A parenting program with this name – Love and Logic – was making its rounds through evangelical churches when my kids were young (perhaps it still is). Its basic premise was that parents should allow children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. Example: your dawdling child who doesn’t get dressed in time for the bus goes to school in her pajamas. Lesson learned.
Understandable in principle, perhaps not so much in actual execution. Like most programs, it works well for some parents and some kids. But not all. Spectrum kids who are already suffering pain and shame, since their brains do not function like their peers’, will not benefit from yet another way to fail expectations they perceive as unattainable. Authoritarian parents who already have an adversarial relationship with their children, who use the program as a system of punishment, will find the divide between them and their children growing wider.
In moments of quiet, I’ve queried further into the reckoning mentioned in my previous post. What are those “natural consequences” of our behavior? And why this term, which is particularly loaded for me?
I know God is not an authoritarian parent, however much we have tried to shape Him into one in some of our churches. All the fire and brimstone sermons, our endless cataloging of what a Christian is or isn’t (that changes with each generation in content but doesn’t change in severity), from the Old Testament to this morning’s Facebook posts, we shape a schizophrenic God according to our own understanding. We shape a God who is alternatively murderous and compassionate, who demands sacrifice and yet sacrifices Himself .
God is Authority, don’t misunderstand me. I have experienced Divine encounters that shut my mouth forever on issues of God’s existence and holiness. (another post for another time.) And I don’t believe we have the capacity to understand either God or the spiritual realm beyond what He reveals to us.
But our Father (or Mother, if you prefer; gender is not an issue for God) is the parent who watches at the window for the lost child, who goes after the one lost sheep, who celebrates when a lost coin is found. God’s kingdom, into which Jesus has invited us, is filled with freedom. It is a playground of surprising treasure, hidden pearls of belonging and adventure, of finding new ways of being, of learning to fly. We are all invited to be subjects in this kingdom today. Not in a harps-and-clouds, life-after-death scenario but today, in this moment, in the reality around us.
Jesus said God’s subjects in this now-kingdom are growing side by side with other subjects. There is an enemy, called evil, Satan, the fallen angel Lucifer. This enemy recruits his own subjects, using his own tactics to further his own agenda. For centuries, Christians have taken it upon themselves to identify who belongs to which camp. But as far as I can tell, Jesus said that is the job of God’s angels at the end of the age. That will be the time for sorting what is truly in our hearts and motivations.
I’m getting there…really….
Let’s bring the theological speculating down to today, in August 2020. Here on Maui, the number of Covid-19 cases is rising, as in many places in America, due to the public’s noncompliance with social distancing guidelines. At the beginning of the pandemic’s spread, I was grateful to be in a community who still hold great respect and care for ohana (family), especially kupuna (grandparents, the elderly). We have one hospital on Maui, with only 15 beds in the Covid-19 unit, for a county of over 150,000 people. In the beginning, everyone complied. We stayed home, maintained social distance, wore masks and gloves. Within six weeks, the number of new cases had dropped down to zero.
And then. As in many places in America, as officials advised cautious reopening around Memorial Day, some people decided the rules no longer applied to them. Young people gathered in bars and beach parties. Many Christians were convinced that scientists and government officials were acting in opposition to their faith. Wearing a mask, complying with protocols became political, as if a virus distinguished the faithful from the “sheep.” (Oh dear ones, who exactly is guiding you?)
So now the virus is spreading on Maui. As in many places in America, the ones most affected are the ones who can least afford it – uneducated poor who must work to survive, who labor in service industries, catering to people who seem to care for little beyond themselves.
Yesterday, Maui’s mayor fumed at the blatant irresponsibility: “Victorino said they have done enough education. Now it’s time for arrests. “I don’t think the education is necessary anymore. They will be cited or arrested.”
“Natural” consequences. You disregard the law, you will be arrested.
Suddenly, I’m looking down a tunnel at the end of which infuriated Christians are railing, claiming to suffer for their faith. Christians using precious resources, using the civic justice system, using social media to protest their violated liberties.
And a weary world is further convinced followers of Jesus are empty, self-centered bigots.
Does Jesus still get weary of our perverse and unbelieving hearts? He said if we understood the least bit about faith, we could do mighty things. Yet what are we doing? What are we focusing on?
Today, as I was washing dishes, I thought about a radio pastor’s comment on how churches can use the fear of Covid-19 to “bring people to Jesus.” I could almost hear Jesus slapping his forehead. “Doh!” (or maybe “Oy vey!”) How far have we gone as Christians if we can’t recognize that manipulation and taking advantage of people’s fears is the antithesis of what Jesus wanted us to learn?
In the first weeks of quarantine, churches got together and posted songs of blessing to a frightened world. What are we posting now? Blessings or condemnation? Statements of love and caring or of warfare?
If there is an opportunity here, it is the opportunity for followers of Jesus to take the time to sit before Him and listen. It is the opportunity to let go of defensiveness. It is the opportunity to embrace our belovedness. To know how thoroughly, how unconditionally we are treasured. It is the opportunity to see Jesus offering that acceptance and encouragement to everyone around us. Don’t worry about bringing people to Jesus. He’s not keeping score. Just bring Jesus to people. Love your neighbors (and you don’t have to wear a Jesus T-shirt or even mention His name.) When love is genuine, Jesus can speak for Himself.
This is our chance to get it right, my dear family of Jesus-followers. This is our chance to step back, to examine our hearts, to, yes, repent. Repent means to turn around and go a new way. Jesus is calling us to come back to the heart of our faith. Not the heart of our religion, which has gotten so twisted. The heart of our faith was that moment when we said, “I don’t know anything else for sure but I want to know You, Jesus.”
Jesus said, “No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:27-30 , Message)
That’s our invitation, dear family. Will you accept?
Nothing heavy or ill-fitting. No agendas or scripts. First, accept the oxygen mask Jesus offers you. Breathe in His love. Again. Again. Only when that love is flowing in you as naturally as breathing can you help with anyone else’s mask. Maybe that means wearing a literal mask even if you don’t think you need it. Maybe that means looking deeper into the claims or assumptions of others, even those famous or trending personalities. Maybe doing your own research before sharing or forwarding a post.
My sister-in-law recently posted some guidelines that I think can be helpful:
We can each only respond to what we know at this moment in time. We choose who we trust, often based on our experience. Why do some abused children grow up to choose abusive spouses? Why do we choose the familiar, even if it brings pain? Neuroscience has just begun to plumb the depths of how those firing neurons influence why we do what we do. Jesus reminds us we always have a choice. We are not victims of our body chemistry or circumstances.
When we forward a post that promotes fear or “exposes deception,” who are we serving? Can’t we trust Jesus to go over line by line with those willing to listen without our “help?” Don’t we need to be more concerned with the logs in our own eyes than the speck in our brother’s?
Domestic abuse flourishes in our churches. I’ve rarely heard a sermon mentioning it, but I’ve heard plenty about submission for women and children. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude that is so prevalent regarding uncomfortable subjects in our church communities isolates victims further. We like to pretend domestic abuse, gender issues, financial inequality, racial and injustice issues are problems out there in the world. Any hint of these things within our utopian sanctuary can quickly become fodder for gossip, victim-shaming or that excruciating wall of silence.
When some of my friends post about the need to love to Jesus the misguided liberals, others of my friends see only the empty words that surrounded them when they were being abused by a pastor or a teacher in their Christian school.
None of us like to see ourselves as the bad guy. When we read the gospels, we’re on Jesus’ team; we’re not the Pharisees. But remember, the Pharisees thought they were on God’s team. They weren’t corrupt; they were diligent followers of God’s laws. And most of them missed the Messiah right in front of them. How many of us are so certain in our politics and our own church-view that we aren’t missing Jesus right in front of us? Have you asked Him? Honestly? Have you sat down and listened, really listened, for His answers?
His answers might surprise you.