Friday, November 6, 2020

election-season Christian lingo

 


I know this may ruffle a few feathers, but I have a few quick thoughts to offer about a common expression I hear from many of my Christian friends (including pastors of some very large churches) every time there is a presidential election. The expression is this: “Whoever wins, God is still on the throne.”

1. The fact that "God is on the throne" is only part of the message of Christianity. It begs a response on our part; yet, the expression as we use it comes across as being tinged with indifference (at best) and triumphalism (even worse). It may provide a sense of peace and comfort for the Christian, but it feels rather smug and superior to anyone else. In either case, it grants us the luxury of inaction and can easily blind us to the need to dedicate ourselves to sacrificial acts of compassion, mercy, and justice.

2. Since the core Christian creed is the belief that “Jesus is Lord,” the Christian’s sense of God’s sovereignty needs to be filtered through the life of Jesus. In other words, the Christian understands “God” through Jesus of Nazareth. This has implications for how we understand God’s lordship, and the ancient Christian hymn in Philippians 2 spells this out for us.

The latter part of the hymn that speaks of his exaltation is predicated on the first half of the hymn that describes his humiliation. Thus, the weight of his glory rests on his humility, his becoming “nothing” (emptying himself), “taking the very nature of a servant”, being “human” (one of us), and giving up his life on the cross. In other words, Jesus shows us that it is in the very nature of God to empty God’s own self for the sake of being with us in our lowly state. The servanthood of Jesus is not presented to us in the hymn as a contrast to God’s lordship; it is presented as the way God rules, the very trajectory of God’s volition. It is in keeping with God’s nature to take the lowest place.

God’s sovereignty is expressed to us in Jesus as one who refused to “sit on a throne,” who expended all his power for the sake of love...to come close to the suffering ones, the forgotten ones, the castaways, and the powerless. God in Christ became their hope by coming close to them and identifying with them.

Through Jesus, humanity saw that God’s throne was closer than we thought. He took his place at our feet, the place of the lowest servant…the Servant of servants. King Jesus washed our feet and, having done so, he commissioned his followers to do likewise for others.

The throne of God, thus, is located in those who “do likewise,” who follow the example of their Lord. If we want to say “whoever wins, God is still on the throne” we need to understand this and live according to it. That is why I suggest that, if it boiled down to the choice between saying it or not, it would probably be better if we didn’t say it at all but just lived it out by humble acts of service, pouring ourselves out in love for others.

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Election-season Christian lingo

reflections by troy cady

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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

when you feel powerless

 


Does the world feel like it is spinning out of control? Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, life just doesn’t work out the way you want it to work out. Sometimes it feels like we are merely subject to greater forces at work…manipulating outcomes…and there is very little we can do about it. Your voice feels small, drowned out by louder, stronger voices—voices who always seem to get a hearing, voices that have a say in shaping the world.

When you are feeling helpless, I believe there is One who hears, who loves, who sees. I believe the One who loves is partial to the poor in spirit. The powers of this world may strut and stretch the limits, but God stands with the powerless, sides with the oppressed. The downtrodden will be vindicated in the end.

I believe that hope makes present this future. I believe that the One who hears, who loves, who sees is present to us as the poor in spirit are present to one another through the mercy of solidarity. This is God-with-skin, God glimpsed in the face-to-face, the being-with.

There is a community of Beloved (if battered) souls that is hidden from those who only have eyes to envision the expansion of their own power. The community of the Beloved bears fruit by going underground…like a seed, so small, so seemingly insignificant. The Beloved feel like they are dying inside, fallen, scattered and forgotten.

But the kingdom of heaven is small like that, Jesus said. Its dominion is quiet, it grows quietly, gently, so meek. Its life perseveres, breaks through, bears fruit, defies logic. Its weakness turns out to be its strength for the powerful would never expect so fragile a life to endure, to break out and flourish under such hostile conditions.

I believe there is a place of grace through and through that is hidden from the thrones and board rooms of this world. It is a place that is so expansive we cannot possibly expand upon it further; we can only receive it and enter it, like a seed in soil or like a helpless child. This place is hidden from the powerful because the powerful think they can make it by their own power. But it cannot be made by us. It is. We can only receive it gratefully, gladly live in its reality, be present to it just by faith, give assent to the grace of it and cooperate with it.

This is why I believe it is futile to put our faith in political outcomes. The life of God transcends such power through its subversive nature. It is a hidden work the powers of this world cannot touch, would never expect. The powerful are too self-absorbed to account for it. Life springs up in a kind of quiet defiance. No power can snuff out its work. It will keep springing up. Let us be present to it and let us not fear. Love mercy, do justly, walk humbly.

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 when you feel powerless

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Emmanuel Mbala via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.  

Sunday, November 1, 2020

anticipating a week of chaos

 


A few thoughts as we prepare for a week of potential chaos here in the United States.

1. A peaceful society is ours for the making. Our words and actions matter. Resolve to be a person of peace by resisting the temptation to demonize others. Instead, let us humanize one another.  

2. In terms of political support, a humble acknowledgment of the shortcomings of a candidate is just as important as an assessment of their strengths. Humility and honesty go hand-in-hand.

3. Love is courageous and when acts of courage spring from love there is no need to belittle others. To speak out for truth is an act of courage in its own right; as we speak, may we do so in ways that show we respect the humanity of one another, including those with whom we disagree. It is neither courageous nor loving to be blunt, sarcastic, and quick to judge.

4. Let us do all in our power to de-escalate tense interactions on social media this week. When someone pummels you online, take a pause, and be slow to respond. If the interaction truly matters, it can be revisited later when you have had a chance to consider a response that will contribute to the making of peace, the promotion of justice and the love of mercy.

5. Keep the long-range in view. Chaos begs a response; may our responses spring from a place of wisdom, which is both timely and enduring.

6. Uncertainty calls for the wisdom of grace and the grace of wisdom. Let us be extra careful to verify any information that is disputable. Resolve now not to promote disinformation. It should humble us that so much information we encounter is rooted in manipulating the truth to gain power. If information is presented to you that seems to serve up a black-and-white response, slow down enough to question it. If our understanding of the full picture requires more nuance, it will become clear in time. The truth will out; though she is timely, she is never in a hurry.

7. To those who identify as Christian: the world will know you are truly a follower of Christ by your love and the love of Jesus is revealed by the way you treat…your enemy. Enmity has no place in the heart of someone who claims to follow Jesus. It should humble Christians to contemplate that many of their enemies are only so because Christians have made them so unnecessarily. When it turns out that the Jesus you follow happens to agree with all your political convictions, you can be sure you are not following the real Jesus. He will not be co-opted by merely human political persuasions.

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anticipating a week of chaos

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Tiffany Tertipes via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

the longest hug


We had warm weather on Thursday. Though the morning was rainy, the skies cleared up nicely by the afternoon. So, we invited neighbors to join us in the front yard for a visit in the early evening. In the early months of the pandemic, I sorely missed these weekly visits we’ve had with them the past few years. Finally, at some point this summer, we figured out there was a way to rearrange the seating circle so as to visit from a safe physical distance. Folks bring their own drinks and seating and…we just talk…and laugh.

That’s it. It’s so refreshingly simple but so crucially important in these times when it seems the world is tearing apart at the seams.

As we sat down on Thursday, the atmosphere was like clean glass. The half moon was crisp, bright and captivating, with two flecks of light positioned nearby…to the moon’s eleven and two o’clock. They look like stars, we noted, but they are actually planets.

We talked about the new tree the city planted in the parkway across the street the day before: a maple. The baby tree only has a few leaves left on it at this point in the season, but they change into such lovely red and orange tones. Like the tree in front of my family’s house, when the sun catches the leaves just right in the autumn, the leaves are actually translucent, no kidding. The effect is so beautiful that it’s not really possible to capture it with a camera, one neighbor noted—and she has tried.

As the evening wore on, we spoke of gun violence in the neighborhood and our city council representative. We planned how we would cooperate to host a short Halloween visit for the kids on the street—again, keeping public health at the forefront of those plans. The conversation seemed to happen in shifts, as a couple neighbors went back inside at a certain point, while a couple more neighbors ventured out not long after. And somewhere in there, two neighbors shared the kind of news that prompted sounds of delight, applause and laughter.

Earlier that evening, as we were sitting there straining our eyes to see each other’s faces in the growing darkness of the night, someone said it looked like the small slice of ground between our two properties was moving. They looked more closely to discover several earthworms had surfaced, relishing the moistened dirt from the rainfall earlier in the day.

So that we all could see more clearly, they illuminated the ground with the flashlight from their cell phones. We craned our necks and squinted our eyes to catch a glimpse, getting a little closer but still trying to be safe. We pointed and someone decided to touch one of them. In a flash the worm went back into its burrow.

“Wow! Look at that!”

He did it a few more times so others could see, and we all were amazed. If someone had walked by at that moment, they would have seen a funny bunch of old adults acting like children, marveling at the way worms squirm. In the midst of it, someone noted that with everything going on in the world right now, it’s amazing how nature just continues doing what she has always done. What a comfort that is.

As we packed it in for the evening, my heart was full. Somewhere between the heavens above and the earth below my soul had just been warmed by the longest hug.

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the longest hug

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Mesh via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Friday, October 23, 2020

when voting strains your conscience


It strikes me just now how the act of casting a vote is such a simple thing in itself that takes very little time to do, yet it also carries with it a level of complexity that is beyond our understanding and, quite frankly, has the capacity to strain one’s conscience immeasurably.

This year we have a number of unusual stressors that complicate the matter, not the least of which is the ever-present threat that a dangerous disease poses to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. The stakes seem incredibly high.

As I am preparing to submit my ballot early, it occurs to me how even the option to abstain from voting altogether does not relieve the pressure that is inherent in the election season itself. One can never escape the question as to whether one’s choice to vote or not to vote is contributing to the flourishing of the common good or its diminishment.

This is when (and why) I appeal to grace. Grace reminds me that all I can do is the best I can do, but even my best falls short of perfection. Grace invites me to muster all the strength, wisdom, and compassion I possess, but even these qualities have their limits because…I’m human. Sometimes, I am weak, foolish, and ignorant to the plight of others. The best I can do, thus, is to incline my will to the heart of God, looking to grace to help me grow in wisdom and compassion, to push back the darkness that would willfully harm others.

The Jesus-prayer puts it simply: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” God, give me your heart of love for people—all people—and all created things, so the whole world may flourish and so I may be an agent that contributes to the flourishing of all things.

Thus, the appeal to grace contains no hint of fatalism or determinism. Grace empowers us. Nor is grace some kind of free pass to do whatever we want, though grace does offer redemption when we have chosen poorly. Grace, rather, offers redemption so we may be free to choose the good, liberated from the prison of listless indifference. Our actions matter; so, to live in grace is to consider well how we can act in accordance with the graces of truth, goodness, and beauty.

As we prepare to vote, it’s important to do the best we can by educating ourselves as to the systemic implications of our vote and, at the same time, to realize that no vote can be considered “perfect” to this end. In other words, it is good for one to vote according to one’s conscience but it is also important to vote with humility. I do believe that somewhere in the middle of that measured confidence and an ever-deepening concern for the wellbeing of others…is grace.

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when voting strains your conscience

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Element5 Digital via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

tuesday prayer



Lord, let my words today be words of healing and hope.
Before a word is on my tongue, still my heart and mind.
Open my ears; help me listen.
Deliver me from pride,
the demand to be understood
that too often prevails
over the desire to understand.
Lady Wisdom, deliver me from myself.
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Eternal God, I know not what tomorrow may bring,
so give me just enough light for today.
Humble King, help me loosen my grip on all my ambitions
except the ambition to love you and others
as you have loved me.
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Loving Father, you have always provided all that is needed,
so help me to give generously to others,
to share freely and gladly, knowing your grace never runs out.
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Jesus, be my Friend,
and help me be a good friend to others,
knowing you long to befriend all.
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tuesday prayer
by troy cady
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*Photo by Priscilla du Preez via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

this cultural moment

 


This Cultural Moment

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady


A few sober reflections on the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: There is a sense of dread that is gripping the hearts of many people I know, friends I cherish. So, I am troubled by the sense of hope I suspect is filling the hearts of other friends I have. As one group fears the future, some can hardly wait to get on with it…to fill Ginsburg’s seat with someone who is more to their liking. How can this be? I am disturbed by how little compassion the latter group has for the former, given that the latter group claims to follow Jesus, who is the very embodiment of compassion.

I write this as a pastor who has attended Evangelical schools and ministered within Evangelical contexts over the years. And what I notice now is this: Evangelicals in the United States have been waiting, hoping, praying, working for this precise cultural moment. With the appointment of another conservative justice to replace Ginsburg, Evangelicals will finally be able to effect the kind of systemic change they’ve envisioned for years.

This has not come without making some moral sacrifices along the way and there is at least one more piece of integrity Evangelicals will have to give away to bring this vision to full completion.

Prior to the presidential election in 2016, it was not uncommon to hear Evangelicals explain why they were voting for a man like Trump, who clearly did not possess the level of decency and morally upstanding behavior that Evangelicals have generally expected of our nation’s leaders in the past. Over the last four years, Evangelicals have explained that they voted for Trump not because they loved Trump per se, but rather because they were counting on him to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that would enforce their vision of America—specifically regarding the matter of abortion and (perhaps secondarily) regarding the matter of same-sex marriage. To be sure, Evangelicals have several other concerns (such as questions concerning gun ownership, immigration and health care policy) but it would not be far-fetched to assert that if Evangelicals could only choose one issue in which to effect change it would be the matter of abortion.

To bring about this vision, Evangelicals had to hold their nose as they voted in 2016, not excusing Trump’s warped sense of personal morality but banking on the fact that the gains they would make in the culture war would far outweigh the losses incurred.  I suppose it seemed a small price to pay—to enthrone a person as mean, childish, untruthful and power-hungry as Trump—but it’s a classic case of invoking the ends to justify the means.

To secure this power, four years ago Evangelicals nodded in agreement as certain Senate Republicans explained why it was in the country’s best interest that President Obama be prevented from nominating a new Supreme Court justice, considering there was a soon-upcoming presidential election in the mix. They were successful in delaying the SCOTUS nomination on those grounds, so it is interesting that four years later the same scenario has emerged…only this time there is a new rationale offered as to why it is appropriate to install a new justice prior to the presidential election. The reasoning is thus: because the Senate consists of a Republican majority and the people have elected a Republican president, it follows that the confirmation process will represent the will of the people, at least the majority of the people.

It is easy to see that this is little more than clever reasoning and verbiage that provides a convenient excuse as to why certain cultural movers and shakers are resolved to do as they please to gain the upper hand in shaping the United States into a particular form that suits their own best interests.

For this reason, I call on Evangelicals to take a pause in this cultural moment to soberly reflect on what you are giving up as you stand in line behind such hypocritical leadership whose primary goal is to retain power through a twisted program of cultural engineering.

I write this with a sense of deep grief, reflecting on what has been lost in the heart of Evangelicalism…a word that is regarded today as signifying the opposite of its Good News meaning. And I implore you to heed this caution: you can no sooner make nice with a hungry wolf than to try to lay hold of power and not have the heart eaten right out of you.

Just wait and see: Trump will give you what you want, if it means you will put him in office once again. I shudder to think of the deals being made between Trump and certain powerful Evangelicals who see this as an opportunity to leverage the situation in their favor. It is reminiscent of Faust selling his soul to the devil.

I warn you that when you get what you want, you will end up alienating the very people you claim to care about. You will have gained power, but you will have marginalized the people you say God loves. You will have passed the laws you desire, but hearts will be lost, yours included. You desire to see people “give their lives to Jesus” but such a way of relating to God cannot be forced. Compelled obedience embitters. We are drawn to God’s ways not by laws but by love. God’s world is not a social experiment for you to manipulate. You like to say “God is in control,” so I wonder why it is you spend so much time and energy trying to control the lives of others? This is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus changed the world by laying down power and living in love. Yet Evangelicals have become like the Pharisees, laying heavier burdens on people by the law…without mercy, compassion and understanding. This is what comes of expecting everyone to live up to your impossible expectations: you become as Pharisees who speak the truth without love.

Wait and see: in your efforts to protect some, you will drive away a multitude of others whom God has called you to love. And you will miss the wondrous reality that, if you would only love those vulnerable people whom you label as “sinners,” God would make a way to protect the vulnerable you so deeply care about. Instead of loving the people right in front of you, you have spent all this time, energy and money lobbying for laws. But the way of Jesus is a way of love, not laws. The law of Jesus is singular and utterly sufficient: it is the law of love. It is a way of the heart and it is void of any political machinations or power plays whatsoever.

What do you think will happen when the laws you want to pass are suddenly passed? Do you think the hearts of the people will turn to God because you have passed a certain law? Do you think that, by passing your laws, we will be a so-called “Christian nation?” How is it that your vision of what it means to be a Christian nation consists of so much reliance on the legal code and so little trust in God’s transforming mercy, grace and love? Have you forgotten that we are saved only by grace through faith? Have you forgotten that this grace is sufficient to sanctify us through and through?

Evangelicals: I fear you have lost your way. I fear you have become drunk with power. Beware the hangover. When you wake up the next day, you will regret the wreckage you have made, the people you have hurt and driven away, the very people Jesus came to love and befriend. In feeding your addiction to power, your insatiable desire for cultural supremacy, you have betrayed a great trust. It is not only the trust of those around you but it is also the trust that Christ himself has placed in you to be his wounded hands and feet, opened in love, powerless and filled with grace.

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*Photo by Claire Anderson via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.