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A Sensible Response to Nazarenes United for Peace, “An Altar Call”

In the wake of the violent murders at a Sutherland Springs, Texas Church, a Facebook group called Nazarenes United for Peace posted a statement titled “An Altar Call” which with only a superficial reading sounds likes positive support for the victims of the attack while calling us all to a deeper walk with Christ. But a closer reading reveals an irresponsible statement with assumptions and errors that (at least in my opinion) need answering.

I should say that I chose to follow Nazarenes United for Peace some time ago because as a Soldier who has seen war, I long for peace. I believe that a peaceful existence is the ideal of Scripture and Christ’s teachings. While I agree with many of their posts, they often go too far on the pacifist, complete non-violence, side of Christianity. But that’s fine, I “like” the posts I agree with and just keep scrolling past the ones I don’t.

But this one, “An Altar Call,” I can’t just scroll by. Not because I agree, or even because I strongly disagree, but because it’s an irresponsible post. It makes assumptions of gun owners that rarely are true. It presents interpretations of Scripture that are not the only possible interpretations. It ignores other statements by Jesus and others recorded in Scripture that not only don’t support their thesis but contradicts it. And finally, it gives no room for disagreement, but dogmatically asserts that it’s their way or the highway (or “the door” as they put it).

So, I repost it here, with my comments inserted in red. Feel free to disagree, that’s your right and more importantly, I realize there are different views. I’m not suggesting, as they did, that there is only one way to understand the teachings of Jesus and other Scripture. But more than that, I appreciate that some have taken on as their calling a life of pacifism and non-violence but I contend that it is a calling and not the calling of a Christian.

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An altar call (That’s OK, we all need time at the altar)

At the heart of the gospel resides the call to take up your cross and follow Jesus. This is a non-negotiable of discipleship: to be Christian is to be crucified with Christ. To be sure, crucifixion in the Roman world often was the response to violent defiance of the authorities, but the way Jesus was crucified was different. He faced down crucifixion non-violently, he surrendered his life, he became obedient to death, even death on a cross.  The Christian call is to let that same mind be in us that was in him, to become obedient to death on a cross (I’m in complete agreement so far). To be willing to be defenseless for the sake of bearing witness to the one who would rather die than be without us, to bear witness to the one who did not send in armed defenders to rescue his Son. (The problem here is equating our following Jesus, “to become obedient to death death on a cross,” to the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus chose to -He had to die- to accomplish our salvation. For Him to resist would be to resist the will of God. To suggest that our death would be anything similar to Christ’s is ludicrous, therefore to freely go to death –while it may be the calling of some- is not mandated as the only way a Christian must live-or die.)

To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus to co-crucifixion is to lay down one’s weapons (says the author, but says nobody in Scripture-including Jesus. He told Peter to put his weapon away, but it’s a misinterpretation to make that a universal command). This is the non-negotiable call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is an incorrect assumption, that Scripture teaches non-violence as the only Christian view. There’s plenty of Scripture, and interpretations, that indicate defense, Soldiering, etc., is not anti-Christian). To call for arming more parishioners in churches as a response to the recent tragedy in a Texas church is anti-gospel and anti-Christ. (Again, making an incorrect interpretation of Scripture that to defend others, family members, loved ones, is anti-Gospel and anti-Christ. The exercise of love can mean providing for the protection of others. To not defend our family or the weak could be seen as neglecting our call to care for them, to love them, to provide for them).

Whenever I raise the issue of responding legislatively and otherwise to mass shootings and gun violence I am often met with the rejoinder: Gun violence is a heart problem. I agree. It is a heart problem to not renounce the ways and means of violence. (This suggests that those who support responsible gun ownership and/or support only responsible gun legislation and not knee-jerk legislation, are violent people and support violence of any kind, which isn’t true). To not give up the right to kill in the face of the commandment not to kill is a heart problem. (This statement just shows the author’s lack of proper interpretation of Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible say not to kill. The commandment, correctly interpreted, is not to murder. There is a difference). It is a heart problem and it is an American societal problem.

So hear this call to repentance: if you are not ready to renounce your addiction to violence, (an assumption that if you have guns you’re addicted to violence) your justification of a culture that values instruments of death over human life, (an assumption that if you own guns and believe in sensible gun laws that your guns are more important to you than human life-absurd!) and your own justification to use those weapons, (see all previous comments!) either come down to the altar and surrender your life to Jesus and his way, (suggesting that the “anonymous contributor’s” way is Jesus’ way and if you haven’t been living it, you haven’t surrendered to Jesus) or find the door (since you’re not welcome if you don’t agree. This may be the scariest part of this statement. Shouldn’t the Church be the place for one who is not following the Way of the Cross? Shouldn’t the sinner as well as the saint be welcome in our churches? Isn’t among those who follow Christ  the best place to be for those who don’t, to see the example of Christ? But instead, we are told that if we don’t agree and don’t repent, we should just “find the door.”). If you are defending the way of violence you have abandoned the way of Jesus (once again, his interpretation of Scripture, neglecting several passages that suggest non-violence is not the only way to live the Christian life, and that if you are any kind of gun owner or 2nd Amendment supporter then you support “the way of violence” of any kind). You cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve both the God of Jesus Christ and the God of Violence. (And here he is again, jumping from gun ownership and support for the 2nd Amendment to worshiping and supporting violence of any kind, which responsible gun owners do not).

An invitation to the altar: “Come, behold the works of the Lord. See what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; [he melts down the assault rifle] (because assault rifles are the real problem, right?); he burns the shields with fire. Enough of this! And know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46, emended. (More misinterpretation to apply the fullness of the Kingdom of God to the period we live in today. When Jesus returns, when the Kingdom of God is fully come on Earth as it is in Heaven, then we will see wars cease with no need for weapons of war or the defense of weapons. Then, God will be exalted among the nations…)

– Anonymous Contributor (Responses by Daryl Densford, Christian, Nazarene elder, Army Chaplain, disciple and follower of Christ)

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Here’s the original post without my comments, in case you want to read it without interruption:

NUP

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On Flags, Allegiance and Idolatry

With the recent hubbub over our National Anthem and respect for the flag of the United States, other discussions have sprouted up, some about the presence of the national flag in places of worship which have often  led to conversations about perceived empire worship or misplaced allegiances. I’ve appreciated the discussions I have read about these topics and want to add my thoughts to the conversation.

Cross on uniformI’ve worn the uniform of an Army chaplain for about 15 years now, with the American flag on my right shoulder but with a cross on my chest. As with many others, I’ve gone to war. I’ve nurtured the living. I’ve cared for the wounded. I’ve honored the dead. I’ve tried through my career to bring God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God.

I have a deep respect for my country, represented by the flag. But I don’t see the flag as a symbol of the military any more than it’s a symbol of oppression or a symbol of privilege. I see it as a symbol of my country,  but more than that, as a symbol of what’s good in the American people. When I see the American flag, I’m reminded that the United States has given me (and others around the world) freedom. It’s not a perfect country and certainly not one that can compare to the Kingdom of God, but it’s a country that I believe still seeks the best for its people and people around the world. I have pledged my allegiance to this country and have pledged to defend its Constitution.

But my allegiance to my country is secondary to my allegiance to God and His Kingdom. My commitment to defend the Constitution is secondary to my commitment to live by God’s Word. If ever those two allegiances come into conflict, the Kingdom of God will always win out. If ever my defense of the the Constitution comes into conflict with God’s Word, God’s Word will always win out.

IMG_20170618_134503710 (2)-40With that said (and if anyone is still reading this monologue), I’m still ambivalent toward the presence of national flags in the sanctuary. Obviously, in the sanctuaries of military chapels, the American flag is prominent, but no more prominent than the Christian Chaplain flag (or whichever faith group is using the chapel at the time). It’s only natural to see both flags when at worship in the military. But in all my years, I’ve never heard, seen or sensed anything more than a healthy respect for the national flag. I’ve never suspected anyone was raising it above the Christian flag or putting it before God. I’ve never gotten the impression that it was the nation the people were worshiping instead of the God of the nations. I’ve never had any need to question the motives of worshipers who are grateful to their nation and its service members for the freedom to worship while praising God, the true giver of freedom, for the freedoms they have as Americans.

I believe that military members, more than most other people, have seen the filthy underside of the world and the oppression that many around the world are under, so they appreciate all the more the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans causing them to give a greater degree of respect to the symbol of our nation: the flag. But I emphasize, a high degree of respect, even devotion, but not rising to the level of worship or idolatry.

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Go Ahead and Kneel

As I have read posts from both “sides” of the current cultural conflict, it has become clear to me that there are a variety of views on this whole kneeling protest thing.

kaepernick-kneels-during-national-anthem-750Some view kneeling during the National Anthem as showing disrespect to our flag, country, military, etc. While others view it, not as an act of disrespect to those things, but rather calling attention to a cause in a respectful way. It’s obvious that there are different opinions on the role and significance of kneeling and standing.

When I think of kneeling (outside of the current context of athletes and the National Anthem) the main idea that comes to my mind is submission. A subject kneels before her King. A servant kneels before his master. A defeated foe kneels before the victor.

As I think of significant times that I have knelt, I recall kneeling at an altar, submitting to God as Lord. I remember going down on one knee as I presented the flag from a coffin to a grieving loved one. I can think back to times when on field exercises, when a military superior would tell us to “take a knee” so he could impart to us his wisdom.

On the flip side of kneeling, the act of purposely standing has meaning as well. In the military, we stand when a superior officer enters a room. Proper manners dictate that we stand when someone greets us and offers his/her hand to shake. It used to be that when a woman joined you at the table, the men would stand. When we want to honor a speaker or performer beyond simple applause, we stand to our feet. Often we stand to show admiration for a special guest or recipient of an award.

Submission, respect, honor. We can offer these things when we kneel as well as when we stand but standing or kneeling at the wrong time could have the opposite effect of what it would in another situation.

Context is everything.

It rings hollow when we try to say that we mean no disrespect when doing something opposite of what is normally the respectful thing to do. If in a given situation, the norm is to stand to show respect, to refuse to stand is a clear act of disrespect no matter how hard one tries to rationalize it.

americas-celebration-4th-of-july-flagI’ve stated many times on my blog that I am a very patriotic person. I study and admire the historical figures who had a vision for a country where people could live and worship freely. I’ve devoted a good portion of my life to minister to men and women who have committed to fight and, if necessary, die to defend the freedoms that are ours as Americans and to bring them to oppressed peoples around the world. I have deployed to war zones, like many other military members, in service to my country. I have lived in and visited other countries and am always excited to return home to my country. I often shed a tear as I gaze on Old Glory while singing the National Anthem at ceremonies and services.

So for me, the thought of doing anything but standing at attention during the National Anthem is anathema.

However, I am also quick to defend your right to choose to protest this or that by not standing during the National Anthem if you think it will accomplish something good. I may not like it and honestly, I’ll probably think a little less of you (though I’ll try not to show it), but your right to protest is one of the freedoms that make the United States the great country that it is.

So go ahead and kneel, stand, sit, do somersaults if it will help, but do it sincerely. Do it humbly. Do it selflessly. Do it respectfully.

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What It All Boils Down To

This evening after church my wife and I stopped by our local grocery store to pick up a few things we had run out of during our busy week. As we turned down the aisle toward the toilet paper, we nearly ran into another shopper who was making a choice at the end of the aisle. She drew more notice than she normally would because she was supplementing her shopping with a bite to eat. I’m not sure what it was, but it was in a paper wrapper like what would wrap a cheeseburger.

Trash DumpHaving narrowly avoided an in-store collision, my wife and I continued our shopping, going from one side of the store to the other as we remembered something else we needed to get. As we crossed back toward the dairy section coming from produce, I noticed on one of the end caps of Coke products a paper wrapper. That same wrapper that caught my eye when we first entered the store. The wrapper that contained the snack that other shopper was eating as she shopped. That wrapper was now trash on a display.

I get it. At the end of a long day, as you’re doing some last-minute shopping before returning home for the night, carrying around a paper wrapper until you complete your shopping can be extremely burdensome. I understand that trying to find a trash can while also rushing to finish your shopping can be an enormous waste of time. I can relate to not wanting to bulge my pocket with trash I will no longer need. I realize it’s so much more easier to just lay it down and let someone else throw it away, perhaps someone who has more time or is less weary.

Hogwash.

As I watched for that weary shopper, my wife tried to convince me not to say anything to her. As we passed her in the parking lot, my mate urged me to mind my own business. But as we drove away, I felt defeated; as though I had failed the human race.

As more time has separated me from this event, I’ve tried to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. I’ve tried to understand that perhaps she had an awful day. Maybe she had some physical disability that forced her actions. Maybe she was unaware of our cultural norms. But I couldn’t come up with an acceptable excuse for her actions…or mine.

As far as what she did, it boils down to selfishness, pure and simple. She didn’t want to deal with her trash so she left it for someone else to deal with. It was all about her.

As for me, I allowed myself to just not get involved and by keeping to myself, I was just as guilty as her in putting the work onto someone else, and perhaps (likely) perpetuating her selfishness, at least in the realm of littering.

I know by now you’re probably saying, “Really, this was all about a piece of trash?”

Well, yes…and no.

Perhaps it was more about my decision to not saying anything -to not get involved- than it was about the late-night litterbug. Maybe if I say something when I see somebody litter, the grocery store would be a cleaner place to shop and the grocery store workers would be more pleasant, not having to pick up after selfish shoppers.

But really it’s bigger than just a piece of trash and a pleasant shopping experience.

Selfishness isn’t limited to late-night shoppers and grocery stores. We see selfishness nearly wherever we go. Think back over your day, how many times did you notice someone being inconvenienced because of someone else’s selfishness. If you’re like me (or if you take the time for honest assessment), probably many.

With all the trouble we’re seeing across our country these days, I dare say the majority of it is because of selfishness. I don’t need to make a list, you’re already forming one in your mind.

So how should we respond when we encounter selfishness? Obviously as a Christian, I should respond in love, but we should still respond. It’s the lack of a proper response over the last generation that has produced the world we live in today. We let selfishness have its way, so it continues, on and on and on. And it will never stop until we decide to respond, to get involved, and say something like,

That’s enough. Grow up. Think about somebody other than yourself.

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On Monuments and Honor

I’ve been in the military for about 15 years now but have always been interested in history (except during high school when I failed my American History class!). Not long after I came into the Army as a chaplain, I began to wonder about Army posts like Fort Hood, Fort Hill, Fort Bragg and seven others that bear the names of Confederate Generals.

They were the losers, why did they get federal installations named after them?

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Sign at main entrance to Fort Bragg, NC (photo from official Army website)

When I began to talk about it with other chaplains, it was explained to me that the naming was part of an effort at reconciliation, bringing the people and states that were once at war with the United States back into the fold. Seeking to once again be the United States of America. That made sense to me, at least at the time.

Then there are the monuments of Confederate generals and soldiers. Honestly, I had less heartburn over those than the federal posts named after generals from the losing side.

Being a history buff, when I visit historical battlefields and sites, and even monuments in town squares and community cemeteries, not only am I interested in the history of the one being memorialized but also in the background of the placement of the monument itself. Just as future historians will likely find interest in their displacement or destruction.

It’s all part of our history.

At least for me, though I believe also for many who have fought in America’s wars, even the monuments honoring those who lost are still moving and worthy of respect. While, in the case of the American Civil War, their cause was immoral, the bravery and sacrifice shown in the face of combat is still something that stirs a sense of honor. Even more, when I consider the death toll -those who died in battle- I’m moved to grieve over the losses, even those of the “enemy.”

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Monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, PA (photo by author)

In the military, tactics and strategies -even of the losers- are studied by soldiers and officers to become more proficient at war. General George Patton is said to have studied Field Marshal Rommel and his tactics. Often, the leaders of opposing forces are held in esteem for their battlefield prowess.

In wars past, captured or killed officers were often treated with a degree of respect, not because of any shared allegiance to a common flag or cause, but because of a common sense of duty and honor in service to one’s country.

The honor given to their bravery, the grief felt for their deaths, the esteem held for their prowess and the respect given for their duty, is not an affirmation of their flawed cause, but rather an acknowledgement of our shared profession as well as a remembrance that while at one time we were enemies, at wars end we needed to once again be friends.

However, in Germany following World War Two, it didn’t take long for any remnant of the failed Nazi regime to evaporate into history. When I was there in 2008-2010, it was still illegal to display Nazi symbols, even on historical items for sale. But we need to be careful not to equate too exactly their situation with our Civil War. The restriction on monuments to the Third Reich and their heroes in Germany (the losers) was mandated and enforced by the United States occupation force (the winners). There were no rogue states who needed to be welcomed back into the fold or any need to reunite brother who had fought against brother, as was the case with our Civil War.

In Germany, there was a very clear loser and an unquestioned victor. In our Civil War, while there were sides who won and lost, they were two sides of the same country; people who needed to come back together to once again be a common people, a united people.

But are any of these considerations reason enough to keep Confederate monuments standing? The removal of the monuments won’t erase the battle tactics and strategies from military text books. The absence of Confederate monuments will not prevent us, as Soldiers, from honoring the bravery of those who fought. Having no monument as a reminder will not remove the grief that wells up when considering the lives lost in battle. In short, are Confederate monuments necessary to accomplish any good that the study and memory of the Civil War produces for members of the military?

As a military, we need to be careful how much honor we place on those who took up arms against the United States. After all, the very fact that they became enemies of our country taints any honor they may have won on the battlefield.

Claus_von_Stauffenberg_portrait_(1907-1944)

COL Claus von Stauffenberg (photo public domain)

Returning to Germany for a moment, their military has a place for tradition and honor, similar to the United States military, but as they trace their heritage, they bypass those who espoused the Nazi philosophy and instead place honor in those who resisted the Nazi regime. German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, and the other officers involved in Operation Valkyrie for example, are held up as deserving honor since they worked against the Nazi regime to do the right thing. While they don’t have monuments honoring Nazi battlefield heroes, they haven’t erased their history but rather use it to teach properly placed allegiances and moral responsibility.

I realize that a very small percentage of the American public might associate with the views that those in the military may hold. That is why we have the current outcry against such monuments in public places. Many citizens view these monuments not as historical military figures but as symbols of the cause they fought for, reminders of enslavement and oppression, recognition of enemies of the United States who sought to fracture our nation. It is understandable that these monuments would come into question, especially now with the increased tension in race relations we have experienced over the last several years.

So if we’re going to think reasonably about the removal of monuments, there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves. We need to determine the reason we want to remove these monuments from public view and not just follow the crowd (or mob).

Do we want them removed just because they symbolize something or someone we disagree with? I don’t think that mere disagreement is a reason to erase the visible remnants of our history. The freedom to disagree is written into our Constitution so disagreement alone is not sufficient cause to remove a monument.

Would their removal return power to the people away from the government? If they produce or maintain a disproportionate power, perhaps. But we should tread lightly on the power issue. Our system of government gives power to the people, but within the bounds of the Constitution and laws. A mob tearing down a public monument isn’t power, it’s criminal. A government removing a monument legally still doesn’t shift power since the government controlled the removal.

Do we want to remove the monuments because they remind us of the evil of slavery and the oppression of an entire race? I wonder if we really want to erase that memory. People keep posting things about Nazi Germany in opposition to the U.S. white supremacist movement with the hope that remembering the evil, and results, of the past will help to avoid it in the future. Do these monuments help us to remember evil so as not to repeat it or do they just bring up a memory that is painful to maintain?

Do we want them removed because of a feeling it produces in some people? While this deserves a whole other post, here we need to realize that sometimes things make us feel uncomfortable but that isn’t always bad. Sometimes we just need to realize that we will experience uncomfortable feelings in life and learn to deal with them.

Finally, do we want these monuments removed because they place honor in a cause that was borne of evil and currently empower groups who consider their race superior to those who were enslaved? Are they a form of governmental sanction of the superiority of one race over another? If so, I think this concern, if any, should bring action on these monuments. If Confederate monuments equate to government endorsement of oppression of a race today, we need to seriously consider whether there remains any value in their existence.

I speak of consideration because I’m not convinced that every monument in every context should be removed. One exception is in cemeteries and grave yards. Often these monuments are memories of the person for the family. They honor a life lived and not just four years out of their life in a poorly chosen endeavor.

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Confederate Chaplain, Major Telfair Hodgson

Another exception is monuments on battlefields. As I recently read in a posted article (the source of which I can’t recall) battlefield monuments place them in the proper perspective of opposing forces; of good versus evil. If any monuments should be retained I think that these should since they’re in a context to remember the struggle that was the Civil War, more than the cause of those who rebelled.

Finally, I think monuments that highlight the service of non-combatants in war, even those on the opposing side, should remain. Instead of honoring the cause, these monuments honor the good that can be found even in the midst of war. Monuments to those who rendered medical and spiritual aid, for example, like volunteer nurses and chaplains should be honored and remembered.

As for the others, I’ll leave them to the lawmakers and civilians to decide their fate. For me, as a Soldier and historian, perhaps it is time to render a slow salute, maybe shed a quiet tear, and bid farewell to our fallen foes.

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Why This Racism?

Racism is sin.

There’s no question about it, racism is destructive to a society and seeks to divide rather than unify. Racism is the antithesis to community. There is no place for it in a country that once boasted being a melting pot with immigrants from nearly every nation on earth.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan face counter-protesters as they rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, VirginiaAs the events in Charlottesville, Virginia unfolded Saturday, Facebook rightly exploded with condemnation against the racists who marched proclaiming the superiority of the white race and carrying Nazi, Confederate and KKK flags, the sight of which alone is sufficient to recall lynchings and fear the inevitable outcome of the return to power of any one of these groups.

Counter-protesters were also out in force with signs proclaiming “Death to KKK” and “F**K Nazi Sympathy” as well as the now familiar “Back Lives Matter,” sentiments that have also stirred up violence in past protests.

Local clergy got involved as a silent and peaceful protest to the hate and division that Saturday was in Charlottesville, but we’ve seen increasingly around our country over the last several years.

However, there are a few things that have struck me about the Facebook explosion against racism, both political and religious.

charlottesville-black-lives-matter-ku-klux-klan-charlottesville-virginiaPolitically, I found it interesting that Saturday’s white racism is what has been primarily denounced. I don’t mean to imply that white racism is OK, because it certainly is not, but neither is black racism (or what some have called “reverse-racism”). Some of Saturday’s counter-protesters carried signs just as inflammatory as the white supremacists. It seems that blacks who have violently protested against white privilegevandalized and looted businesses and blocked traffic barely got an “ahem” while Saturday’s white racism produced a national outcry. This may be mainly a media problem, but it’s also reflected in Facebook posts. Perhaps it’s that we’re afraid to “appear” racist by denouncing racism practiced by blacks but don’t have the same fear to denounce racism found in whites. Maybe since there’s such a long history of white racism in the United States (which has been institutionally empowered) we feel that it’s only natural that blacks should feel as they do, and so have the right to violently protest. Again, don’t misunderstand me, any form of racism is wrong and should be denounced, but all racism not just when it is practiced by whites.

But bigger than the racism, the hate that spews from the mouths and hearts of many of the protesters is alarming. Hate, along with racism, will continue to resist any form of unity or community. Hate will not allow relationships that could lead to a better understanding among different races. Hate will eat away at the haters, like a cancer devouring the health of its host.

Another political oddity is that it seems to have been decided by many that Saturday’s white supremacist march was not protected by the First Amendment. Our outcry suggests that these people need to just shut up, that they don’t have a right to speak. Everyone else does, but not them. I agree that what they believe is sick. What they say is despicable. What they do divides. But whether we like it or not, until it becomes violent it is protected by our Constitution. It is this freedom, along with all the others, which I and millions of other Service Members have fought for, and some have died for, over the years. It is this freedom that allows those who disagree with them to also have a voice.

Charlottesville-clergyLet me quickly say that I’m not proposing that citizens should be silent in the face of destructive attitudes like racism and hate. Just as those who espouse racism have a Constitutional right to hold their beliefs and protest, so do we have the right to hold contrary beliefs and counter-protest. What I am suggesting is that we should do so peacefully without name-calling, throwing back racial slurs or making violent threats. We should be more like the group of clergy in Charlottesville who peacefully and lovingly marched in protest of what they felt so strongly against.

On the religious side, it is interesting how it has fired up so many Christians to declare it as sin (which it is) and denounce those who practice it (which they should). But I have to ask, “why racism?”

Of course racism is sin, I’m not suggesting it’s not. I find it curious though, because over the last few years if Christians attempted to declare other things as sin and denounce people who practice those sins without repentance, they were rebuked by other Christians who said they should just love and let the Holy Spirit convict of sin; that it is not the Christian’s place to judge others but only to examine themselves; and that Christians should accept people as they are and just love them. They often go on to question why whatever sin is being spoken against is being elevated in importance over all the others, because sin is sin, Christians shouldn’t highlight any one over the others, they say.

I’m not saying that Christians should be quiet in the face of sin, but on the contrary, we need to declare it and denounce it wherever we find it. But not just the sin of racism, all sin. Not in the Westboro Baptist Church way but in a wise, loving, compassionate and Christ-like way. If we’re going to love sinners and let the Holy Spirit convict, then let’s love all sinners. Or does love just win with certain sins or certain sinners? I don’t think it does.

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Photo credits:

Photo with KKK flags from Reuters website.

Photo with Black Lives Matters from CSC Media Group website.

Photo of clergy marching from the CAIR website.

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Rhetoric, Non-Violence and War

Another day, another dozen Facebook posts about how wrong the President is. I keep reading how he is bringing us to the brink of War with nK. I’m curious what people think would happen if he remained silent. Would Kim suddenly back down? Would he stop developing nuclear weapons? Would he stop threatening his neighbors? Would he want to live in peace? I think not.

How many years has the U.S. been relatively non-confrontational toward nK and what good has it done? Kim continued to develop nuclear weapons and continued to threaten his neighbors. Now Kim is nearly to the point (if he’s not there already) that he has the resources to follow through on his threats.

It’s really irrelevant who the U.S. President is. If it was Obama or Bush or (Bill) Clinton, he still shouldn’t be silent. Bullies (like Kim) don’t back down any more when their opposition is silent than if they’re vocal. Does the schoolyard bully give up when everyone turns and walks away? No, he chases down the weak kids and hits them in the back. Those who walked away may feel good because they took the path of non-violence, but the kids who got hit in the back are feeling the pain. If the bigger and stronger kids in the group would have stood up to the bully, there still may have been some pain in the short-term, but at least the bully would have been stopped from continuing to inflict his painful will on the weak and defenseless.

It’s not the President’s rhetoric that is putting the region at risk, it’s Kim Jong Un.

Kim is the bully. The South Koreans, and other regional nations, are the weak kids. The U.S. and its allies are the bigger and stronger kids in the schoolyard who can protect the weaker kids by stopping the bully.

ap-explains-north-korea-guam

A missile that analysts believe could be the North Korean Hwasong-12 is paraded across Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang in April. (Wong Maye-e/Associated Press)

The U.S. can’t be silent. The U.S. can’t be uninvolved. The U.S. can’t turn its back on its allies in the region. The U.S. can’t think only of itself and its own safety. Along with the wealth and strength of the United States comes the responsibility to protect our friends from aggressors like Kim.

Let me quickly add that I’m not rooting for war. As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I have no desire that our country enter another significant combat operation. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to “the least of these” who we have committed to defend. We can do nothing less. Diplomacy hasn’t worked. Sanctions haven’t worked. Partnerships haven’t worked. It seems that the only thing that will stop a thug like Kim is war.

War is costly. Cities and villages will be destroyed. Many Military members will return home lifeless. Civilians will die. There is a price that war demands, but it is the price for peace. Being a peacemaker sometimes means making peace through war. When everything has been tried without success and the threat continues to grow, we need to be prepared to resort to war to bring about peace. We have to be prepared to eliminate the threat, to defend our neighbors, to protect our friends, and to bring stability to the region.

By beginning this post by referring to what people are saying, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t speak out. As citizens of a Constitutional Republic, it is our responsibility and duty to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. However, we often act as though the information the news provides to us is as good as the intelligence our generals and President receive. It’s not. It’s easy (and safe) to be an armchair general and boldly assert that the President is wrong, that our foreign policy is faulty, and that our military strategies are flawed. But those assertions are based on incomplete data.

Jimmy Kimmel Show Green Room At The Super Bowl - Day 4Col-SandersIt would be presumptious of Burger King to try to tell the Colonel how to prepare his chicken because the King doesn’t know the Colonels secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. No, Burger King concentrates on his own business and lets the Colonel tend to his. The King shouldn’t meddel in the Colonel’s business, hoping his efforts will fail.

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The Gift of Oddity

Eric-FreyI am delighted to share a “guest post” with you from a FB friend, Eric Frey. Eric is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and pastors two Churches of the Nazarene in eastern Central Ohio. He is also pursuing a D.Min (with an emphasis in Liturgical Studies) at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. I invite you to open your heart and mind to what he has to say about our church (the Church of the Nazarene in particular), worship and the sacraments:

Every once in a while, some fellow Nazarene reminds me just how odd a Nazarene I am. I understand that. I accept that. I am an odd Nazarene.

I am odd for lots of reasons. In a Nazarene world where practics reign the day, and where the ends always justify the means, I reject both firmly believing that if we want to get the practics right, we have to first get the theology right, and that the means are the end.

In a Nazarene world that is soundly embedded in the pietistic notion that grace is somehow mediated spiritually, I hold fast to the catholic notion that grace is mediated sacramentally through the physical world.

In a Nazarene world that clothes itself in the best practices of the business world, I clothe myself in the ecclesial garb of collars, cassocks, surplices, and stoles.

In a Nazarene world where worship is anything a local church wants it to be, and where programs are the key to making Christlike disciples, I am completely sold on the ancient understanding that worship is the shared practice of a catholic liturgy, and that rehearsing that catholic liturgy is the best tool the church has for making Christlike disciples.

As I think about these commitments that make me a very odd Nazarene, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because we just elected two General Superintendents and both of them have earned a PhD in a theological field. While both have proven to be excellent practitioners, they have the academic ability to guide us and shape us theologically. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because in recent years our denomination has moved from requiring the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated quarterly to encouraging all churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently. At our most recent General Assembly we passed resolutions to rewrite both Articles of Faith on the sacraments to bring them more in line with a thoroughly Wesleyan (and soteriological) sacramental theology. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because when I left seminary was appointed to my current church, the first thing I bought was a collar, an alb, and a stole. I waited until I was ordained to wear them as these things are traditionally a sign of ordination. Back then I think Todd Stepp was the only person I knew who wore ecclesial garb, but today I see more and more people adopting and advocating these Christian practices. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

But while I am optimistic for lots of reasons, I am also still a frustrated oddball. Frustrated because I see our denomination fracturing. Frustrated because I see our intentional choice to reject the single most formative tool in our disciple-making toolbox. Frustrated because while we are moving in the right direction in so many areas, our liturgical progress is backward.

If we are committed to making Christ-like disciples, we need to realize that liturgy is the single most formative tool in our tool box. Ritual studies tell us that people are shaped most profoundly by the rituals (habits) they rehearse over and over and over again. This isn’t a church thing. This isn’t a catholic-protestant thing. This is a human thing. A couple years ago I was perusing and airport bookstore while waiting to catch a flight. I discovered that among the top books on the best selling list was one called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The business world gets it — but we still reject liturgy as the necessary foundation of making Christ-like disciples.

If we are committed to being a unified denomination, we need to realize that liturgy is not only formative for persons, but for groups as well. Whenever someone suggests we need to move to a regionalized polity rather than a global one, someone else always reminds us that we are a global church, not a federation of smaller groups. But a united church entails far more than a shared polity — it entails a shared liturgy. Now that liturgy absolutely has to be contextualized, and liturgy alone will not hold us together, but just as liturgy is the most powerful tool the church has for shaping persons, a liturgy is also the most powerful tool the church has for maintaining unity amongst diversity.

Yes, I am still an odd ball Nazarene. And I am OK with that. I have learned to be content in my little corner of Nazarenedom. But please know that my little corner of Nazarenedom is a beautiful place to be. Ya’ll should come and visit a while. Who knows, maybe you’ll see the beauty and decide to stay a while. The door is always open.
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Copied from a Facebook post by the author. Used by permission.

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What I’m Not Celebrating on Independence Day

I am an American. I am a Patriot. I celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July.

By far, the majority of Americans will be celebrating the independence of the United States as well. Even with our many differences on political, social and religious issues, most people living in America are here because they want to be and are grateful for the freedoms that America provides not only for those living within her borders but for many people in other countries who the Untied States has liberated or protected.

There is a minority of Americans, however, who won’t be celebrating today. These are people who seem to take offense at what America is and stands for on behalf of other people who apparently are too ignorant to be offended on their own. They insist that to be proud of being American, to celebrate our country’s independence and birth is a slap in the face of people living in the U.S. from other countries. They suggest that being proud of our country and its ideals, to proclaim the United States as one of the greatest countries on earth demeans non-Americans and rejects the goodness of other countries.

I’m not suggesting that the United States is perfect and can’t be improved upon but there is much appeal in the rights and freedoms that it provides those living within its borders or else why do so many want to immigrate here? Why don’t more people leave (even when they promise they will if certain candidates are elected President)? With all its faults, America is a great country, a great place to live, and a favorite destination of many people who live in oppressive, dictatorial or non-democratic countries. We celebrate the goodness of the United States when we celebrate our independence.

There are other reasons that small groups of Americans refuse to celebrate on this day, or downplay its importance. Some of the reasons they give have some validity but none are sufficient to support a rejection of a celebration over 240 years a tradition, in a country that has overcome so much in its history and provides so much for people around the world. Space and time prevent me from expounding on each of them here, so let me simply provide a list (in no particular order) of what I, and the majority of Americans, are not declaring as we celebrate the 4th of July:

1. In my celebrating, I am not affirming my allegiance to my country as being above my allegiance to God and His Kingdom. I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of God and committed to Him above all else.

2. As I celebrate, I am not demeaning people from other countries who now live in the United States. Our “melting pot” is what has made America what it is and invite people from all nations who now live in the U.S. to celebrate our freedoms with us.

3. I am not celebrating what is wrong with the United States. As already stated, the U.S. isn’t perfect but we can still celebrate what is good about her.

4. As I celebrate our independence from Great Britain, I am not celebrating rebellion, revolution or violent uprising. It’s easy to criticize our Founding Fathers by looking at their situation through our pious 21st century glasses but they saw winning independence from GB as a moral imperative worthy of putting at risk their reputations, fortunes and lives so I celebrate their willingness and sacrifice.

5. As I celebrate this 4th of July, I am not ignoring the plight of the poor or marginalized who live here. We should continue to provide justice for all and seek to ensure that all our inhabitants experience the rights and freedoms we celebrate on this day.

6. Celebrating our independence is not telling the other nations of the world that they don’t matter. Travel to other countries and you’ll see that most (if not all-I haven’t been to all) celebrate their independence and existence in similar ways. Celebrating the United States does not take away from the greatness of other countries where it exists.

7. Celebrating on the 4th of July is not an affirmation of our current Administration and all of its policies, it is simply a celebration of our independence as a country.

8. Celebrating Independence Day is not a celebration of militarism and warfare, it’s a celebration of freedom and independence.

9. My celebration of our independence as a country originally guided by Judeo-Christian principles is not a denial of the existence or rights of other faith groups. One of the freedoms we celebrate is the freedom to live and worship according to the dictates of our conscience. This is one of the things that makes the U.S. such an appealing country to come to, one of the things we celebrate.

10. As I celebrate on this day, I’m not suggesting that God blesses the United States to the exclusion of other countries. I believe that God has had a role in the development and growth of the U.S. to enable us to bless others (as He also did in biblical history) but we are certainly not the only country that God blesses and uses.

11. Finally, as I celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day, I am not declaring that your opinion, values and priorities don’t matter. They matter as much as mine and everyone else’s living in these United States. Our freedom to have -and voice- our opinions is one of the things that makes our country great and one of the reasons we celebrate today.

I doubt that this post has changed everybody’s (or anybody’s) mind on celebrating this 4th of July, but hopefully it will enable most of us set aside our differences, to celebrate together the independence of the United States which has enabled us to grow into a country that cares for its citizens and aids citizens of other countries who need her. Hopefully, at least this one day, we can come together around what is good about our country and rejoice in what we have in common.

Happy 4th of July!

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Photo credits:

Flag with fireworks: https://www.techavy.com/4th-of-july-quotes-images-fireworks/

Signing of Declaration of Independence: Public Domain

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Why Am I Alive?

I sit here tonight crying, grieving really. The odd thing is that my breakdown was triggered by the death of someone I don’t even know. But it could have been me. Maybe it should have been me.

My car after the rollover

About seven weeks ago I was in a rollover car accident. People on the scene, the emergency room doctor and nurses, others who saw my car, could not believe that I walked away. In fact, my only injury was a compression fracture in my L1 vertebra which I’m told should eventually heal to the point of only occasionally feeling it on cold mornings (the fate of aging). I was thankful that it was not worse, that I did not sustain serious injuries or even die. I felt God’s presence with me as my car was rolling and believe that He protected me that day (as He has many other days).

Densel Ball

Rev. Densel Ball

About a week ago, Densel Ball, the pastor at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Overland Park, Kansas, was also in a rollover car accident. He was thrown from his rolling vehicle and sustained severe head trauma and other internal injuries and broken bones. He had been in a medically induced coma while the doctors worked at getting the brain swelling to go down. There was no brain activity except for the brain stem which controls autonomic functions.

I heard about it the day after the accident from a common friend’s Facebook post requesting prayer for him. I was immediately drawn to the situation having just been in a similar accident and survived. I prayed. Many others prayed: his family, friends and church. I saw on FB feeds that other churches were praying. Prayer chains were being alerted. God certainly heard all of those prayers yet Rev. Ball died today at 2:41 CDT.

It was when I saw the news of his passing that I began to cry and haven’t stopped. I scrolled through Rev. Ball’s FB page moved by the number of comments by people whose lives Rev. Ball had touched. I continued to cry as I read how he encouraged so many in their faith in Jesus. I could barely read through my tears the testimonies of lives changed because of the life of Densel Ball.

Ball Family

Ty, Michele, Densel and Jackie Ball

As I looked at the pictures of the Ball family is when I really lost it. The pictures seemed to portray the love felt by his wife Michele, daughter Jackie and son Ty. Now they have lost their husband and father. Gone, just like that. Without warning or time to prepare. Without an opportunity to exchange that last hug and “I love you!”. Gone.

Ball FamilyAs a Christian, there is some comfort in knowing that those who die knowing Jesus as their Savior are taken out of this life of pain and sorrow and into the joy and glory of God’s presence. But often that comfort does not adequately relieve the fresh pain of losing someone you love.

The Balls’ loss made me think of my own family. Had I died in my car accident, I would have been out of pain. I would have been living it up in the presence of my Creator and Savior, but my family would still be here…without me. I’m not suggesting that I’m that wonderful of a husband and father, but I am their husband and father so I would like to think they would miss me some. Thinking of their sorrow is what brings me sorrow and what I believe would have been the tragedy of my accident if I had died, not that I was dead but that I was gone.

I’m not sure if it is the same with everyone who comes close to dying suddenly, but my experience has made me think about my life and especially what I have given to others. As I read the testimonies of the people who Densel Ball had given so much to, I knew that he had made a big difference in the lives of many, many people. He had made a big difference in this world. It seems like if anyone should be able to continue living and loving and giving in this world it should be Densel Ball.

But these two facts are true: Densel Ball is dead. I am alive. And these two facts make me ask the question,

Why am I alive?

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