Why I’ll be Praying Today

My prayers for today is that our country can come to some consensus on the path forward when it comes to the law and marriage. There are tensions in our society that have the potential to be another Roe v. Wade when it comes to the pending case on the Supreme Court. And just as I am pro-life, I am a traditionalist when it comes to marriage.

I have not written much about same-sex legal pushes, though I have grown up experiencing the shift in attitudes and understandings.

I have not written much because in many ways I wanted to take the time to really evaluate in light of my existing relationships, reflecting on nature of human experience, and coming to some conclusions.

The culture has started a grand experiment. Whether it was destined to be called a civil union or a marriage. For some states the practice has already been in place for a decade.

As a traditionalist I have concerns about the path forward. Due to our overly individualistic society, marriage is one of the only institutions that facilitate permanence and commitment.  Remove the biological connection especially when you add children and I think you weaken the institution and generational stability. Not necessarily because gay parents can’t be loving or be a family but because you weaken the design of a family that is biologically connected.

When divorced couples remarry and bring children into the marriage, the child who wants to rebel against their step-mom or dad often says ‘I don’t need to listen to you, you aren’t my parent.’ When you expand out the options for what makes a family you weaken permanence. Not for everyone but for the culture at large. That’s the concern I have about rushing too quickly into a major social change. For many individuals expanding out choices won’t necessarily lead to more responsibility, instead it may lead to lots of confusion.

Marriage is a communal act, one of the few that exist. It brings together the community, it forms biological community, and is understood by the community as a significant goal and end. By expanding out the possibilities of what marriage means you inevitably weaken and change its nature and meaning within broader society.

That’s why I am taking today to pray.

I know my views aren’t necessarily popular, but I think it’s appropriate to sound a note of caution.

Indiana’s RFRA Law

Indiana’s RFRA Law

When the Hobby Lobby decision was made I wrote a rather lengthy post outlining some of the history of religious freedom in the United States. You can view the entire post by clicking here. Hobby Lobby was groundbreaking but not definitive. The ruling gave some closely held businesses some religious freedom rights. What that means and will mean into the future is fairly unclear.

Religious freedom is not very well codified in U.S. law. Given the religious identity of many Americans the courts have not been very willing to overly define this legal space.

When America has undergone historic social shifts, which we are currently doing on gay marriage, laws have also changed to enforce the new cultural norm.

Last week Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) signed into law a particular Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which did a few things other state RFRAs have not. For one it gave businesses explicit religious freedom rights and it also gave the right for RFRA to be used in cases that do not directly involve the government. In essence Indiana’s RFRA hoped to build on the Hobby Lobby decision. Proponents of the law seem mostly caught off guard by the push back.

Many progressives warn that Indiana’s RFRA will be used to deny gays and lesbians basic services. This prompted some significant business leaders and other progressive officials to ban travel to Indiana and as of today Indiana’s lawmakers are working on a ‘fix’ to the business components of the law.

It is worth mentioning that denying people service has not been a central tenant for Christian business owners, minus the actual service of a gay marriage. Even those Christians who would not sell their services to a gay couple getting married are a comparatively small amount of Christians. Should they have a legal right to refuse? It seems like society and the law will ultimately say no and in many cases where the law might be used that seems spot on.

Things get a bit different if you are dealing with gay weddings. Is there room for people to opt out if their religious convictions are in conflict? In some way I hope there might be. Though I would not counsel fellow Chistians to refuse serving a gay wedding I know there are some who would not be willing.

So what does this all mean? What is an evangelical to do? What are LGBT persons to think of religious people?

I think this is an important moment for evangelicals. For those who are uncomfortable with the conversation you are heading into a future where gay marriage will be a reality. Hoping the conversation will go away is not really an end point. Finding something to say seems to be the better option.

For LGBT persons I would say that evangelicals will be slow to figure out how to relate to the new cultural reality. I can’t speak for all evangelicals, but I can speak for myself. I respect you and your lives just I would any other group of people. That love and care will know no bounds. I will strive to be consistent and loving. I will seek to love and be in relationship with you as best as I am able.

There are differences though between evangelicals and LGBT persons just as there are between evangelicals and some Christians or people of no believe or those with a Muslim or Jewish or Progressive Christian belief system.

Those differences include a different understanding on the meaning and purpose of marriage.
Americans have an imperfect history of tolerance and acceptance, but at our best we are able to live together despite our significant differences. That’s the better angels of our nature that will need to prevail for us to weather the times ahead. We will have to make room for each other while ensuring fairness and equity.

Relational Commitment

Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

On Marriage 

On Marriage 

This is not a post on the worth of persons. This is a post on marriage and celibacy as two main commitments one can make as a Christian.

Marriage is meant for holiness and wholeness. Holiness as we die to self to make room for our spouse and wholeness as we let the Trinity make up the difference in our human weakness. In essence to be the tie that binds what we in our own nature would easily break. For the Christian, Christ sustains and anchors marriage.

For the Christian all of life is transformation to Christ. The two main means of that come in the form of marriage or celibacy and both require a level of sobriety and commitment.

The very nature of marriage forces one to mature and grow as you take on serious and challenging responsibilities especially through the joy of children, the care of parents in old age, and siblings as the case may arise.

Marriage is much more than sex, but it is also the holy discipline and culmination of sex for men and women especially.

Christians have a distinct vision for marriage and a distinct and holy vision for vows of celibacy.

These are the two main choices presented to us. We go from childhood into marriage or celibacy and both have very distinctive holy and life giving implications.

If you can’t envision celibacy as having its own standing and virtue than probably marriage is the more natural path to take. But I would warn the reader that as we mature in Christ celibacy is actually a freedom for holiness and service to a wider and bigger mission field, not always, but as a general rule yes, especially for the well disciplined in faith.

As far as serving and being married the level of maturity and Christlikeness in the household comes as a first order priority, before any other kingdom minded service. The first duty is always those permanent commitments.

For the celibate person the duty is always first to Christ. This being the case there is generally more freedom, bandwidth, and creativity to serve, but encouragement is often needed more fully to sustain this kind of a holy life in this present age.

Encouragement is obviously needed for all Christians, but especially in the contemporary western world our selfish tendencies make sustaining Christian mission a strain especially as it relates to having a community that is able to support this life.

A Present Challenge to Celibacy 

The present day church has largely lost its notions of celibacy except for specific kinds of monastic and priestly orders. Lay celibacy is not deeply supported except if the lay person becomes a full time professional. A reinvigoration of celibacy in the life of the present day church would be significant and transformative and would likely lead to substantial lay missions and kingdom minded priorities.

Some Challenges to Marriage

Specific Christian notions of marriage are also challenged. Christians entering into marriage should not do so lightly and should be taught the seriousness and rigor of the family prayer life, the support of children, and the unique challenges that come with God binding two different people together with the intent of lifelong fidelity, perminance, service, and holiness.

Whether married or celibate, the Christian has a unique responsibility to practice generosity, a modesty of career advancement, and to live out the teachings of Christ in a more challenging age. It’s an amazing and wonderous adventure and regardless of theology or practice we are called to strive with Christ as we live out faith.

 

Grounded Faith Formation

Christian spiritual formation can take on an other-worldly emphasis from time to time. The evangelical American subculture (true for Catholics as well) is filled with retreat centers and other places where participants are invited to come away from their day to day life and spend time with God. In and of itself these centers of rest and respite are really important aspects to a life of faith, unless they become the only way we can envision drawing closer to God.

The Christian life is filled with subtle but deadly if onlys. I would be generous if only I made more. I would be prayerful if only I had the time. I would be kinder if I wasn’t so frazzled.

We have stopped looking at what has become of us as more a revelation of our true nature. When we are busy, when we are moody, when we are hungry, when we are impatient. That’s a truer image of our life without God. That’s a better reflection of our sinful nature. That’s us. It’s not the exception, it’s what we are when the comforts of life are pealed back.

The good news, is that how we actually are is a great starting point for spiritual transformation for those of us who persevere. A vibrant life of faith can and should be built in to life as it is for us. Whether it’s subtle practices of prayer, or giving out of our substance instead of our abundance, faith gets cultivated in our day to day lives.

Are you in a season that is especially busy? Are you in midst of trials and temptations, than if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, God will use it to build in a full, vibrant, living faith, as you integrate your life as it is with the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Retreats and respites are important, but a faith that is built in around the hectic patterns and trials of life is more central. In other words what you do today in regards to faith is of more value than what you do when you are moved from your life as it is.

Making Time for God

How do you make time for God? Many Christians have a great desire to spend time with God, but it never seems to translate to action. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we lack the time; other times we are simply unsure of where to start or even how to cultivate the desire for a devotional/prayer life.  We catch ourselves saying, “I wish I could start the day with an hour of prayer, but given my commitments that’s not very realistic,” or “I know I want to spend time with God but where do I start?”

Without guidance the whole issue of how to develop a prayer life can become bewildering.

So how does one go from barely reading scripture or praying; to spending a robust amount of time in prayer, reading, or reflection of some sort?

The simple, one word answer: repentance. A devotional life begins with needing to cultivate some desire for it. The surest way to cultivate an honest desire for God is repentance. You might ask, “Repent? For what?”

For everything, more specifically repent for our lack of desire for a devotional life. You may want to choose some phrases to help. Many Christians use the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But other phrases from scripture or like in spirit can be easily used. A few examples:

  • The wages of sin is death.
  • Give an account for your management of the household.
  • Remember from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.

Cultivating a prayer and devotional life is a bit more akin to being serious about going to the gym or getting into physical shape. At first it’s going to be slow and hard work. You aren’t going to want to develop a prayer life. Instead you’ll find it comforting to go back to old patterns rather quickly. That’s why repentance is crucial. Repentance brings us back to our unwillingness to really cultivate our faith. The process of developing a prayer life will humble you and that sort of humbling is a key ingredient for living a life of faith.

After repentance you need to choose some set course of study or rule (set form for study). This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially in an age that values spontaneity and experience, at some point all of that feeling has to give way to a decision. The good news is that there are a lot of things one could do. There’s the Book of Common Prayer (here‘s an easy to use online version)  which has very set prayers for morning and evening. There’s also a whole host of audio prayer devotions, and scripture readings. Here is an audio devotional from the Jesuit tradition and here is a long listing of options from http://www.biblegateway.com.

Some elements that are worth looking for as you decide where to start. Look for something that has some scripture to work through or think about. Look for something that you will do in repetition. This is a key point. In the beginning your prayer/devotional life can’t really survive off of spontaneity. If you have to start with five minutes a day, twice a day, than that’s what you do. Like weight lifting start at something you can repeat and explore from there. A prayer life is something you cultivate and develop; it doesn’t just happen because you want it to.

You aren’t going to go from nothing to a robust devotional life in a short period of time. Realize that patience will be a key ingredient to cultivating a life of faith. So you are looking for something to build on.

Practice. Not just doing the devotion, but implementing the ideas and truths in scripture in your daily life.  Faith without works is dead. Devotion without practice won’t build up a life of faith. The scriptures have to be infused in your day to day life to strengthen your faith. It’s not enough to think about theology and about prayer and about scripture, integrate them with specific people and specific circumstances and you will find that your understanding of scripture and desire for a devotional life grows.

Faith comes by hearing and doing. A devotional life comes with cultivating a desire for it by living out what we learn.

On Friendships

On Friendships

There is too much being written about how hard it is for men to relate to other men. Given that we live in a more socially mobile age, you get the impression that it must be almost impossible to have good, stable male friendships.

That’s really not the case.

Jesus tells us that we are his  friends if we do what he says. In the words of the book of James we are to become doers of the word, not simply listeners.  So what is a doer when it comes to friendship?

One that loves his neighbor as himself, one that forgives his neighbor, one that helps his neighbor in need whether physical or otherwise, one that exemplifies peace, patience, and self-control. One that does not avoid conflict or avoid their neighbor when they are hurt or disappointed, but one who is steadfast with his neighbor to the end.

Now just by putting the words of scripture into practice doesn’t mean that we’ll advance far along the way of robust, healthy, and long lasting friendships, but it does mean that we can be consistent in our character as far as it depends on us. We could consider holding in our slights and hurts and be more consistent in bearing with each other. We will find plenty of people who will come in and out of our lives, who won’t be there for us, who won’t match our ideas of friendships, who won’t be honest. All of this is really beyond our control.

What we can control is our approach to others, having an ever better understanding of our inner life, being transparent with how God made us, seeking counsel and help as needed, acknowledging our many weaknesses, and growing in our willingness and ability to forgive and be engaged with others. This is no easy thing. We are all called brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have a familial relationship in our standing with each other whether we recognize it or not. In other words we are a dysfunctional family in the church that needs to work on our ability to be reconciled to each other.

One way that happens it through friendships. A friendship may or may not met your expectations and you might not be able to share yourself fully or even be yourself fully, but by being consistent and by operating within your abilities and personality, you can over time have a solid and consistent friendship with other people.

The ultimate goal of Christian friendship isn’t simply vulnerability (though that may happen) or overcoming obstacles and challenges together (that may happen too), it’s growing into the fullness of Christ’s character. That means consistency, compassion, firmness of inner character, and a radical commitment to forgive and be reconciled. In other words to live at peace and grow in our ability to be graceful to each other as we are and as we will be in the age to come. Amen.