Jesus Talk

for the least of these

I’m not even going to try and say that I don’t normally do this, because everyone who knows me knows that I do. But the whole US Syrian refugee thing is really starting to piss me off. And the reason is that all these “Christian” politicians are talking absolute garbage and straight up fear mongering. I mean, think about this situation realistically for a minute. What if these people weren’t “evil Muslims” seeking shelter in our country? What if it was you? What if a crazy, murderous cult on a bloody rampage operated out of your country? Wouldn’t you want to get your family as far away from that as possible? Of course you would, and that’s why this whole “national security” defense for turning away refugees is honestly the stupidest thing I’ve heard of.

In Matthew 25 Jesus says this:

And the King will answer them,

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me...

          And Truly, I say to you, as you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

What are we supposed to make of that in this situation? What would Jesus do if He were physically on this earth right now? I think that He would want to welcome these people.

Because here’s the thing: we’re called to love sacrificially. If sacrificing a little of our own security and a little of our own paranoia to love on people who need it most is too much for us, then how can we call ourselves followers of Christ? Besides, you are crazy if you think that every refugee coming into this country is a terrorist in disguise. Yes, there’s a chance that one might slip in, but at least for Christians, what’s more important, our own comfort and our own security, or the testimony that we show the world? Because if support the turning away of people who need our help, we’re basically raising a banner that says we value our own comfort and our own peace of mind more than the literal lives of people who are trying to escape a murderous cult.

I’ll say this again in this post because I feel like it’s worth repeating. I might write angry posts every once in a while, but it’s only because it breaks my heart that people are being turned away when they literally have no one else to go to. And not only is that horrible in and of itself, but it also paints our God and our Jesus in the same colors.

And this is why I feel like Christians should be the biggest group of supporters for helping these refugees, these people that have fled their own countries because they no longer feel safe there. We like to say that we’re the body of Christ and that we’re the hands and feet of Jesus, but how can we continue to declare that if we don’t actually do anything of substance with our lives? Do we think that our God cannot protect us if we open up our borders to welcome in His children at the risk of exposing ourselves to danger?

“For God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”

  • 2 Timothy 1:7

If our hope and our salvation have been assured because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, why, then, do we continue to fear people that can only destroy bodies and buildings? That fear shouldn't get in the way of doing what we’re supposed to do: loving people the way Jesus would, even if that means risking some of our own safety to do it.

“And do not fear those who kill only the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

  • Matthew 10:28

We need to stop treating ‘what would Jesus do?’ as a hypothetical question, because we have the opportunity to practice that in this day and age.

Anyway, I’ve ranted for long enough already in this post. But I’m being so serious. I feel like so many of us continue to treat the Gospel and Jesus’ words like they’re hypotheticals, like we need a neatly delineated, signed mission statement in order to do anything worthwhile in our lives. There are so many things that we can do right now, right here, without any special training or special equipment. You don’t need to be trained in how to have compassion or how to love people. You just do it.

So think about some of those things in the days that come. What are the real reasons that we oppose things? Because fear is not a legitimate excuse. That says we don’t believe our God is big enough or powerful enough to handle what the world He created might throw at us. And then what would Jesus actually do? That’s not a hypothetical question. That’s how we should be living our lives. Because that’s how people will see Jesus, not by our cheap words or our politics or our theology, but by our actions.

So let’s maybe try and actually be the hands and feet of Jesus as the world continues to give us more opportunities to show off the God that we serve.

it's good to be alive

Hmm. Well, I figured that since I haven’t been around in a good month, now would be as good a time as ever to update the blog a little. (I’m blaming the whole craziness/wonder/excitement/what have you of studying abroad for the lack of consistent blog activity.) Today officially marks day 80 of our #100daysinSpain, meaning that we have so little time remaining in this adventure. It’s been an absolutely wild ride. Since my last post, we’ve traveled to both the north and south of Spain, getting to see the cities of Córdoba, Sevilla, Málaga, Granada, and Barcelona over the course of 9 days, which was incredible and fueled many an Instagram, which I’m sure the world is well aware of at this point in life. We’ve gotten to walk along beaches in November, watch a flamenco tablao, visit one of the most famous (and still currently under construction) basilicas in the world, visit the site of the 1992 Olympics, and visit Hillsong Church Barcelona among a myriad of other exploits. It’s honestly unbelievable to think about, even writing this blog post. So, yeah, studying abroad, I would highly recommend that. You won’t regret it for a second.

But amidst all of our adventures, there’s also been a lot of time for reflection, which is something that continues to surprise me about Spain Term. I never would have thought I’d have so much down time to just think about life and the world and the things that God is doing in our lives on a semester of study abroad. That’s just not really what you picture when you think about it.

Hence, we’ve arrived at the title of this blog post. One overwhelming thought that I’ve had over the past few days is that it’s so good to be alive right now, a thought that while simple, encapsulates so many different things in so many different contexts. It also happens to be the title of a really good (albeit a little older) Jason Gray song that you should probably listen to at some point in the near future.

First of all, it’s good to be alive because we still have a few weeks left before we return stateside, and while I’m definitely excited to go home, I’m just not sure I’m quite ready yet. So I’m thankful that we still have a little time left in this wonderfully little city that we’ve been so fortunate to call home for the last 80 days. Yes, Minneapolis, I miss you, but Segovia still has me for a little longer.

And it’s good to be alive because there’s still this amazing sense of wonder that you feel when you get to walk past a 2000 year old aqueduct every day on your way to and from class, an aqueduct that is still standing and still functioned until the 19th century. If that’s not crazy and if it’s not good to be alive in a city like this, then I think you need to reevaluate your life expectations.

It’s good to be alive when you get the opportunity to worship with a body of believers 3000 miles away from home in a church that shares a familiar name. That might be a little cliché, but I still it speaks to a little piece of what the church is supposed to look like, a body of people united around the world, able to love and welcome people in just because you already share that one common denominator. Yeah, they didn’t really like our selfie taking, but hey, it was freaking Hillsong. Also, the church may or may not have met in a club off hours, so that’s also a thing.

Even more, it's good to be alive in the purest sense after having turned in a paper written about the first time you were suicidal and how you got to that point. It's so good to be alive knowing that at one point you weren't sure if you wanted to be anymore, if it was worth it to keep living or not. It's good to be alive when you reflect on some of the darkest times and places in your life, knowing that you were fighting a war and knowing that you won, that you overcame the things that told you that death was the better option. It's good to be alive.

And you know that it was all worth it and that it truly is  good to be alive when you get to experience love in a variety of its forms, whether that’s getting coffee as a group in a cozy Spanish cafe, getting random texts from your host mom, linking arms with a friend as you walk home through misty cobblestone streets, being able to spend a solid hour and a half in an empty house with worship music, your best friend freaking out when she realizes you can indeed text her from Spain, having the Lord speak to you to reaffirm that you are loved and chosen, and even just being able to actively love others without expecting anything or feeling like you need anything in return. Because sometimes it’s satisfying enough just to put yourself out there, letting someone know that you care about them and love them, and realizing in retrospect that’s just a taste of the kind of reckless love that Jesus has for us, the kind of love that compels someone to willingly give up their life in a brutal death because that’s how much they love. Because love does and as one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes goes, because love is vulnerable.

So, yeah, some people might say, look at the times and what this world is coming to, but I say what a time to be alive. This day and age is full of sights to see, moments to seize, people to meet, and opportunities to love. And maybe that sounds a little naive, but I think that sometimes we need to view all the problems in the world as opportunities for us, as the hands and feet of Jesus, to go out there and do something about it.

Because yes, study abroads will end, final projects will creep up, times and circumstances will change, maybe that person won’t love you back, maybe you’re dying of exhaustion today, whatever. At the end of the day, we have a God who tells us that we are wanted, that we are loved, that we are chosen, that we are purchased by His blood, and that He calls us His own.

So, in light of that, I think that for now, I’ll continue to say that it’s good to be alive.

Oh, look, here's that song. You're welcome.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4omFQJEAAVc

the fingerprints of God on a "secular" society

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Tonight when I go to bed, we will have already spent 12 amazing days in the beautiful country of España, meaning that we’re already more than 10% done with our 105 total days on Spain Term (I know it’s not exactly 100 days like the hashtag, but hey)! Isn’t that crazy? It feels like there’s no way that we’ve been here this long, but at the same time, it feels like we’ve already been here for a month. And that makes absolutely no sense, but I’m sure everyone has experienced that sensation at one point in life or another. Recap:

Anyway, for this update, I want to talk a little about finding Jesus in the little things around you and appreciating the fact everyone single one of the 7 billion people on this planet was made in the image of God. It’s just something that I’ve been thinking about for a day or two. But first! Update!

So like I said, we’ll have been here for 12 days tonight, and that’s absolutely insane. We haven’t even had a real full week of classes yet, because we didn’t start until Wednesday last week, and we don’t have class tomorrow because our group is traveling to Madrid for the weekend! (Classes canceled for excursions? Count me in.)

However, at the same time, I definitely feel like I’m starting to get into a rhythm here. I’m over jetlag. I don’t get lost walking to and from class anymore. I think I’m understanding and speaking Spanish a little better after a week and a half. I finally figured out how to get the temperamental key to my house to work so my host mom doesn’t have to let me in every day, and I can even make my way to a couple of shops and a couple of the panaderías (bakeries) by myself! So I’d say that it’s been a pretty good learning experience so far, and sometimes it even feels like I’m adulting (but let’s be real, who am I kidding?).

Finally, my small group finally got everything figured out for fall break!! At least concerning flights & lodging, so that’s really exciting!! More updates to come about that! So stay tuned.

Thoughts:

So, anyway, my thoughts this week have been revolving around balance, and specifically how to continue connecting with God over the course of this semester in a secular society (which is what so many people kept saying to describe the spiritual atmosphere in Spain, not my own words, haha). But after having been here for a little over a week, I think that a lot of people possibly misunderstand what secular really means, because that word has a lot of strong negative connotations for American Christians. I think that oftentimes, people imagine “secular societies” to be Bible burning, religion hating societies where everyone is an atheist and you’ll be persecuted if you subscribe to any sort of religion (at least in my most horrible extrapolations of what that word means). But in reality, it just means that most people don’t really care for religion. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be warm, hospitable people who can still bring light even if they don’t necessarily believe.

And the reason that I want to talk about this is that I think that, much too often, Christians get way too caught up in labels and what their preconceived notions tell them that certain descriptors mean. After all, what kind of things come to mind when you hear or see the words ‘democrat,’ ‘republican,’ ‘secular,’ ‘religious,’ ‘gay,’ ‘straight,’ ‘communism,’ ‘laissez-faire,’ and other things like that? I’m sure that depending on your upbringing, you would lump some of those words into the ‘good’ category and others into the ‘bad’ category, just because of the connotations they hold, and I for one, think that’s the wrong way to approach things. I think that we need to start really understanding people and things before we make rash judgments about them.

As my classical literature professor told our class earlier this week, “fascism, communism, and socialism aren’t bad in and of themselves. True, they might not necessarily work out in a given society, but we only attribute negative labels to these things because of the bad people that advocated for them.” I think that’s a really important thing to remember in general. Yeah, some people in the past may have taken secularism to the extreme by outlawing religion and hunting down Christians and others and stuff like that, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything inherently evil about secularism in and of itself. After all, countries like Iran are theocratic nations where the government and laws abide by a specific religion, and we don’t think that’s good either. Sometimes, a secular state is the best incubator for religious liberty, because it ensures that no specific one is elevated above the others.

So, I got a little off topic, but basically, I want those of you reading to start to think about why we have certain connotations associated with certain words and certain labels and whether or not those connotations and labels are correct or not. Does secular have to equate to evil? Does democrat and liberal have to equate to bad? What about gay and straight? Do those by nature have to be good or bad?

Let me leave you with this.

For our semester here in Spain, all of us are staying with different host families, one student per family. When we arrived, all of our host families came to greet us and take us back to our homes for the rest of the semester. As the stereotype suggested, many of these host moms and dads aren’t religious. They don’t believe in God, or they do, but don’t really do anything about it. They don’t go to church. They might not even have a single Bible in their houses.

But they were excited to see us when we arrived, and I daresay that they loved us even before we got there or as soon as they saw us. And a lot of these people may or may not be Christians.

My one friend’s host mom grabbed her hand as soon as she saw her and had joy on her face as she talked with the onsite director of our program, asking about my friend in third person as she stood there, seeing if she had any allergies, seeing if she needed anything special, and saying how excited she was to have her staying with her.

This woman was so joyful and excited about a random American college student who she didn’t know, who didn’t speak the same native language, and who was different in so many ways. But the thing was that none of that mattered, and it was beautiful. There aren’t a lot of words to describe that.

And the thing is, I think that a lot of American Christians (myself included) could learn a lot from that situation. Our host families and host parents hardly knew anything about us before we arrived. All they had was names, not even pictures, unless we had sent them beforehand. All they knew was that we were coming to spend three and a half months living in the country that they called home and to learn their language. That was all they needed to be joyful and excited about our arrival, the anticipation that they were going to get to know us and get to share some of their lives, their history, their culture, their language, and their country with us.

In my own opinion, I think that’s how Christians should approach the world. Instead of constantly trying to win political or theological debates, or trying to convince people that they’re sinners in need of repentance, I think that we would probably do a lot better by adopting the mentality of our Spanish host families. We might not know anything at all about the people that we’re going to meet over the course of our lives, but what we do know is that we have an incredible story of grace, redemption, and love to share with them. We have a history and a faith that stretches back thousands of years, and we have a God and a Friend who loves us so deeply that He sacrificed His own life in order to save ours. I think that warrants some joy and excitement on our part, don’t you? So shouldn’t we be excited and joyful to be able to share some of our lives, our history, our culture, our language (holla at Christianese), and our love with people?

To that end, I think this comparison is warranted. Part of the reason that we’re doing so well in Spain is that we see these people and we want to be a part of this country and a part of this language community from what we see in them.

In the same way, if people looked at us, would they want to be a part of this? Would they want to be Christians and involved in churches judging solely from what they saw of us? Or would they crunch up their faces and start walking the other way because they didn’t want to be associated with us?

I think it’s time that Christians started being more vibrant about their faith, overflowing with joy and loving with the abandon that draws people in, rather than pushing people away with debates and disputes.

Who knew that I’d be learning so much about Jesus, faith, and how to live authentically in such a “secular” country? It appears as if even “secular” countries can be covered in the fingerprints of God. They were all created by Him weren’t they?

Haha, well until next time! Hasta luego!

Finding Love in Weed, Abortion, and Other "Christian" Controversies

This summer has honestly been crazy, surprising, and unexpected in a lot of not good ways, but I thought that after a series of negative posts, I would write about something a little more positive just to shake things up a bit. Here’s a little context before I get into it: I’ve been spending the past two months in Grand Forks, North Dakota studying “linguistics” at this summer program that is closely tied with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I’m here because it’s technically a part of the requirements for my major at Bethel (which is seriously screwed up, and I’m pretty sure the only reason no one has complained before us is that there have been like 4 linguistics majors since Bethel introduced the program). Anyway, it basically sucks, and they’re not really teaching us linguistics. They’re teaching us all this watered down, proprietary stuff that’s used for Bible translation. Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but the fact of the matter is that we weren’t informed that’s what we were getting ourselves into, so it’s sort of frustrating that we spent a lot of time, money, etc. on a program that isn’t really benefitting us in any way. So that’s the backdrop of this summer.

Aside from a drastically less than satisfactory experience at summer school, this season has been trying in a lot of other ways, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It’s really just been a super brutal two months, and I also have been working through that no church experiment that I started at the beginning of the summer (which I’ve actually cheated on, which is the inspiration for this post).

SO, the positivity.

Last weekend, on the heels of two weeks of really difficult news, I was back home (I go home like every weekend, because Grand Forks just sucks that bad), and I was invited to go to church with some of my good friends from high school/college/PSEO/whatever. Anyhow, I was sort of hesitant to go, because I was on my church fasting experiment and also because the church was 40 minutes away from my house. But I wanted to see my friends, and I also figured that it was probably a little more acceptable to cheat on this experiment. So, I went.

And…honestly…it was really great.

The service itself was pretty standard, the vibes a good mix between the smaller church that it was and the megachurch vibes that I’d experienced before. But that wasn’t what really hit me. It was the people, which was something that I really wasn’t expected.

Now, granted, I was visiting with friends, which meant I already had my in, so to speak, since she was introducing us to everyone. But at the same time, I felt a genuine warmth and acceptance from everyone that we were introduced to that I hadn’t felt in a church in a while. That was pretty cool.

Their spirit of hospitality was so that we were all invited to go to lunch with people from this church that we had just met an hour ago after the service. Again, I was hesitant about this, because I just wasn’t at a point in life where I had disposable social energy for mingling with people that I didn’t know. But again, my friends were going, so I decided to go as well. And I think that was probably one of the best decisions that I made that day.

Over lunch, they started off with just regular small talk, lunch conversation stuff, but after everyone was mostly through eating, one of the guys there, who also happened to be the worship leader and youth pastor for the high school students got us into a more serious conversation. He told us a little about what he was going to be talking to the high schoolers about that night and just opened the floor/table for discussion.

So, for the next 45 minutes or so, we talked about a bunch of super “controversial Christian” topics. We talked about drugs. We talked about abortion. We talked about the Supreme Court ruling and same-sex marriage and relationships, and for the first time in a really long time, I didn’t feel an anger boiling up inside me as these other Christians that I barely knew gave their opinions and beliefs on these topics.

Honestly, I was floored.

The frequency at which I find myself a part of such authentic, caring, nuanced discussions on any three of those topics, let alone all three, is next to never, which is why I found myself drawn to these people. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend with them, since it was Sunday and I had to return to the dreaded Grand Forks that afternoon, but I had really wanted to be able to stay and talk with them more, because it was honestly incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that conversation in real life before. I’m being 100% serious.

The worship leader/youth pastor’s wife talked about the super real contradiction between pro-life activists wanting women to give birth, but also refusing to support programs that help mothers after they’ve given birth, oftentimes leading those children to grow up on destructive paths. She talked about how it’s so interesting that supposedly pro-life Christians also support the death penalty. And she was what most of us would call a “real adult.” People usually chalk up opinions like that to liberal, progressive college kids, but here was a real person giving a nuanced, informed, and consistent opinion on a topic that many Christians believe is black and white.

And then the worship leader/youth pastor himself told us about a talk that he had given the senior high students on same-sex relationships/marriage and the Supreme Court ruling. I was surprised to discover that he had read them both the Side A and Side B arguments off of the Gay Christian Network website, two essays that I’ve read several times myself. Again, here was a person in real life who actually cared enough to read stories and opinions about real gay Christians without beating them over the head with the Bible.

And the best thing is that his doing that really affected people in that church. He got people questioning what they believed, especially since he noted that many of the people in that church didn’t have LGBT friends or know any LGBT people personally. His reading of those two essays got people thinking, and it personalized something that had only been an issue before. And some people started wondering if what they had believed before was really the right thing. They started asking themselves if they were on the wrong side, for lack of a better term. That’s crazy to me.

Even though he eventually told us that he still personally holds to the traditional views of marriage and relationships, my mind was still blown (seriously) by that story, especially when he admitted that it’s really between people and God on matters like that. I don’t think I can fully express how blindsided I was by the sheer love, grace, and respect that was present throughout that entire conversation. It was honestly one of the coolest things that I’ve experienced in my life. I’m 100% confident in saying that was one of the few times that I genuinely experienced a group of relatively conservative Christians from the suburbs of Minnesota speaking so lovingly and relationally on a topic that they don’t wrestle with personally. The amount of Jesus that was shining through them at that moment was surreal, and they didn’t even know that I was gay when they were talking about it.

Crazy. Absolute madness.

I mean, I think that there are plenty of stories out there about people accidentally offending other people when they talk so bluntly and insensitively about a topic that they don’t know someone else has to deal with, but for the first time in my life, I was genuinely and completely surprised by the way that they talked about it, and I want to say that it was probably that situation in reverse. And that’s the coolest part.

In that situation, in that conversation, you could see and you could tell that they really loved the people that they were talking about, regardless of whether or not they actually knew an LGBT person personally. You could tell that they were wrestling with it and putting themselves in the shoes of the people they were talking about. You could hear them admitting and understanding how difficult and complex an issue it must be. And that’s just straight up insane.

I literally (correct usage, thank you) can’t get over how surreal and insane that situation was, and I’m so thankful that the legends are true and that there are still Christians who operate like that. It gives me hope that someday all Christians will be able to have loving, respectful conversations about things they don’t agree with, and it gives me hope that someday Christians will be known for their love, and that their love would just be understood by their actions and their words. It gives me hope that someday Christians won’t have to say that they’re “speaking the truth in love,” because people will already feel loved just by being in their presence. After all, the saying goes that if you have to tell someone you’re a hipster, you’re not a hipster. In the same vein, I would say that if you have to tell someone that you’re loving them, you’re not.

So, that’s my positive story for the week and my shout out to that church for reflecting Jesus in real life.

I only hope that this kind of love truly is contagious, because the kind of love those people were showing can change lives, and I’m sure they already have.

Calm Down; Religious Liberty is Intact & God Isn't Going to Judge America

Alright, alright. I need to get some things off my chest. As you may have gathered from the title of this post, I'm not very amused by the fact that conservatives everywhere are bellyaching about the fact that the church is being persecuted and that this is the beginning of the end for religious liberty in the United States of America. Honestly, there is absolutely no reason for all of those people to be getting thrown into a frenzy because of a new equality law. And no, this is not the beginning of a downward moral spiral for this nation. Sorry.As Cory notes in his piece on Bedlam, the main problem here is that the church just plain isn't used to not getting its way on things like this. I hesitate to use the word "lost" because it implies that there are sides, but frankly, the church "lost" a battle that it thought it needed to win. So now, there are all these people claiming that God is going to judge our country and judge us for allowing these terrible morals into the legal system.

The only thing is that guarding the legal system was never the job of Christians. Our job is not to keep the government in check, making sure that it only passes laws that we approve of. Our job is not to impose our own religious beliefs on the entire nation. That is what will cause the downfall of religious liberty.

Because do you know what that sounds like? I'm not saying anything bad about Muslims, because we are called to love them unconditionally as well, but that sounds like the situation in a lot of Middle Eastern countries that most Christians would not approve of. There, Muslim religious and moral laws are imposed on everyone, regardless of whether they follow Islam or not. Most people agree that isn't right, so why is it any different here? The answer is that it isn't.

Also, it is my personal belief that any Christian who says that God is going to judge our country for allowing this law to be passed should stop. Why? Because it's just not true. I wholeheartedly believe that.

The reason for that is twofold.

First of all, I just do not believe that God consciously judges individual countries or people groups in the present day. I believe that ended in the Old Testament. And the reason I believe that is because God has opened His arms to all nations of the world. He wants there to be Christians from every nation and every people group. Believers no longer come from one single nation, and sorry to break it to anyone, but the United States is not the epicenter of Christianity. It just isn't. God's plan doesn't revolve around the United States, so it just doesn't make any sense whatsoever for Him to judge this country just because we happened to pass a law that a lot of people happen to disagree with.

Second, I believe that the fact that this country exists presently is also a sign that God isn't going to judge us simply for passing a marriage equality law. In case you didn't know, the United States has a pretty messy history. We aren't the white saviors of the world like some people might like to believe.

To start off, this country basically exists because several different European countries systematically committed genocide of the countless Native American groups that occupied the Western Hemisphere for years before they arrived. Those people were made in the image of God.

Next, this country allowed people to be enslaved and treated as property all because of the color of their skin. They were persecuted and treated as less than human because of their outward appearance. Those people were made in the image of God.

Then, women weren't allowed to vote or participate in the governmental sphere because they were deemed to be less intelligent and inferior to men. People thought that they wouldn't be able to handle it. That was less than 100 years ago. Those people were made in the image of God.

Having said all of that, I think that if God has allowed our country to remain standing after genocides, enslavements, and treating other people as if they are less than human for one reason or another, I wholeheartedly believe that our country will be fine after simply passing a law that gives everyone equal legal rights as everyone else.

So today, another group of people is being treated as fully human, meanwhile, anyone is still perfectly free to disagree with us, so religious liberties are still intact. And this is great, because we are made in the image of God too.

That's my take on the status of America.

Good day.