Thursday, December 11, 2014

He Doesn't Know Me.






When our family first moved to Ludington, we got to know of a neat thing that happened each year, called the "Santa Train." The local freight railway had Santa and his elves stop at all of towns along the railroad and Santa would greet all of the children and pass out candy.

Our two oldest boys thought that was amazing! They both loved trains. In Germany we traveled by train all of the time, but since being back in the United States, which doesn't really have the train culture that Germany has, this was great. Our boys were also quite familiar with the book and movie, The Polar Express, and thought that this would be something similar. Our youngest son had just been born a month ago. So his excitement was geared more towards milk, sleeping, and cuddling.

When we came up to the train, there was Santa with his elves! All the children were scrambling to get close to him to touch him and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. When my oldest son, Zachary, came up to Santa, the bearded gentleman asked him, "What's your name, little boy?" My son was suddenly shocked and became quiet as he told him his name.

Afterwards, while we were going back to the car, Zachary began to cry and said, "Santa doesn't even know my name!"

My son learned a hard lesson that day. Santa was not omniscient.

There is was something that I could do for him, though. God knows him. God loves him. I told him that even though Santa might not know him, God does know him and cares for him deeply.

Now, I won't get into the huge debate about whether God is omniscient, too. As an Open Theist, I believe he restricts his knowledge in this regard; however, I do love the German expression of "kennen," which means "to know intimately." In that way, God knows us personally and intimately. I love this about God.

As the Psalmist says, "Lord, you have examined me. You know me." (Psalm 139:1)

I hope that you will also get to know our Lord more personally in this Advent Season!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poppies, Flanders, and Third Stanzas


Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. It is Remembrance Day in other countries.

Often quoted on this day is the haunting poem, written by Canadian physician and officer, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields." Here is that poem in its entirety:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.



Oh, how I wish that third stanza had not been written. The First World War was a useless war, fought to punish each other for some hidden grievance. It became the impetus for the Second World War, the Cold War, and the War on Terrorism. If only that poem had ended after the second stanza, it would emphasize the futility of the conflict. That third stanza seems to me to suggest that the soldiers would go on haunting those who do not fight in that same cause.


What cause? What was so noble that they had to die in some field in Belgium, only to become the ground that poppies grow on? World War I exemplified that depravity of humanity to kill each other for political reasons.

A friend of mine, Mark Sandlin, wrote an impressive blog about his true feelings for Veteran's Day. I can only quietly echo his sentiments.

Shane Claiborne has also shared an equally powerful story of Charlie Liteky:




I respect those who have served in Armed Forces. What they have done is something that I could never do. I do not respect the political machinery they suffered and died for. I do not respect that so many men, women, and children had to die for a political cause that could not be solved through other means. We remember our own veterans, conveniently forgetting those that our veterans killed, including the innocent men, women, and children.

I mourn for veterans who come back, suffering from scars and wounds that will never be healed, especially the scars of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which used to be known as shell shock. The adage, "Thank you for your service," does not seem to be adequate for my feelings. I'd rather say, "I'm so sorry that you had to suffer."

I know there will be those who think I am trying to dishonor the veterans who served and died. I am not. Rather, I am trying to honor all the victims of war. War is the sign that we have given up on showing the Fruit of the Spirit to each other. War is the sign that it is easier for us to kill each other than to love each other.

Love is hard. Love is not merely an emotion. Love takes real work.

On this Veteran's Day, let us resolve to love. This is not an option. Jesus commands it:

"I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other." John 13:34 CEB

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crying With Those Who Cry

When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him. When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.  Job 2:11-13 CEB

Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. - Romans 12:15 CEB




The parable of Job is an interesting one. It deals with the complex situation of suffering and grief. The age old existential question, "Why does a good God allow suffering?" comes to play here.

I could give an answer to that, but it won't solve anything. God doesn't give an answer to Job, either.

So, I don't want to talk about the suffering question. I want to talk about his friends. Job had 3 friends who came to be with him after they heard about his misfortune. Scholars, theologians, and lay people have always come down hard on these 3 friends. However, I would like to praise them for one thing they did:  They came to be with him and share in his suffering.

Sometimes that's all that a grieving person needs:  the presence and comfort of a friend. They don't need any platitudes, any trite sayings. They want to know that they are not alone.

In 2003, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage of our child. It was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever gone through. My wife blamed herself (even though it wasn't her fault). She would grieve every additional month she wasn't pregnant. She would be furious at every pregnant woman she saw walking the street who was smoking. I suffered in silence. I tried calling my friends in the United States, but got no support. (I lived in Germany at the time.)

People would ask me how my wife was doing. They would never ask me how I was doing, as if the miscarriage didn't happen to me, too. The people at our corps (congregation) did not know what to do. So they resorted to the familiar platitudes, "You'll have another baby some day." "You're still young!"

Probably the worst thing that happened was when we received a condolence card from a retired Salvation Army officer. Interestingly enough, he quoted from Job, too. He wrote, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Unfortunately it seems he has been taking a lot from you lately." When my wife read that, it just sank her into a deeper depression. I was furious. How could someone be so callous as to say that to my wife?

The three friends of Job helped him out the best when they said nothing at all. Everything else was ruined when they opened their mouths and tried to explain the suffering away.

We do not need the suffering to be explained. In fact, this is the lesson I learn from Job. What we need is God at our side and the companionship of our friends and family. We can apply this advice from Paul:  "Cry with those who are crying."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Where Were You?



This past week was the 13th anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. So many of my friends talked about it, posted about it, shared memes with each other.

It's an open wound for many to this day.

Even though it didn't affect me personally, I am reluctant to talk about it. Why? My conclusions about the whole episode are not mainstream.

On that day on the 11th of September, I was in Germany. There is a 6 hour difference between New York and Germany. So it was in the middle of the afternoon for me at the time. We had just finished Home League, which is a women's group of The Salvation Army. One of the ladies just got off of her mobile phone and told me her daughter said that something had happened in New York. So I went upstairs to my apartment and turned on the television. The Pentagon had just been struck. So I assumed it was a common misunderstanding.

However, then the view switched to New York City and the unforgettable Towers on fire, smoking up to the heavens. I was transfixed. I could not look away. A surreal incident happened. I called my father, who was stationed with The Salvation Army at our Territorial Headquarters in Chicago. He had no television in his office. He knew about the attacks, but wasn't watching anything at the time. While talking with him, the South Tower of the World Trade Centers collapsed. So while I was in Germany, I told my father about what was happening in New York.

The German version of MTV and the other music video station, VIVA, turned off their regular broadcasts and issued a message that stated, "Out of respect for those who died in the attack in New York and Washington, we have cancelled our broadcast for the rest of the day."

At one point, my mind had had enough. I was over-saturated with information and images. I had to turn off the television and go to sleep. The next morning, I went to the main train station to pick up the local newspaper. I didn't have a subscription. So I wanted to at least have this copy of what happened the day before, knowing that this was an event to remember. As I left the train station, a radio reporter stopped me and asked about what my opinion was on the whole matter, not realizing that I was an American. When he found out, he was very interested in knowing my thoughts. I told him that the world would see what kind of nation the United States is after this event happened.

Those words have come to haunt me.

What kind of nation are we?

That day and in the weeks to come I had friends and acquaintances call me up to express their condolences to me. That felt awkward. I wasn't personally affected by the whole incident. None of my loved ones were among the victims. However, I was the token American that they knew and I realized that they were coming to grips in dealing with that situation, too.

What kind of nation are we?

At first, things seemed to be going smoothly. We were united. We rallied behind the first responders. We volunteered. We sent money in support of those who were helping others.

Then things began to get strange.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Copies of the pseudo documentary, "Loose Change," circulated the Internet.

We locked up "non-military combatants" in Guantanamo Bay because we found a legal loophole where we could hold people indefinitely without trial and at the same time circumvent the Geneva Convention because we didn't call them soldiers with whom we were at war.

Iraq was invaded. Some vague thread of logic seemed to combine the two incidents of the attacks on the 11th of September with Iraq. People believed that Saddam Hussein was somehow involved, too.

Abu Ghraib happened. We humiliated Iraqis for no good reason. I even recall retired General John Gowans commenting at our Congress in Hanover, Germany in 2004 how horrible that situation was where American soldiers humiliated Iraqis and posed with them in degrading pictures.

We have been trying to solve violence with violence. What has that gotten us?

Good men and women return home with missing limbs, scars, or in a pine box. The scars are both physical and mental. We leave death and destruction across 2 continents, killing more people than we ourselves lost. More Americans died in Afghanistan and in Iraq than we lost on the 11th of September.

In Afghanistan, 3469 Coalition Troops (including Americans) died in Afghanistan. However, at least 21,000 Afghans have lost their lives during this time.

In Iraq, 4489 Americans have lost their lives, compared with the approximately 1.4 Million Iraqis who have died due to the fighting.

War has done something terrible to the American psyche. I see no justification for this war. I am at fault, too, because I spoke up after it was all over. Too many people are dead.

The attacks on the 11th of September did something terrible to us. It brought out the good in us. We saw this manifested in the small and large acts of heroism of the first responders and those who assisted them. The attacks also brought out the evil in us. We meted the revenge on those who did not deserve it.

Jesus gave us a hard task to fulfill. He said, "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45a CEB) What would have happened if the United States, instead of killing our enemies and all those civilians, went into those countries and helped them out where they were? Whether or not they would have accepted our aid is another question, but simply offering love to them when they offered us hate would have had a more meaningful and lasting impact.

Have we as Christians forgotten how to love?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Peace or Vengeance?


Today I read an article by David French, a blogger on Patheos Evangelical, on his blog, "French Revolution." The blog was entitled, "How Should Christians Expect Our Nation to Respond to ISIS? With Wrath and Vengeance." Go ahead. Read it. Ponder the hatred that imbibes this blog.

I was going to post a comment in this article, but comments are no longer allowed. I can understand why. This is a very tough topic to deal with.

As a pacifist, I am horrified that a Christian would advocate "wrath and vengeance" as a legitimate means for dealing with ISIS. I can understand the author wishing to make a distinction between individual and governmental responsibility; however, I also note that in the Bible, governments are often singled out and criticized stringently for showing no mercy to the weak and the poor. (See Amos 6:12, Micah 3:1-3, and Zechariah 7:9-14.)

I would like to suggest that even Jesus' Sermon on the Mount could be applied on a governmental level. Imagine: What would happen if on a governmental level, we treated other countries like we wanted to be treated? What would happen if we served others instead of forcing others to bow to our demands?
 

I know that the United States (to quote President John Adams from his Treaty of Tripoli) "is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," but most countries in the Levant (Middle East)  assume that we are a Christian nation (a common misunderstanding, to be sure). So, if our nation acts out in revenge and wrath towards ISIS, how will that bring about peace? How will that make us peacemakers?

What if we, as a nation, would "turn the other cheek?" Yes, someone has hurt us. Yes, someone has killed our citizens. Why don't we break the cycle of violence and show love and mercy instead of "wrath and vengeance?"


Some would say that I am naive in this presumption. They may be right. However, I believe that advocating for peace instead of revenge is preferable and more Christ-like.

Leave vengeance to God. God says it best:  "Revenge is my domain, so is punishment-in-kind." (Deuteronomy 32:35)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Traveling Vietnam Memorial



This past week I was asked to be a chaplain for a couple of hours while the Traveling Vietnam Memorial came to Ludington. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial is 80% the size of the actual Vietnam Wall and occupied one city block in Ludington. It was my privilege to be there. I was also disturbed by a couple of things. Some were small trivial things. Others were not so small.

For instance, part of the memorial included a wall, describing those who lost their lives during World War II.


In talking about the United States, this board claimed that the United States' religion was Christianity.


This is, of course, not true. The United States was founded as a country that would not establish a State Church. Even though some of the authors of the Constitution were Christian, they agreed that to establish a State Religion would not be conducive to the freedom of its citizens. The statement that we are a "Christian Nation" is also a slap in the face to all other citizens who have a different faith than Christianity.

I know that many American Christians would love for the United States to be a Christian nation, but too many of them go about it by legislation rather than evangelism.

I also listened to a speaker, who seemed to justify the War in Vietnam, saying that they were protecting our freedom. In fact, the motto of the tour was "Freedom is never free."


I agree that freedom is not free. I believe that there are various ways of insuring that we maintain our freedom. I am more reticent using the military to do this. I am more doubtful, however, of the purpose of some of our military actions and how they protected our freedom.

This leaves our soldiers in the lurch. They are forced to enact the political will of government officials. Unfortunately, the soldiers were often the brunt of abuse from those citizens who disagreed with the government, especially during the Vietnam War. For our veterans who served in the Vietnam War, I have nothing but admiration for the suffering they went through. I am saddened by their loss of their friends, comrades, and loved ones.

My own problem comes when the deaths of the soldiers and the death of the citizens are justified as being in defense of our freedom. I do not see how killing people in Vietnam secured my freedom. Perhaps I am simplifying the issue. However, as I understand it, the United States was trying to prevent the spread of communism, which was seen as going against freedom. Hindsight has given us the wisdom that such systems collapse in on themselves. Even the communism of China is no longer communism. It's certainly dictatorial, but it's not the communism that Karl Marx envisioned.

What did those soldiers die for? They died for political decisions. They did not die in the defense of our freedom. I mourn their deaths. I mourn the suffering that our veterans have to go through with PTSD, loss of limbs, health, etc. I mourn that often they are suffering because of a lie. What is the lie? They died for our freedom.

Perhaps an even more pertinent question is this:  What did the Vietnamese and Cambodians die for when they were killed by American soldiers? Do we mourn their deaths? During the ceremony, a veteran yelled out, "58,286 names." How many Vietnamese and Cambodian names are there?

One ceremony that always chills me is the 21 Gun Salute. I am never prepared for it. It unnerves me. Last night, there was a 21 Gun Salute as part of the ceremony. That will always haunt me.


In thinking about this Memorial, I tried to come up with an appropriate selection from the Bible. I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 4:1-3:

When I next observed all the oppressions that take place under the sun, I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no one to comfort them. Their oppressors wield power—but they have no one to comfort them. So I declare that the dead, who have already died, are more fortunate than the living, who are still alive. But happier than both are those who have never existed, who haven’t witnessed the terrible things that happen under the sun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's Talk About Sects

I have had the privilege and the pleasure of being a guest on Online Corps' Gospel Stories. During that time, Major Kevin Jackson, one of the regular moderators, has asked me to help moderate a new series on world religions.

Online Corps has had the theme of "Stories" for their various shows:  "Gospel Stories," "Life Stories," etc. (Click here to view my own interview for Life Stories.) In our discussions, we were trying to come up with a new title for this theme on world religions. I, with my warped sense of humor, suggested the title, "Let's Talk About Sects." I immediately gave a disclaimer for the title, but they actually liked it.

So . . . starting this Thursday at 1:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time) (8:00 PM GMT), you can expect yours truly to help out with this new series! I'm actually very much looking forward to it. We will first be discussing what religion is and then looking at all religions:  from Orthodox Christianity to Islam (and almost everything in between).

Our goal is not to show why Christianity is better than other religions. Our goal is to show where we have things in common and to discuss these things. The forum allows for online discussion. So we hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Partial Assurance



I feel torn. I want to help. I want to feel needed. I want to know that things are reciprocal and not merely one-sided. Is that selfish? Of course it is.

The silence is deafening. The assurance is partial and incomplete.

In the end, I am left with my doubts and insecurities.

It seems the only way to get rid of the insecurities is through the lapse of time.

Having been hurt too many times to count doesn’t help either.

I either become a recluse or persevere. Neither option seems appealing, but only the risky one bring rewards.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

All My Work is for the Master



I'm not certain if my congregation noticed it or not, but when we came to our closing song this morning, I got all choked up. As we came to the last verse of this song, written by General Albert Orsborn, his words hit home to me like they hadn't before. The melody we used was from an old Civil War lament, The Vacant Chair.

I must love thee, love must rule me,
Springing up and flowing forth
From a childlike heart within me,
Or my work is nothing worth.
Love with passion and with patience,
Love with principle and fire,
Love with heart and mind and utterance,
Serving Christ my one desire.

All my work is for the Master,
He is all my heart's desire;
O that he may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire!



Love needs to be the main motivation for everything I do in life. It must rule me or else my entire work means nothing. To love with passion I equate with the original meaning of passion:  "suffering." I am constantly reminded that love is not merely an emotion. To love produces loving feelings. It makes you vulnerable and open. It is risky, difficult, but also rewarding when requited.

When we go to the source of love, God, we will never have unrequited love. (Although God experiences this so very often!)

I realized when I was singing this that my love for God needs to permeate everything I do. In that brief instance, I felt once again in the presence of God and was overwhelmed with his love for me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tears of Joy





Some of you might recall the blog I did earlier about my dear friend, Christoph, entitled "My Penance" and the follow-up blog, explaining my position more fully regarding LGBT inclusion within the Church.

Today while I was looking through Facebook, my friend, Christoph, added this picture above. It is a beautiful portrait of a man returning to Jesus. Of course, I liked it right away. Almost immediately I received this note from Christoph, which he has given me permission to share. It stated simply,

"Dear Tim, this picture is in my profile because you have given me something back: The hope that Christ will not send me away in the last hours from the Gate of Paradise. I thank you for that with all of my heart."

I started crying when I read that. It was a validation from my friend that I was doing something right. He had lost hope that God had shut him out forever from Heaven, but somehow through my writing, he realized that this was not the case and that God loves him just as he is.

I cannot begin to imagine all of the pain and hurt that others have gone through simply by being disowned by the Church. We use many euphemisms for this:  Shunning, striking from the roles, excommunication, but in essence what we are telling these people is:  You are not worthy of having fellowship with us. We are better than you.

Truth be told, I had a hand in all of this. I am only ever so grateful that I am able to somehow rectify the situation.

Looking at this from a broader perspective, we as a Church are going through some serious growing pains. We are beginning to realize once more that there are certain aspects of our lives that we need to get rid of to become more like Christ. In the mid 20th Century, it was racial discrimination. In the early 20th Century, it was women's rights. In the late 19th Century, it was slavery. I believe that in this first part of the 21st Century, we will realize that God is now calling us to love all of humanity and especially those that we as a Church have marginalized:  the LGBT Community.

Let us listen to the voice of him who loved those whom society had rejected. Let us love the LGBT Community unconditionally and leave out all talk of "judging," "correction" and "discipline."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gedenktag

Dieser Bild stört mich:


Am kommenden Montag ist ein amerikanischer Feiertag:  "Gedenktag", was auf Englisch "Memorial Day" heißt. Er ist ein amerikanischer Feiertag, der jedes Jahr am letzten Montag im Mai zu Ehren der im Krieg für das Vaterland Gefallenen begangen wird.

Zehn Jahre in Deutschland haben mich wirklich anders geprägt! Meine Freunde in Deutschland werden sich sicher erinnern, wie ich den damaligen Präsident George Bush unterstutzt habe. Das ist mir jetzt so peinlich, dass ich mich wirklich schäme.

Hier ist etwas ganz komisch in Amerika, besonders in der Kirchen und sogar in Heilsarmee-Gemeinden:  die nationale Feiertage werden ebenso mit religiösem Eifer gefeiert. Es wurde mir sogar gefragt, ob ich am kommenden Sonntag unseren Gedenktag erwähnen werde.

Plötzlich war es mir peinlich. In Deutschland war es relativ einfach. Feiertage in Deutschland sind öfters christliche Feiertage. Ich kann nur an 3 Feiertage denken, die nicht religiös im Ursprung sind:  1. Mai, 3. Oktober, und Neujahr. Es könnte sein, dass es mehr gibt, aber sie sind mir zur Zeit unbekannt.

Warum war es mir peinlich? Ich glaube, dass nationale Feiertage keinen Platz im Gottesdienst verdient haben. Wir sind da, um Gott zu dienen, nicht den Staat. Was ich ja komisch finde, ist dass man öfters Bibelstellen dazu erwähnen, um diese Feiertage zu unterstüzen.

Sie sind, zum Beispiel:  "Wohl dem Volk, dessen Gott der HERR ist, dem Volk, das er zum Erbe erwählt hat!" (Psalm 33,12)

-und-

"Niemand hat größere Liebe als die, dass er sein Leben lässt für seine Freunde." Johannes 15,13

Die erste Stelle handelt sich um Israel. Die zweite Stelle geht es um Jesus selber, aber manche Christen in Amerika nehemen diese Verse und behaupten, dass die erste Stelle für jedes Land gilt, nicht nur Israel. Die zweite Stelle behaupten sie, dass es auch für Soldaten gelten, die im Kampf gefallen sind. Einige Amerikaner behaupten sogar, dass unsere Vorfahren Amerika auf göttlichen Prinzipien gegründet haben. Das ist nicht nur Unsinn, sondern auch Blödsinn.

Beten tue ich für meine Abgeordnete und für die Menschen in meiner Regierung, die ganz schwierige Entscheidungen treffen müssen, aber dass vermehrt meine Liebe zum Vaterland nicht.

Die Gefahr in Amerika liegt daran, dass Menschen überzeugt sind, dass Amerika besser als alle andere Länder ist. Das finde ich lächerlich. Mein Bürgerrecht spielt keine Rolle, wenn ich am jüngsten Tag vor Gott stehe. Aber ehrlich gesagt, finde ich es ein Bisschen gefährlich, wenn ich sehe die Liebe zum Vaterland mit Gottes Liebe verbunden ist.


Es ist genauso mit diesem Lied hier oben von dem Musical, Cabaret. Hier ist die Text auf Deutsch:

Der morgige Tag ist mein (Nachdichtung zu Cabaret)
Die sonnige Wiese ist sommerlich warm
Der Hirsch läuft in Freiheit waldein.
Doch sammelt Euch alle, der Sturm ist nah
Der morgige Tag ist mein.
Das Lindengrün leuchtet, die Blätter sie wehen
sein Gold verströmt meerwärts der Rhein
Doch wenn geht ein Stern auf noch ungesehen
Der morgige Tag ist mein.
Das Kind in der Wiege liegt selig im Schlaf.
Die Blüte lädt Bienen sich ein
Und Liebe
doch bald sagt ein Flüstern: „Wach auf, wach auf!
Der morgige Tag ist mein.
O Vaterland, Vaterland, zeig uns den Weg,
Dein Gruss soll das Wegzeichen sein,
Der Morgen kommt wenn der Welt ist mein
Der morgige Tag ist mein.

Wir, die Deutsch sprechen können und die Geschichte von Deutschland kennen, wissen ganz genau, wie gefährlich solche Vaterlandliebe sein könnte. Ich habe oft Angst, dass solche Vaterlandliebe in Amerika zurückkehren wird. Am Montag werde ich nochmals diese ganze Geschichte auf Englisch erzählen. Dieser Blog wird nicht übersetzt, sondern werde ich nochmals für meine englischsprechende Freunde meine Gedanken erzählen.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

It's Not About You

I remember when I was in college I was taking a course on worship. We visited many different denominations to compare and contrast how worship was similar and how it was different. Of course, we read much about each place beforehand, but one of the most significant things I remember from this course was a story I read.



A Protestant theological student was invited by a friend of his who was going to be ordained as a Greek Orthodox priest. When he arrived, he realized that the service had been going on for some time. There was a lot of things he was unfamiliar with (different language, different ceremonies, a lot of incense), but one thing that disturbed him was the children. They were being loud. They were walking back and forth and shouting with everyone. People crying, "Axios!" "[He is] Worthy!" The children were having fun and no one seemed to be too concerned. At one point, the young Protestant remarked to the lady sitting next to him that he wished the children would be quiet for a minute.

The woman replied, "This is not about you! It's about God!"

Worship is not about us. It's about God. Way too often we try to find worship types that appeal to our nature. When we have a problem with one church, we jump to another. This one uses too much liturgy. This one uses none. This church has too many old people. This church has too many children. When we focus on all the negative aspects of a church, we will miss the positive.

My corps has the worst building of all Salvation Army buildings in the USA Central Territory. We have a tree growing out of the masonry, right above the entrance. Our restrooms are not handicapped accessible, nor is our entrance. In order to make the building safe and secure, we would have to demolish the building and rebuild or purchase a new building. Currently, neither is within our budget.

However, if I focus just on that aspect, I will get demoralized. In fact, I often have sunk into a bit of despair when I think about all of this. Then I remember, my corps is not only my building, but the people in it, too, and I have some of the best soldiers around!

This idea goes beyond worship, too.

I am a selfish creature. I realize that more and more every day. There have been times in my life when I have asked, "What do I get out of this? What does it benefit me? How will I profit from this situation?" The areas of my life that have been affected by this include not only in my professional life, but my life with my friends and family, too.

I was thinking about myself and not about others. I was thinking about myself and not about God.

I noticed something else about being selfish:  It made me worry a lot. I do not have very many close friendships. (See my blog on being Vulnerable.) So when I do risk opening myself up to my close friends, I worry:  Will they reciprocate? Does my friendship with them mean as much to them as it does to me?

It's not about you, Timothy. It's about them.

I sometimes notice my children being more affectionate with my wife than with myself. They have a special bond with their mother that I do not have and it makes me sometimes very jealous.

It's not about you, Timothy. It's about your children.

I sometimes go through life, working hard every day, hoping some day to have an Eternal Reward.

It's not about you, Timothy. It's about God.

I cannot do this anymore. My life is meaningless without God in my life. My service is meaningless unless I place others above my own priorities. My lofty goals are nothing unless they are grounded in the will of God.

I am nothing. God is everything.

Mark 10:44 (NASB):  "Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all."

This imagery is jarring to me. I have to deny my freedom and become a slave. However, being a slave to God has much more freedom than being a slave to my own selfish desires.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Why the Change

If you haven't already done so, please be sure to read my first entry on My Penance. A friend of mine had asked me to elaborate on just how I got to the point in my life where I realized that sexual orientation is not a sin, nor should we be demonizing those who consider themselves to be same-sex oriented.

Let me first start off by saying that I am not trying to convince you of my views. I will just explain to you how I came to my views. It was a process of many years and came to a crisis when my wife and I were transferred back to America during the middle of our fourth term in Germany. That was not a happy time and one I would rather not relive.

A lot of this has to do with my experiences. I had lived in Germany for 10 years in a socialized economy. I had grown quite used and accustomed to it, appreciating all aspects of it from the universal healthcare to the mandatory 4 week paid vacations. When we returned to the United States, the culture shock was worse than when we lived in Germany.

When I started to mention some of my frustrations about returning to the United States, I was told by many people that I should return to Germany since I missed it so much.

Bearing all of this in mind, this was the situation I had. I basically went through an identity crisis, which I hadn't gone through since I started attending college. I went through your typical mid-life crisis.

Here is what happened with my thinking. I became very concerned with the abject hatred of everyone who is in the LGBT community. It was terrifying. This hatred was coming from conservative Christians who felt that they were being persecuted by some "secret agenda" that the gay community was trying to force on them. That baffled me. If anything, the gay community was the one being marginalized and repressed, not the majority Christian population.

Then it occurred to me, if Jesus had come to Earth, who would he socialize with? Who are the marginalized in our society today?

Jesus never once spoke out against same-sex orientation in his ministry, but he certainly spoke out against divorce. Yet we continue to enroll soldiers and ordain and commission officers who have been divorced once or even twice. I sincerely believe that it is because most straight people have this "yuck" factor when dealing with the gay community, simply because they do not understand them. They don't try to understand them. They don't want to understand them.

If we can enroll soldiers and ordain/commission officers who are twice-divorced, then what about people in committed same-sex relationships? What about trans* people? Nothing even remotely address how we should treat trans* people in any guideline.





I have discovered that I am not alone in my beliefs. I read an article by Major Juan Burry of The Salvation Army in Canada in the Canadian Salvationist magazine that addressed just how marginalized the LGBT community is. Another friend of mine, Major Jason Davies-Kildea, wrote an excellent personal testimony of his own experience and struggle with these issues.

I have also found community online. This has been the most encouraging to me. To have the knowledge that one is not alone in one's beliefs is consoling and encouraging.

Please don't misunderstand my intention. It is not about open rebellion or insubordination. It's about dialogue. Let's talk. Civilly. Let's listen. Let's communicate.

We are the Body of Christ. Let's act like it.

P.S.:  Here's another detailed article that also goes over a Biblical view on same-sex attraction.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My Penance



It was 2006 and my wife and I were stationed in Hanover, Germany. One of our young soldiers, Christoph, was doing a gap year in the United States and helping out at a corps in Michigan. He seemed to be the darling of everyone. He was even featured on the cover of YS, the Army's magazine for young Salvationists. We heard nothing but glowing reports about him.

When he returned, he stopped coming to the corps. We called. He made excuses. He didn't show up. He did live an hour south of Hanover and couldn't come every Sunday, but he had previously come so faithfully. We didn't know what to do.

That year we had homeland furlough. So Camie, our newborn son, Zachary, and I traveled back to the United States. While there, we met with some officers who knew him and we mentioned how we hadn't heard from Christoph in a while. To which they responded, "Christoph really needs to tell you why he isn't coming any more."

I looked perplexed. "Is it because of a girl?" (I knew he had wanted to date some people, including some girls who said they wanted to become officers.)

She replied, "If only it were a girl."

I was dumbstruck. So Christoph was gay.

My wife and I traveled back to Germany and took it upon ourselves to visit Christoph in his home. We were both convinced that we needed to confront him, but lovingly, too. So we traveled down to his place and had a long conversation with him. At the end, we told him that we knew of his orientation and that it wasn't in line with being a Salvation Army soldier. We told him that it would be better if he himself resigned as a soldier.

He did. We thought that would be the end of it, but God had other plans. We kept in loose contact with Christoph. He found a new life in Berlin and went his own way without The Salvation Army. I was sad about it, but thought that there was nothing I could do.

Coming back to the United States, I experienced a complete change in my worldview. I realized slowly that my attitude and the way I had treated Christoph was wrong. Even though I meant to be kind and gentle, what I had done was kick him out of the Community of Believers.

How was this right or correct? How was I showing love to him? I wasn't. By kicking him out, I was in effect telling him that he was not worthy of fellowship with us. I didn't mean to say that. I didn't say it out loud, but my actions spoke louder than words.

Others have spoken better than I have at how wrong it is for Christians to treat the LGBT Community in the way that it has. (For a good beginning, try here.) So one thing I needed to fall back on is the verse from the Bible that has meant so much to me (Deuteronomy 6:5 NASB):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.


All other commandments stem from this, including to love your neighbor as yourself. I was not loving Christoph. I was kicking him out of the family of God.

I had sinned.

With a very heavy heart I wrote to Christoph and told him how very sorry I was. I was wrong. I had treated him wrong. If I had to do it over again, I would have never told him that he needed to leave The Salvation Army.

To his credit (and to my joy), he told me that there was nothing to forgive. He was very surprised by my letter and my change of heart and I am so happy to say that we have had reconciliation with each other.

There are many within my own denomination who disagree with me and disagree passionately; however, I am now acting within my own conscience. I realize that love is the main motivator for serving God and serving others. Love is not merely an emotion, but an action as well.




My penance is now to right the wrongs I have done in my life and to demonstrate to the world that we need to love more than we need to judge. We need to be allies to our friends in the LGBT Community. We need to listen more than we need to talk.

The issue of LGBT inclusion within the Church has become a hot debate in all corners of the Christian world. I feel as if we are in a crucible, awaiting a change for the better for the Church. In this we will be judged by God. Have we shown love to our siblings in the LGBT Community, or have we kicked them out of the Fellowship of Believers?

In the end we need to love. Simply love.

Please note: Christoph has given me permission to tell part of his tale as well. For that, I am grateful.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Tolerated



In my last appointment in Hanover, there were many Salvationists who lived in Germany who were refugees from war-torn places in Africa. Several of them were from the Congo. Their status as refugees was precarious, to say the least.

One of our soldiers, who was Congolese by birth, but had the fortune to become a German citizen, had some relatives who lived in his town, about a half hour south of us. They were all soldiers in The Salvation Army, but were not permitted to travel to Hanover for church services because it meant that they would have to leave their Bezirk (similar to a county).

They didn't have a visa to stay in Germany. In fact, they were one step away from being deported to their country of origin. These refugees had a Duldung. If you mention that to any person who knows German, you will normally see them wince or shake their heads. Duldung means "toleration." These people were "tolerated" to be in Germany. It wasn't a very easy thing to live under a Duldung. One had to register each month with the local police station and immigration office, where it will be reevaluated. One would be allowed to work with a proper work permit, but the employer would have to register each month and verify that their "tolerated" employee was still there. Most employers were very reluctant to hire someone with a Duldung.

With all the paperwork and inconvenience, who could blame them? I felt supremely sorry for these refugees who were simply tolerated. They couldn't work. They had to rely on the State for assistance, and they were under constant threat of being deported back to their country, where things were not always secure or safe.



We are in a world that has been trying to teach tolerance. Now there are those who view tolerance with a wary eye. They view tolerance as being subversive, compromising, or simply beneath them. They have no room for tolerance in their lives. So they show no tolerance. They do not tolerate people of other beliefs, other political views, or other sexual orientations. They show no love.

However, I also do not like the idea of tolerance. This word, which can sometimes have a positive connotation, has a negative one for me. I want to be accepted. I want to be loved. I want to know that I am valued and appreciated for who I am.

I do not want to be simply tolerated.

Jesus said to his disciples, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." (John 15:12) I believe he speaks this to us today, too. Unfortunately, the opposite happens instead and has been boiling to the point where people are leaving the Church. Who could blame them? When people are merely tolerated and not loved, why should they stay?

Are we creating an atmosphere of love and acceptance where we worship? I'm not talking about the songs we sing, how we worship, if we lift our hands in praise, or if we recite liturgy. Do we accept people in our midst? Do we offer friendship to them, no matter who they are or what they look like?

Do we tolerate, or do we love and accept?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Theologically Bad Scripture




One of my favorite musicals is Godspell. It is a modern day telling of the Gospel of Matthew (mostly, with elements of Luke thrown in there, too). One of the most beautiful songs in this musical is "On the Willows." It is taken from one of the most gut-wrenching psalms in the Bible, Psalm 137 (NASB).

137 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, “Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.”
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.


The last verse slapped me in the face when I first read it. This is not a Psalm that one teaches in Sunday School to our children, but let's face it:  There are so many passages in Scripture that are difficult to deal with and to explain to young people. We have incest, polygamy, infanticide, genocide, public executions, and physical mutilations; these are all condoned by Scripture in some way or another.

It is often helpful to look at this Scripture in its context. In the year 586 BC, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians, including the Temple built by Solomon. This was a huge psychological blow to the Israelis. They had assumed that Jerusalem was some magic "safe place." Although the rest of the country was being conquered around them, no one thought that Jerusalem itself would be conquered.

Not only did the Babylonians conquer Jerusalem, they also sent the inhabitants into exile and put other displaced people in Judah in its place (the foundation of the Samaritan people). The Babylonians did this for 2 reasons. The most obvious reason was to confuse the exiles in a country that was not their own. They would have to either survive or die in exile.

The second reason for sending the Israelis into exile was to separate them from Yahweh, their God. The Babylonians felt that if you separated the people from the land, their gods could not seek revenge on them. However, in order to honor the gods of that land, they had the new inhabitants learn about their gods and how to worship them. (Again, this was the beginning of the Samaritans.)

This unknown Psalmist is crying out from her/his agony. He/she had just witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. Their neighbors, the Edomites, were having a bit of Schadenfreude at the Israelis' expense. Worse than that, the Babylonian soldiers in a bit of disturbing sport, were killing the stragglers along the route to Babylon, including the babies.

This explains the terrifying verse:  "How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock."

It explains the verse, but does it condone it?

One thing to bear in mind is that the Psalms are not always theologically sound. They are full of emotion, pain, anguish, joy, happiness, longing. So while many times they express truths that speak of the goodness of God (like in Psalm 8), there are others, such as this Psalm, that speak more of the heartache of the Psalmist and not something one should use to condone infanticide.

Other Scripture passages are often taken out of context, to be used to support one's particular view, without even looking at it in its broader context, including historical, archeological, and even theological. Luke 22:38 is often used by those advocating for loose gun laws to support their claim that it is OK to kill in self-defense. They choose to ignore the vast majority of sayings by Christ, including turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and Jesus' own example of not defending himself from his crucifixion.

Another prime example is Psalm 109:8. This verse has been used by many conservative Christians for their "prayer" for President Barack Obama:  "Let his days be few; Let another take his office." However, I hear no one pray Psalm 109:9 for him:  "Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow."



The constant danger is that we try to make Scripture speak what we believe rather than let Scripture speak for itself. This is irregardless of our worldview. We need to bear in mind the culture, time period, and most importantly the language of the time. Even native born Greek and Hebrew speakers have a difficult time understanding those 2000 year old texts. Think about it. Remember the first time you read Shakespeare? It wasn't exactly the easiest thing to read and that is not even 400 years old, let alone 2000. Maybe something that we can learn from Islam is that they only consider the Qur'an to be holy and authentic in the language that it was written in:  Arabic. Much is lost in translation in Hebrew and Greek.

So what do I do with Psalm 137? I realize that this was written out of a pain and hurt that I can scarcely begin to imagine. I realize that the writer experienced a loss few of us have endured. I also realize that he/she was wrong in wishing the deaths of innocent Babylonian babies. At the same time, I understand that he/she wrote this Psalm to God, expressing the hurt and anguish that the whole nation was going through. This is the proper context of the pain. This is the one to whom we should cry out our frustrations, pain, and anger:  to God.

He can take it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review of "Torn" by Justin Lee



I am very much a latecomer to reviewing this book. Others have done so and perhaps more eloquently than I have done. However, this is a book worthy to read and worthy to review.

This book is very much semi-autobiographical. It is a testimony of one young man's struggle to find himself and still remain in the faith he grew up in, the faith in which he continues to maintain.

Probably one of the reasons that this book is so engaging is the fact that it is personal. Justin Lee tells his own story, his struggles, and his thought processes. Telling your own story draws the reader in more powerfully sometimes than telling the testimony of someone else.

What do you do when you suddenly realize that you are attracted to the same sex, but your Church says that this is a sin? He explored and tried everything. What is perhaps interesting is the fact that Justin never had a same-sex encounter when he discovered he was gay. He talked to his pastor, who got him involved in their church's double secret Homosexuals Anonymous group. This was a sad affair of men trying to help each other out, trying to even find a semblance of heterosexual attraction. That didn't work.

He then went to several ex-gay ministries. He calls them "ex-gay" because they in no way even try create a sense of heterosexual attraction for their clients. They are simply trying to get rid of the unwanted same-sex attractions. These organizations seem to say that it's the upbringing of a broken home and a distant father that leads to same-sex orientation. However, Justin had a loving father and a good home upbringing. Nothing was further from the truth. At one of these conferences, he even met a gentleman (and father of someone who was in the LGBT Community) who said that he came from a broken home with an absent father. For all intents and purposes, he should be gay, but he was straight. So where was the logic in that argument?

What saved Justin, though, was the fact that he found community. He found other LGBT Christians who longed for community, especially as Christians, which they weren't finding in the Church. Thus the Gay Christian Network was born.

Probably one of the most poignant moments in the book is where Justin Lee describes his realization that he is gay with the struggles of Job. It is not his own struggles that matter, but the response of his community of faith. Thirty-nine chapters in Job deal with the theologically false statements of Jobs' friends. I had always concentrated on Job's plight and the response from God. Basically, Job states, "I'm innocent! Why are you punishing me?" and God's response is, "I'm God. Who are you to question me?" However, the majority of the book deals with the negative response of the friends and how Job must be wrong, not even once entertaining the idea that there was another answer.

We in the Church who have tossed out our LGBT siblings are Job's three friends.

How can I say this? How can I with enormous confidence say this? On page 238, Justin's probably harshest critique of the Church is as follows:  "Because most churches currently teach that gay sex is contrary to God's will, we'd expect that at least those churches would support their gay members in living a celibate life. In practice, unfortunately, that is usually not the case."

My own denomination, The Salvation Army, accepts that same-sex orientation is not a sin, but that same-sex marriages are outside of God's will. (This Position Statement is one that I personally reject.) I know from personal experience that there is absolutely no support for LGBT members to lead a celibate life. There have been no workshops at Congresses (denominational gatherings), no special groups established for young adults/teens at our Youth Councils, no special classes at our Training Colleges for ministering to the LGBT community. When I was at our Training College, we had a gay speaker come to us from Exodus International, but we all know what happened to that organization. They stopped their "reparative" therapies and then disbanded.

I should, however, give one caveat that there are those at our College for Officer Training who have been involved in the Marin Foundation and have done ministry during Chicago's Gay Pride Parade. I applaud that. Other than this aforementioned ministry done at our Training College, there is no official ministry to our own members who self-identify as being a part of the LGBT community.

We may say that LGBT people are called to live a celibate life. We do nothing to support them in this on a denominational level. There may be some officers here and there who have taken it upon themselves to help at an individual level, but these people are unknown to me. I can only speak on what happens at a denominational level. In this we are hypocrites.

In our group, the Progressive Salvationist, we have a dialogue relating to how we can best be a support for those in the LGBT community, especially those in our denomination. This has been a wonderful community of mutual support.

There is a ray of hope:  Dialogue. Real dialogue. This is what Justin Lee recommends. Sitting down and actively listening. This is an art form that most have forgotten, especially in the age of Social Media when all we do is react to posts instead of acknowledging and listening. (I am guilty as the next person in this.) Listening involves waiting for someone to finish, acknowledging what he/she said, and then talking when they are ready.

Conversation. Dialogue. This is what can heal the Church so that we aren't Torn anymore.