For good or for bad

This morning I’m thinking about power. Power is one of those neutral things that can be used for good or for bad. In this modern world we are surrounded by power. I’m riding a large powered rectangular box consisting of metal and rubber and plastic and upholstery and I’m very grateful this box takes me to work every day. I’m typing on a much smaller rectangle that has its own small power source. We are awash in benign, controlled power sources that do all sorts of good things for us: transportation, heating, cooling, comunication, healing, entertainment, education, food preparation and thousands of other uses.

We also, many of us, possess other kinds of power. I have a kind of power over the people who work for me. I have a different kind of power over the ministries entrusted to me. Yet another kind of power over my dogs. While I often don’t think of it this way, my wife and I both have profound power and influence over each other. There’s another kind of power I have over my children (and, again, they also wield a kind of power over me).

In the context of love-relationships it seems “off” to speak of “power over” others, doesn’t it? But think of it this way: over the weekend we bought a bougainvillia and planted it in a planter out front. I have profound power over that little plant. If I don’t water it and care for it this little plant will not make it. If I exercise good, life-giving power over this plant it will grow tall, perhaps taller than I am.

This is power for good.

The problem is that in many relationships and structures our power is not for good. There’s a tendency in the human heart for rationalization

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, isn’t there? A slaveholder can convince himself that his slaves would not survive under freedom. An abusive husband can tell his battered wife that he loses his temper “because he cares so much” and, tragically, she can even convince herself to believe him. Abusive church leaders can have the conviction that they are on a mission from God and this justifies bulldozing their flock in service of that mission. National leaders can fall under the intoxicating pull of power, convinced, as P.J. O’Rourke once observed, that the world will be a better place if they run it.

We live in a vast, complicated matrix of power relationships. We are often in submission to these  and sometimes, more often than we might think, we are the ones wielding the power. For good or for bad.

Jesus stepped into a world full of power dynamics. I was just reading Matthew 2 this morning; before Jesus was even two years old a mad king decided he would exercise his power to deliberately thwart the promised Messiah of the people he held power over, and so he killed all the boys two years and younger in the region where Jesus was born. This is the world Jesus grew up in. It’s the world he spoke the Sermon on the Mount into. It’s a world in which he flipped, voluntarily,  the power dynamic such that he submitted to hands that he himself had created, allowing them to torture and pierce and even kill him.

Who does that?

God does that. The path to greatness, to true power, to all authority wielded well and good lies this way.

As his followers we must be the first to see this and act upon it. To give up our power and take up our servanthood.

Perhaps more on this later. I’m still figuring this out.

The election of 2016

Starting out this morning’s journey I have some time to mull. Today I’m mulling over politics and the church.

I’ve been around for a while. I became a Christian in 1983 just about the time the Moral Majority and Religious Right was picking up steam. I had been for the most part politically neutral before this. I remember not liking Carter. By 1984 I was old enough to vote in the presidential election; I loved Reagan and  I enthusiastically voted for his reelection. Throughout the rest of the 80s, 90s, 2000s and 2010s I voted straight ticket Republican,  although I would always vote for each race separately rather than just selecting straight ticket

, because I didn’t like thinking of myself as a straight ticket voter.

As just-marrieds my wife and I were thrilled when Bush senior won. We were horrified and disheartened when Bill Clinton won and couldn’t wait to vote against him in 1996, when we voted with as much enthusiasm as we could muster (not much) for Bob Dole, only to see Clinton triumph again. We held our breath for a month in 2000 waiting to see if Bush would win the recounts and were thrilled when he did. We were more thrilled when he won reelection in 2004 and we enthusiastically supported his foreign policy in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Though I somehow knew Barak Obama would win in 2008 we were still so disheartened when he won and won again. In general, we always agreed with the guy leading our Republican tribe and always disagreed with the guy leading the Democrat tribe. Always. As American Christians this was the most natural thing to do, we thought. I simply could not get into the head of anyone, certainly not someone of faith, who supported Democrats.

And this brings us to 2016.

2016 was a kidney stone of a year by all measures for our family. We had a lot of deep issues to take care of and pray over. But in the middle of all that there was a presidential campaign and two inexplicable things happened: the first was that a guy named Donald Trump, who had often been a novelty candidate in previous elections, started taking the lead on the Republican side. The second, and far more inexplicable one for me, was that American Christians, at least the white ones, began to enthusiastically endorse the man.

“This can’t be” I naively thought. I heard all the rationalizations: the President isn’t the pastor in chief, God can use anyone. He’s like King Cyrus. he’s really a good man, just look at how great his kids are, etc. None of these came close, in my mind, to justifying a vote for the man, certainly not a vote by a Christian.

The other side of the argument was given with just as much fervency. “You have no choice,” they would say, “the alternative is Her!” After the election I was talking to a Christian friend (who I respect greatly) and he told me with certainty that if Hillary had won all our religious freedom would have been jeopardized.

I could go on for pages. Bottom line, I realized that for some reason I wasn’t able to hear the same music many of my Christian friends were hearing.

I understand the pragmatic vote for a lesser of two evils. I really do. But I’ve never understood the Christian admiration for Donald Trump. And, to be blunt, here’s why I don’t understand it: he is a liar. There’s not even an argument to be mounted against this charge. He has lied on the deepest matters repeatedly to people he should have loved: his first two wives and, by all reports, his current wife. He has betrayed them. He larded his campaign with lies and started out his Presidency lying about the most mundane things.

He is also cruel, and not in some veiled, “refined” Machiavellian way. He treats people who aren’t behonkus-kissingly loyal to him like manure and, like all bullies, he’s not content to just pound them and steal their lunch money, he has to take their dignity too with stupid fifth grade nicknames and cruel jabs on social media.

Not least, and certainly not last but I’m almost to work and need to wrap this up, he is an abuser. This goes hand in hand with his cruelty. He has abused people sexually and economically and he is proud of it.

I never thought I’d say this, but, doggone it, I miss Barak Obama.

The election of 2016 was the final cure for my red team tribalism. I’m de-tribed now, neither red nor blue. Heartbreakingly, the election also served to unmask the white evangelical church for its nationalistic idolatry, its fear of the Other, and its desire for power.

What the election of 2016 didn’t do, thankfully, was destroy my faith in the church. There is a core, a minority perhaps, in the American evangelical movement that saw what I also saw and renounced it. May that tribe increase.

May the Kingdom of God increase.

I voted in 2016 for a third party candidate who had no chance of winning. And the scores of people online who told me I had to pick R or D because we’re locked into a binary choice can go pound sand.

My bus is pulling up to my building now. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.



After the 214 deposits me at Northwest Transit Station I catch the 33 for the final leg of my morning journey.

The 33 is a smaller bus with maybe 39 seats on it. Not 40

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, 39. It has an odd number because one of the rows has a single seat on one side. I call it the introvert’s seat.

I’ve had a stressful morning already and I’m not even at work yet. But I scored the introvert’s seat this morning.


Same boat

Good morning. The bus is taking us on a different route this a.m., trying to nose its way down Jones road as an alternate to taking West to get to 290, now that the HOV bridge is no more. It’s a crazy plan, but it just might work.

It occurs to me that I’m on a bus, but I’m also in a boat. You may know this boat. We may be in the same boat, as a matter of fact.

Do you have too much to do and not enough time to do it? Are you facing problems at work that seem unsolvable? Are you just trying to do your duty well but feeling like you’re not quite making it? Do you feel like you’re less than you should be? In that case

, we are in the same boat. Here, have some tea.

I’m really not trying to complain. On a relative scale things are so incredibly good right now; I know this. I’ve just got a few rocks in my shoes and my guess is most everyone else does as well. My little dinghy, bouncing on the waves, is not anything you’d notice. Just a dot on the sea.

There was a time when Jesus was in a boat with his closest followers on a stormy night. His follwers were terrified because of the waves and wind, and justifiably so. Jesus, however, was sleeping. That in itself is amazing; personally, I’m not even able to sleep in a moving car, let alone on a ship in a storm.

We know the story: his disciples were overcome with fear, they woke him up, and he, after gently jabbing them for being afraid, with a word took control of the winds and waves and all was calm. That in itself is awesome and the implications of the power he demonstrated are staggering. But this also stands out to me: I’m pretty sure if the disciples hadn’t woken him up Jesus would have been perfectly content to remain asleep. They were all in the same boat, but he was the only one who wasn’t afraid.

I’d also like to have no fear, and so I remember: We are in the same boat. It’s his boat, a little dot on the vast sea, containing the One who fills all in all and contains in himself vast oceans of peace and rolling waters of justice and righteousness.

Peace, be still.

“This is not over”

There’s a little newspaper vending machine at my bus stop with a copy of USA Today that can be seen through the transparent front. The headline declares “This Is Not Over. ” I haven’t read any of the visible print to get the context.

The paper is fading and the date on it shows that it’s three years old. I don’t know, it kind of seems like it really might be over, little unbought paper.

As my 214 takes to the main lanes (the HOV bridge is still out) I’m pondering that defiant cry, “This Is Not Over!” One can almost see a little raised newsprint fist.

This is not over. I think I love that. I’ve got my own set of (almost all good) stresses and mini-battles to fight, wrestling with contumacious hardware and software at work, labarynthine paperwork and process at a local college ministry I shepherd (a little-known aspect of these kinds of things),  side projects and schoolwork (aced my final last night

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, whoohoo) and the heavier burdens of spiritual battles, hopes, dreams and regrets.

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?* Heck no!

“This is not over” can be discouraging. Often we want things to be over and done, so we can rest. Some battles in life are quick, others are the Battle of Stalingrad, and some go on for years or even a lifetime.

But there is a whole lot of encouragement in “This is not over!” I see that thought woven throughout the Scriptures as a matter of fact. In a fruit, a fall, and unforeseen grace and covering. In a forty year wilderness trek. In the dust of a shattered temple, by the waters of exile in Babylon, in a furnace, in a lions den. In the broken and torn body of our Lord.

It looked over. But it wasn’t!

This is not over!

* if you don’t get this reference, good for you.


The slog

Good morning. With all the construction on 290, my starting point, and Post Oak, my ending point, getting to work has really turned into a daily slog.

And I had a rough weekend, work-wise. A major data warehouse system was down at work due to a mishap with a transformer and failures of protective layers down the line so we had to do a lot of work to get it right side up again.

There’s something exhilarating, though, in restoration and resurrection, isn’t there? Working hard to get something that’s upside down turned right side up has built-in rewards if you’re a sucker for redemption like I am.

It takes time, though, and effort. There’s a repeated theme running through my mind these days: Faithfulness. If you’re hungry for restoration, as I am, it’s easy to want the Big Bang, the quick win, the explosive growth. Thats what makes the morning papers. We want, I want, the three thousand new souls at Pentecost.

I don’t often, or ever, see that. I think there are reasons for this, both internal and external to me. Internal? Let’s be honest: I’m too risk averse to take the path that puts me front and center in an upper room exhorting a crowd that thinks I’m drunk or crazy. I hold back. I often bide my time until time runs out. You see, I need restoration and redemption in my darker fearful places too.

But I also believe (and if I’m wrong on this may God show me the right) that the Lord values our faithfulness even when our fruitfulness is at low ebb. He values the day to day cranking of the wheel

, anonymously if need be. Following that first day and the three thousand was a long string of days faithfully doing the work, taking care of widows, dealing with problems, working logistics. It’s not always exhilarating.

Faithfulness in the daily slog is good.