for mistreating women and treating them as objects. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for masking the brokenness within our lives and within ourselves in order to be perceived well in worship. All of us who believe in God shouldn't be known for any of those things. How do we want people to know we believe in God? It's quite simple, actually. To quote a refrain from a song: "They will know we are Christians by our LOVE."
Jesus gave his disciples a radical thought: "Love one another as I have loved you." And it's still being shared and taught to this day. And it's still being forgotten and thrown to the side to this day. If this is a simple yet radical thought, why won't you follow his command? When Jesus said, "love one another," he means to "love one another." No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We shouldn't have to give into fear, anger, prejudice, and hatred because we were taught to be uncomfortable around those who are different from us. We shouldn't only love a select group of people and leave others out. We shouldn't even forget the greatest act of love Jesus did for all of us. We can't. He hung on a tree a week ago today, bearing the weight of our sins on his shoulders, and he did this out of love. It is true. "Greater love hath no one than he who lays down his life for his friends." It's not that hard to love others. It shouldn't have to be that hard. And yet it is. We shouldn't be afraid to love others. No matter who they are, what their beliefs are, and what they look like. Jesus gave the ultimate gift of love to all of us, so it's time to embrace that radical thought he imposed on his disciples over 2,000 years ago. Not just as religious people, but as people in general. (I realize this is a tough topic to talk about, let alone read. And I'm pretty sure I wasn't as kind like I normally would be. But the message still remains the same here. You are welcome to share your views and opinions on this with me. But I won't tolerate any hate speech, derogatory comments, or trolling of any kind. They will be deleted. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything. It's just that simple.) Jesus shared a radical thought with his disciples: love one another as I have loved you. And yet, it's deemed almost too radical for some of us. I get it. It's hard to love others who are different from you by skin color, religious beliefs, political affiliations, gender, ideologies, and more. I know all of that too well. But would you rather be known for how much love you shared with others without fear, prejudice, anger, or hatred in spite of their differences? Or would you prefer to be remembered as someone who used the radical thought for your own personal gain, and being oblivious to all of the damage it's caused? I want to say one more thing before I leave you a final thought. I don't know the Bible word for word, nor do I pretend to try. I can't quote each and every line of Scripture for you. But whenever someone uses the Good Book in a way that's meant to control others, gain power, and abuse people for being different, that makes me angry. You should not be using the Bible as a facade to keep others in line through your racism, classism, nationalism, sexism, and more. That is simply not how it works. If you're going to use the Bible, use it in a way that brings people together in order to help others, heal the diseases both outwardly and inwardly, and especially love people. Never hide behind it as a way to make others inferior and keep yourself in comfort. You will NEVER get to heaven that way. There are three gifts that are a prominent part of the Christian faith, and they are faith, hope, and love. Guess what the greatest of these gifts are? You guessed it. It's LOVE. Don't be afraid of this radical thought to love one another. You will discover how much alike we all are. Here's another radical thought. Take the time to actually listen to Jesus' message of love and HELP OTHERS in spite of their differences. Don't give into fear, hatred, prejudice, and division. Give into LOVE. And that's quite radical, if you don't mind my saying so.