Monthly Archives: February 2017

There are times when I wish that I could stop while reading the appointed gospel for the given Sunday and give a breakdown on what’s really going on in the text to the congregation.  This past Sunday’s reading from Matthew 5:38-48 was particularly challenging for me in that regard.  I felt like Dwight Schrute having to remain silent when Jim Halbert inaccurately explained Battlestar Galactica to Andy Bernard.

There are texts that are often fodder for the justification of unhealthy and sinful behaviors.  This is definitely one of them.  Such texts easily play into upholding the Ned Flanders image of Christians that many have grown to despise.  On the other extreme is the belief that Jesus is upping the ante of the law so as to show us our depravity so that we might more quickly and ferociously cling to him for our salvation.  Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek, give up one’s cloak, and go the extra mile can easily be understood as Jesus’ encouragement for Christians to become passive doormats.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see how such understandings can lead to a pseudo-martyr complex where one never sticks up for one’s self because that’s what Jesus would do, right?  It can also lead to a lot of resentment and unhappiness because one is never honest with others and how they make them feel because Christians are called to be nice.  Hence, the passive aggressive approach to life that allows one to appear good as they spew forth venom in subtle ways.  There’s a reason why Church institutions are often a hotbed for such behaviors and dysfunction.  Being a Christian can often translate into going along to get along, playing nice, and not being honest or direct.  This is often bound up with our fear of confrontation and of not being liked. No one wants to be “that guy” who may upset people and cause problems.

Here’s the thing, though.  In regards to the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus is most likely speaking to a crowd of peasants under the oppressive occupation of the Roman Empire.  Life is hard for them, getting by is challenging, and unbearable debt has become a normal way of life.  Jesus is offering them (and us) a Third Way that does not resort to passivity or violence but upholds the humanity of all those involved.  It’s love in action.

“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer (Probably better translated as “do not repay the evildoer in kind”). But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

Backhanding was a form of humiliation in the ancient world and it was often the way in which superiors humiliated inferiors.  For the victim to turn the other cheek would be for him or her to force the evildoer to face him as an equal.  It’s a way of saying, “you cannot demean me, I am human being just like you.”  To smack with an open hand is to treat the person as an equal.

“and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”

It happened often that the debtors were taken to court for being unable to pay. Jesus tells the people to take it to its extreme so as to expose the injustice at work.  Indebtedness was often the result of Roman imperial policy i.e. taxation.  Giving the one who is suing your cloak would make you naked.  This would bring shame upon him and also reveal to him where his practices led.  All of sudden the oppressed has the power. 

“and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”

Roman soldiers were allowed to levy the people for one mile but no more.  If they went beyond the one mile they could get in serious trouble for doing so (i.e. they could be flogged).  By going the second mile this puts the Roman soldier in a bad spot and turns the power dynamic around.  Now the Roman Soldier has to beg the peasant to not do so and the peasant has regained his dignity and control.

Do you notice how such factors suddenly bring what Jesus said into a different, sharper, and better light?   Jesus is encouraging his listeners to stand up for themselves in healthy and constructive ways that respect the humanity of the oppressor.  Such teachings do not validate complicity on the part of Christians rather they encourage creative and constructive approaches to dehumanizing situations.  It provides a way out of the cycle of violence and of ‘the eye for an eye’ approach that has come to dominate civilization up until this point in time.  It’s a way out of aggression and for Christians today (even in the First World) it’s a way out of passive aggression.  While we may not be oppressed or poor like Jesus’ first century audience there’s much for us to ponder and take away from these words of his.

In fact, standing up for yourself could be the most Christ-like thing you could do.  It may make some very unhappy, it may even cause more problems and discomfort.  Yet, it can also lead to self-empowerment, self-confidence, and better relationships with others.



doorLast week I had blinds installed on the window of my office door.  The reason: in case of a shooter.  The idea is that by pulling the blinds down the shooter will not know if people are in the office and will move on. The blinds could very well save my life and the lives of others in the event of a shooter in our school.

The odd part, though, is that the blinds were installed to cover the windows on the doors that were installed so as to prevent sexual misconduct that could take place in the case of a windowless door. How’s that for a run-on sentence?

So, now, we have installed something that is meant to protect us from an intruder but could very well be used to the advantage of an abusive personality.  I suppose it’s simply a matter of picking your poison, abuse or death?

I don’t want this to be read as if I am against such things because I’m not.  They’re necessary.  They’re necessary because of the way in which we have decided to order our life.  School shootings are now a regular occurrence.  Sexual abuse and misconduct are a regular occurrence and have been for eons.  According to statistics, 1 in 4 women have been victims of rape.

While our President claims that we have much to be scared of in regards to those outside of our borders my office door communicates otherwise.  In fact, according to history the person I should be most afraid is the one I see in the mirror every morning.  I am a white male in a position of authority.  I’m sure this will prompt some readers to roll their eyes and scoff but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Just the other day it was revealed that 9 children were killed in a botched U.S. raid in Yemen.  The goal of the raid was to capture or kill one of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous leaders.  It did not go according to plan.  In turn 25 Yemeni civilians were killed and as one Yemeni man put it, “If such slaughter happened in their country, there would be a lot of shouting about human rights. When our children are killed, they are quiet.”  Such attacks have continually proven to be fodder for the recruitment and growth of terrorism.  If you want to know why we are hated, which was the oft repeated question after 9/11, you need look no further for the answer.

While this attack was ordered by the Trump administration it really isn’t anything all that unique.  Rather it simply continues what the Obama administration (and previous administrations) had been doing for the past 8 years.  The only difference when compared with past presidents is that we now have one who is quite bold and audacious regarding how he perceives the humanity of others.  He wears his destructiveness on his sleeve.  He did say that we should also kill the families of terrorists and he did say that he grabs women by the you-know-what.

Coming full circle, are not such attitudes the reasons why I have a window in my office door and now blinds to cover that window?  You might think that that’s bit a of a stretch but I don’t think it is.  These things are all connected.  Somewhere, somehow, some young man got the notion that shooting innocent people would be a fruitful endeavor like setting off a race war.  Somewhere, somehow, some man got the notion that he could take advantage of a woman in a violent manner and get away with it.  I could simply say it’s because of sin, that it’s because of our fallenness, but that would actually be incredibly irresponsible.

Rather, it’s a pathology.

One that makes us sicker and sicker.




On his way to heal the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter Jesus is interrupted by a woman with a bleeding problem.  The story goes that she made her way through the crowd in order to touch Jesus with the hope that she would be made well.  This woman had this bleeding problem for 12 years, had suffered much under it, spent a ton of money on doctors, and her condition only got worse.  It was a terrible situation for a woman to be in in ancient Palestine.  Being a woman in such a time was challenging enough but being considered unclean and financially poor just made it worse.  She was the forgotten, the marginalized, the invisible.  Her goal of touching Jesus was quite a bold one given her state.  There were many unknowns.  Would Jesus know that he had been touched?  Would he get angry if he realized an unclean woman touched him thereby making him unclean?  How would others react like the crowds and those who were friends with Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue?  After all, by touching him she would make Jesus unclean and he would thereby make Jairus’ entire house unclean as well as his daughter.

I sometimes wonder if, in a sense, the woman with the bleeding problem is a representation of so many of the women who have been victims of pastoral indiscretions.  In particular, I think of the recent happenings with celebrity pastors like Tullian Tchividjian who has finally been disavowed by many who supported him before and after his first reported indiscretion. When his sexual indiscretions first came to light many of his followers and supporters were quick to defend him.  This was understandable given what his writing and preaching had done for them.  When he had gotten a new job shortly thereafter at another church many of his supporters defended this much to the dismay of his detractors.  And then more came out; more indiscretions, more victims, more problems.  Finally, he was even disavowed by his supporters and colleagues.

The situation with Tullian Tchividjian represents a far deeper malady in American Christianity.  That malady is multifaceted. At its core is its radical individualism that makes it hard for us to understand sin and its deeper dimensions collectively.  Since we often speak in individualized ways about sin, talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, and refer to ourselves as “I, a poor, miserable sinner” it makes sense that we would miss this dynamic.  While forgiveness comes to us from God we must also be aware of the forgiveness that we need to give and seek from others (Jesus was quite clear about this).  When it comes to grace we tend to have an interdependent blind-spot.  For example, while there were very public calls for Tullian’s forgiveness there was next to no concern expressed by his followers and supporters for the victim(s). It was as if they didn’t matter because all is grace, but that is the deeper malady to which I am pointing.

It does matter.

Generally speaking, the debate regarding whether or not such a pastor should be removed or reinstated tends to take place on a rather base level.  At the risk of sounding overtly simplistic it usually boils down to two camps:

There’s the fundamentalist camp that simply takes Paul’s words to Timothy and Titus that a pastor should be above reproach at face value.  Therefore, if a sin of sexual indiscretion is committed the pastor should be removed, simple as that.  On the other side is the reductionist camp whose position is that, in light of the indiscretion committed, if there is repentance and thereby forgiveness he should be reinstated.  It sort of disregards Paul’s words for the sake of the gospel.  Again, these are very base positions and sort of linear in their understandings. Ultimately, they don’t really go below the surface.

Now, I’ll confess that I would have been more inclined to give a guy like Tullian a pass before I served a congregation whose previous pastor had had an adulterous relationship.  Even now, I often have to shake myself of my individualized presuppositions in order to see something more clearly.  Anyway, one of the things that I came to realize was that there were multiple levels to what had occurred.  It wasn’t just about one man’s sin, it was actually about so much more.  The congregation was deeply hurt by this behavior for a long time and struggled to make sense of it.  There were disagreements about whether he should have been removed since he had done so much good like grow the church.  There was the pastor’s own unhealthy and unresolved issues that led to his adulterous affair along with the culture of the congregation that played into this.  What’s more, there was a woman, who, quite frankly, had been taken advantage of by a man in authority.  After the pastor was removed, while many wrestled over what happened to him, there wasn’t much talk about her.  In fact, there was even anger towards her as if it was fully her fault and not his.  As one person, a woman I might add, remarked to me, “He’s a man, he had needs.”  In a sense, the woman had been marginalized, pushed aside and forgotten about because she had messed everything up.  Notice the deep and dark spiritual elements in my description.

It’s these sort of dynamics that many are simply unaware of and don’t give much thought to because we are not trained to think in such ways.  But if we are going to understand the true threat and problem of pastoral sexual indiscretions we need to learn how to approach such things in such a manner. Seeing things in such a way was not a challenge to someone like the Apostle Paul given that in the ancient world one’s identity was not bound up with self but with group.  This is why we ought to heed his words to Timothy and Titus when it comes to qualifications for pastors.  This is ancient wisdom par excellence.  Being above reproach goes so much deeper than simply having a good reputation amongst outsiders.  There is a deep spiritual component that has a deep spiritual impact on the collective whole.

Because of such happenings I’ve been wondering if a sort of misogyny plays into guys like Tullian being able to get away with what they’ve gotten away with.  It may not be an overt misogyny but more of a benign sort.  Sort of like the expectation that Jesus would definitely heal the daughter of a synagogue ruler without concern for a marginalized woman.  I mean had Jesus not stopped and referred to the woman with the bleeding problem as his daughter would anyone have even cared about her?  After all, Jesus had to save the daughter of a very important person and she was just getting in the way, like so many of the victims may have gotten in the way of Tullian being restored.

Recently, many who had come to the side of Tullian and defended him after his first indiscretion had come to light had taken the opportunity to disavow themselves of him in a public letter and announcement.  I appreciate their doing so but the thing that’s a bit disconcerting is that these same persons are still associated and work with a pseudo pastor who has a problematic history similar to Tullian’s. It might do them well to reach out to his victims, speak with them or read their stories and see the collective affect of his sins.  That may make them a little more weary of supporting and associating publically with those who have caused similar damage.  Whether we like it or not, sin has consequences. Emotional abuse and sexual abuse have consequences and they cannot be so easily swept away as so many other things in our disposable culture can be.

I’ll be honest, I doubt that’ll happen.  In fact, one reason is because most of those who initially defended Tullian and then disavowed him are men.  What’s more, my hunch is that what led them to initially support Tullian was what they perceived to be a higher good.  After all, Tullian reached many, his books could be found in Barnes and Noble.  Similarly, the organization Christ Hold Fast has reached many, thus, the higher good.  Then again, the higher good should have prompted Jesus to ignore the woman with the bleeding problem and get to the house and daughter of the synagogue ruler.  But he stopped to heal this woman, this daughter, and then he went on to heal the synagogue ruler’s daughter.

Please think about that.