Musings on Persecution

Here is something else that has been on my mind.

I watched the documentary Love Costs Everything last week, and it really made me feel something. It was sad, and tragic, and at the same time, extremely joyous. These men and women and children lost so much, yet maintained a level of faith I can only aspire to.

It made me think about the coming day of prayer for the persecuted church, and the 24hr prayer vigil that my church does every year.

Then over the past few days I heard again and again about the terror and murder going on over on the other side of the world in Kenya and Egypt. People being shot, burned, or blown up because of how they worship, or don’t worship. They choose to love God, and serve God, even though it can cost them their lives. I think about the persecution toward God’s people–our brothers and sisters in faith–and it makes me feel like a crap sandwich about my own faith sometimes. I’ll be standing in our beautifully designed lobby with my panties in a bunch because they’re not playing songs I like during the worship service, while people are being gunned down or blown up during their own worship service.

People say there isn’t any persecution of believers in the United States, and I believe that is true, to an extent. But I also believe it could certainly come to that eventually.

I believe persecution starts with hardened hearts. I think a hardened heart toward people professing a “Christian” faith has already begun for many people.

Certainly there haven’t been people in our country persecuted to the same level of those in the middle east and other parts of the world. Yet it would be difficult to deny there was much ridicule, mockery, descrimination, and marginalization directed toward people of faith by people without. Labels such as “hater” haphazardly handed out because somewhere along the line society decided that if I do not agree with something you do or they way you do it, then that means I hate you.

It makes me think of Germany a little bit, in the early and mid-1930’s, in the way the persecution of the Jews began. It started with marginalizing them. Marginalization led to descrimination, which led to mockery (just Google some of the German newspaper cartoons and other propaganda of that time if you want to see what I mean. Mean-spirited humor was only the beginning), which eventually led to something dark and horrible that changed the face of not just Europe, but the world.

I am not saying the treatment of Christians is anything like what happened to the Jews of Europe and other parts during WWII, but I am saying it’s foolish not to believe we as a people could be headed in that direction.

Setting a group of people apart and making sure everyone knows how “different” they are is just the beginning. Who knows how long it will take, or if things actually will take the same form? It may be different. But how can anyone deny the erosion of “religious” freedom we are experiencing as a country? It may be slow, but it is surely happening, and will continue to.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, but I suppose I’m trying to suggest something about being prepared. It makes me think of familiar words attributed to German Pastor Martin Niemoller during the 1930’s:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

I wonder if it will come to that here? I believe it could. Whether or not it will is up to us.

It Happened at Walmart

I spent about half an hour or so this morning talking to Ken and Linda about parenting. I love having them in my life to draw wisdom from because prior to knowing them the only parenting example I really had came from my long-ago memories of my mom and dad, and from the example my sisters set with their families, which was pretty good. I think if I had not been mostly brought up by those three amazing women I would not be the person I was today. Whether they meant to or not, I think they taught me how to treat women in the way God would want them treated. It was all I knew growing up, and it’s how I hope to raise my boys up, so that when they’re older, they won’t depart from it.

But this morning, I was thinking about how I need to really reboot myself and my life in the way I handle things like conflict, and disappointment, and even something as simple as inconvenience. We talked about how important it is to treat the boys the same. Not that I meant to do differently, but because he’s only now entering his toddler years, John understandably got a lot more attention. David spent the first 6 years of his life as an only child, and it had to have been incredibly difficult for him to suddenly have this new person come along and feel like he was booted into second place.

It’s on me to rectify any problems, because there’s nothing wrong with the kids that isn’t the result of some behavior of mine, or to a lesser extent my wife’s. Their behavior is a result of ours. If I want them to behave differently, then I need to get my head out of my butt and do the same.

I had an experience this Saturday at Walmart with the boys that I shared with the FCC kids yesterday that maybe would illustrate my point better than my words alone.

We had gone to the Ave B Walmart to get just a few things, and the excursion went relatively smoothly, with the exception that I had forgotten to take anything for my shoulder, and I had been moving around quite a bit, so it was tired and pretty sore. David got into my car fine, and John had just climbed into his seat but had not been buckled in yet. I was loading my few purchases into the trunk and I could see them both looking at me through the back window.

Come on, I thought. Get in your freakin seats, I wanna go home and hit the extra strength Tylenol. I was one-handing a twelve pack of Fresca into the trunk, when I sensed two people walking up. What now? I thought, and sighed.

It was a man that looked to be in his late seventies and a woman in probably her 50’s pushing an empty cart. The man looked healthy, but tired, and smelled of Old Spice. It made me think of my dad. The woman was wearing what could probably be best described as a “grandma dress,” and looked to have Down syndrome. She had that look of youthful wonder on her face that all Down syndrome people have, and she walked right up to me and smiled, then pointed at the sling on my left arm.

“What happened to your arm?” She asked.

I saw the boys looking out the back window, and I realized I was going to have to man up and not be a jerk toward this woman and the man who looked to be her father no matter how I felt.

I told her I’d gotten an operation to fix my rotator cuff.

“Does it hurt?”

“It hurts sometimes,” I said, “But I take medicine to make it feel better.”

“My daddy takes medicine, too” she said. “I take it sometimes.”

“I don’t like it,” I told her. “But it helps, so I take it.”

“How many kids do you have?” She asked.

“Two,” I said. “They’re in the back seat right there.”

“How old are they?”

“They’re nine and two.”

“What are their names?”

“David and John. John is the little guy.”

“You must be so happy,” she said.

It was like a smack to my self-serving consciousness. Of course, I was happy. “They’re pretty great,” I told her. “God’s really blessed me.”

“Ok, bye,” she said, and she and her dad began walking into the store.

“Well, then.” I said. The boys had begun what sounded like a cage match in the back seat, and I realized I was going to have to get moving, especially if we were gonna get the house squared away before my wife got home.

David asked me why I was talking to the woman, and I explained to them that God had made that woman special, and that sometimes people like that need a little extra kindness, because they often don’t get any at all.

It was really an amazing experience, and I don’t think I will forget that beautiful little woman as long as I live. She didn’t know me from anyone, but she just shined when she was talking to me. It made me understand why so many people refer to others with Down’s and other similar syndromes and disorders as angels. I think they are angels, in a sense. They have no guile about them, They have a pureness and a soft beauty about them that to me is very humbling.

So this morning when I left Ken and Linda’s after I dropped John off it occurred to me that we are all special, and all have special needs.

But we are also all the same.

Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, tourette’s syndrome, cancer, Aspergers. Or “normal” people (whatever that means).

We are all the same.

We have a need within us that can only be filled by love.

I have the responsibility as a parent to show my kids where that love comes from, and that no height, or depth, or famine, or sword, or anything can separate them from it.

I can’t do that if I’m so caught up in the areas of their lives and personalities that I feel need repair that I cannot see them for the imperfect yet beautiful creations they are.

I can’t do that if I forgot to love them before I try and discipline them or teach them anything.

I can’t expect them to see Jesus outside the home if they don’t first see it inside the home. Like it or not, whatever understanding they eventually come to about God will be made through a filter that looks like me.

So I need to show them Jesus in my life before he can mean anything in theirs. I need to put my own garbage on the back burner and man up.

You must be so happy.

Yes, I think I actually am. I plan to start acting like it.

Figuring Things Out

I think I finally got my mind around what I wanted to say about church last night. It just took a whole day, chicken fingers, Diet Mt Dew, and getting socked in the basket by an enthusiastic toddler to make realize what was going on in my very large bald head. I believe that at the crux of it was that Zeb touched on why I believe, and in order to get at that, I had to go back to a time I did not want to think about.

Allow me to explain.

Zeb talked about a great many things during his sermon, but at the heart of it was more or less not caring for the statement people often make to believers when something bad or tragic happens: well, you know. God never gives a person more than they can handle. This is often postscripted with, “It’s in the bible.”

It isn’t, actually.

That statement was taken from an oft-misquoted scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says this:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Another thing Zeb mentioned was that, sure, sometimes we can’t handle things. At least, not on our own. The other annoying thing people say to Christians when something bad happens in some stupid crap about whatever the tragedy was being part of God’s plan. Part of his context was 9/11/01.

That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me, or what was dug up in my heart last night, but maybe in a sense it does. Things will come up in our lives that are much more than we can handle. I know they did in mine. And that was where I went last night.

I have not had anything particularly serious or that tragic happen in my life in many years, and probably not since the 1980’s, which featured several very dark years near the end of my teens. Those of you who have read much of what I have to say or have heard my testimony know what I’m talking about, but for those who do not, from the time I was 16 until I was 18, three people close to me died, pretty much one each year. My dad from a heart attack when I was a sophomore in high school, a good friend took his own life when I was 17, and my mother finally succumbed to cancer when I was 18.

At the time, no one said anything to me about God not giving me more than I could handle. I would not have listened if they had, because at that time God was an abstract concept, not a real “person” to me. At best, he was like the president: I knew he probably existed, but he was never going to really be a part of my life.

And the truth was, all of that stuff was more than I could handle. A lot more. I didn’t give any of it to God at the time, and wouldn’t for many years. What I did do was try to handle things myself, and while I was able to hang on well enough while I was in high school, afterward I became a walking cautionary tale about how not to deal with things like depression, loneliness, guilt, and abject sorrow. I indulged. I self-medicated. I binged. I did all kinds of horrible things to try and fill the ragged hole down the middle of me.

Nothing worked, and I ended up unfulfilled in nearly every way, and wondering if this was what life was always going to be like.

What does that have to do with why I believe? Glad you asked.

When I came to belief, and as CS Lewis said, “admitted that God was God and kneeled and prayed,” God spoke to my needs at the time, and gave me to understand what I needed to know about him, and myself, and spoke truth to the lies I had always believed about him and about myself. The cavern of emptiness within me was filled, as an adult.

I believed, but something was still lacking. I believed in God, but I did not know Jesus. It took years of seeking, years of prayer, and some very clear signals from the man himself. I was made to understand that the person I was now was forgiven, and the things I was unable to handle before I could handle now–or at least better handle–because God now resided withing me.

What really made me believe–and not just in actually having a relationship with Jesus, but in being restored by him–was the truth that while I was young, and felt alone, and couldn’t handle things, Jesus was there at my side. Angels were at my side. Handling what I could not handle, and fighting the fights I was unequipped for. The truth that was spoken to me back in San Diego shortly before I met Jen and again last night in the Upper Room was that his heart broke for me then, and breaks for me now, when I willfully choose other than his perfect will for my life. Not that my parents illnesses were some sort of punishment from God, or that they somehow chose them. No.

What I felt last night was the sense of being loved through all the horrible things that happened in my teens. I was able to feel the able and strong hands of the carpenter on my hands, guiding them. I was able to feel them holding the broken parts of my heart in his hands and binding them together. It really is something when you feel that.

Then the worship team played King of Glory, and it was all I could do to keep from getting verklempt.

I guess my point with all of this is that sometimes we misunderstand God like we misunderstand scripture. I certainly did. I forgot about what to me is the most important part of the verse:

But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

The way out God provided me (without me giving him any part of my life), was school, in the form of acting and singing, and discovering that I would never be alone in a drama class. There was a plethora of fellow geeks available, probably 24/7. I threw myself into drama for the last two years of high school, and began to sing as well when I joined the men’s chorus. I listened to music, and retreated to the warm solace it provided when I would have been lost without it.

It’s different now. Bad things still happen. Sometimes I doubt, or feel sad or alone in some way. Yet it isn’t long before Jesus sends someone into my life to speak truth. Such has been the case over the past year, what with becoming good friends with Sam and Zeb.

Left to my own devices, I would probably still be wandering and lost.