On Justice and Jesus… an invitation…

On Justice and Jesus… an invitation…

I teach a weekly Bible study at a community college and this semester we are doing a series on Justice.

We’ve discussed the 4 types of people this study is designed for:

  1. Those who want to do justice but don’t know how. “I try to help out whenever I can, but I’m not really sure how to make this a lifestyle”.
  2. Those who are suspicious about getting involved in justice. “All of this has become too political, it’s best to steer clear”.
  3. Christians who practice justice and neglect the gospel for the sake of justice. “I do the right thing; I’m not here to bring my faith into this”.
  4. Those suspicious of religion’s role in general. “Religion promotes injustice, violence and intolerance. It is to be avoided and separated from all measures of justice”. *

As a Christ follower, campus minister and criminologist by trade, it should come as no surprise the subject is near and dear to me. I am by no means an expert on all things but I learned a thing or two about discerning research in grad school. I’m continually learning to listen while at the same realizing the universal hope found in the gospel. All that to say, I’m unapologetically faith-driven while seeing absolutely no strain between faith and facts.

My hope is to contribute to the conversation from the unique perspective my identity and experiences afford me.

So if the above categories are you, I’d love to hear your initial thoughts and opinions throughout.

Here’s to doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God

* The study has been developed from Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice and follows its outline. The blog posts may follow that outline while adding research and other thoughts.
I’m politically upset.

I’m politically upset.

Yes, I’m upset. Yes, I know cooler heads should prevail. Yes, I know the Lord is sovereign. And yes, I realize Hillary has faults I get upset about too. But this is about my frustration over the remaining evangelical support of Trump. There are some people I know and love who are supporting him for a myriad of reasons. I may feel strongly about this but my intention is not to be unkind. This simply cannot be who we are.

Donald Trump’s public statements, both past and present, show no calculation or deliberation.

A human being that has unremorsefully owned and proliferated casinos and strip clubs has a very weak understanding of “sanctity of life” or the family.

A person who states that a federal judge, who is trained to abide by constitutional law and has a record of impartiality even under threat to his own safety, cannot do his job because of his cultural heritage is not to be trusted to choose others to abide by constitutional law.

A man who is praised for “working the tax law” to protect his own wealth and name while working, middle class people are drowning in tax debt is callous.

A candidate who has gone against counsel when making public statements or holding controversial press conferences very clearly shows he does what he wants.

Blaming decades-, even centuries-old complex conflicts on one administration shows little insight or interests in complexities.

Our enemies are afraid of him? So am I.

As a former social worker, I’m afraid of a man who is not afraid to exploit people for personal gain.

As a Latina, I’m afraid I’d never be taken seriously by his administration because of my background.

As a woman, I’d be afraid to turn my back lest he make remarks and dismiss them as locker room banter.

As a Christian, I’d be afraid he’d work any socially conservative leanings I may have to his advantage– namely, winning.

As an American, I’m afraid he would use socially damaging means (and be labeled ingenious) to “fix” our economy, not believing that what is good for the economy may not necessarily be good for society.

He cannot be trusted to be for us because he does not have that record. If we are forced into a binary choice (which we are not as has happened twice in American history when Congress had to choose a president because candidates failed to get a majority of electoral votes), my one defense will be that I tried to stop him because of his assaults against the Imago Dei with the insults, systemic manipulations, dismissiveness, boasts of assault and arrogance that are explicitly devoid of any kind of blessing mentioned in Scripture.

Jesus taught that character matters more than unfounded verbal principles and called those who stuck to the latter “brood of vipers” and “white washed tombs”.

I think that makes “deplorable” sound pretty benign.

Deathbed thoughts.

Deathbed thoughts.

In August of 2016, I found myself by my grandmother’s side when she passed away. Toward the end I was getting up every 4 hours to give her medication and sing her a medley of hymns. It was a hard joy I can’t quite describe but here are some thoughts hours before she went Home… 
It’s a bit of a surreal experience for someone to be passing next to you. While your body is functioning in unnoticed ways, someone else is stopping. While we obsess with trivial things and plan the not-so-trivial things like those we pray will be eternal investments, every thing has a much different perspective from here.
The trivial is obvious: the greater the previous obsession, the greater the present regret.
The eternal investment is another story. The contentment, hope and yes, joy, are starkly magnified against the very real grief and sorrow. Those of us that are living in Christ and lose someone in Christ are left with the ultimate bitter-sweetness.
But what sweetness. Hope and life and love eternal. For this Christ came– that we may have life and life eternal. That hope may not be found in something we will regret on our deathbed but is found in the One who was raised from His deathbed.
Death is not the final say and I can see that from here.
death_page

“O death, where is your victory?! O death, where is your sting?!”… But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless… – 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58.

A soft return

A soft return

As a petite person my entire life, the only things big about me are:

  1. My hair. God help me.
  2. My opinion.

    FullSizeRender
    I’m the child under the hair.

So I haven’t been too busy to form opinions about life. Said life has been busy and frankly, I’ve been lazy with this blog.

I make no promises of a permanent return to the public sphere of writing.

The following is a blog post because it was originally a Facebook response to an article titled “University President Blasts ‘victimized’ students: ‘This is not daycare!‘”

No one reads long responses, myself included. I’ll say that again: no one reads long responses, no matter how heartfelt or how much YOU SCREAM. I say that in love, judgment and shame as a repeat offender. Except for the screaming part. I’m not a screamer.

Here is my response:

As an aside, I think it’s important to remember the university president is talking primarily about a sermon, a discourse that is intentionally meant to provoke a response and application.

I agree with 95% of the article.

I’ve seen entitlement with college, high school students and myself. But there’s a problem when students bring up a legitimate problem with legitimate, documented proof and are relegated to have “open dialogue” with themselves with little to no faculty support, action or, worse, an accusation of entitlement and self-victimization.

Students need to know that differing opinions and hurt feelings alone do not entitle anyone to protection. People will feel bad sometimes. And sometimes they should. It’s life.

However, when differing opinions are hurled intentionally as insults or used to bar equal access (explicit barring, not perceived), then being told to “suck it up” is gagging and marginalizing.

In this particular case, the sermon was on 1 Corinthians 13– a universally challenging passage on how to love, with verse 5 telling us “[love] is not rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth…

The world is rude, insists on its own way and is irritable and resentful. I’m all for “making the world a better place” but you first have to see things as they are.

If we’re called to love then we’re called to not be rude, irritable or resentful with the world for acting like the world.

But love also demands justice. We can’t ignore the call to “rejoice with the truth” simply because we find that truth unsettling.

Students must exhibit truth and the burden of proof falls on those bringing the fault to light (and burden is proof is not be confused with some burden of relative perception). Otherwise, students must kindly suck it up and pay their entry-level dues like everyone else. Sounds harsh? Welcome to this great, uncomfortably difficult world.

On the other hand, administration cannot demand maturity while disregarding wrongdoing. While there are right and wrong ways of exhibiting truth, accusing students of a temper tantrum is a great way to get the attention off the wrongdoing and onto the messengers themselves, all while getting a chuckle and arrogantly dismissing truth.

We can call Millenials all the names we want, and some of those names are hurtful and deserving, but we temper the truth by rejoicing in its value as a corrective means against wrongdoing, not by boasting in its mere existence as a means of power over another.

 

Loving well: trading “when?” for “why?”

Loving well: trading “when?” for “why?”

I like to watch people. I’d love to have a stoop in a busy neighborhood and watch people pass by and wonder what their lives are like.

Lives can be tricky, messy things. They never go as planned. Pain becomes a frequent reality in some seasons. Other times, joy becomes a defining marker of the time. I think it’s amazing to see lives transformed. I like watching lives go far beyond rehabilitation and actually witnessing redemption – it’s a beautiful thing. It’s also quite messy and awkward.

Let me explain the framework I’m coming from: I believe that as humans, we’re tainted, jaded, walking around in darkness trying to quiet a soul with joy knock-offs. But we are loved. We live in a world that tells us that what is broken can’t be loved and that is simply not true. We look for ways to prove to ourselves and others that we are complete so that we may be loved.

The gospel says we’re not complete but we’re loved anyway. It’s about flipping the lie that says because you are broken, you cannot be loved to the truth: you are broken and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. But you are loved and the One who loves you in your brokenness can make you whole. Because He loves. If we are redeemed, we’re not better people. We’re just His.

His love changes us. And quite a bit, actually. We become free to do things like love our enemies because we’re loved and we were loved when we just as broken as our enemies, if not more so. And love people who are growing too. Sometimes loving those in the latter category is harder than in those in the first one.

And it’s not just any love, it’s pretty deep stuff. Deeper than Sunday morning meet-and-greet, I’m afraid. It’s love that surfaces in community- in the breaking of the bread, in the gathering together. It’s love that begins to develop as we listen, really listen, to others’ lives. Love finds depth in presence. Love is certainly present when we cry for others, but love deepens when we cry with others. And this love happens as a result of the love found in the gospel. It transforms us. It transforms others. The problem (and beauty) is it doesn’t always transform others the way it transforms you.

Not that change is optional. All life and love must grow developmentally. As awkward as puberty is, it is not optional; neither is spiritual growth. Like physical growth, spiritual growth happens. Are there things we should do to grow healthy? Sure. But growth happens, whether healthily or not, if there is life, there must be growth. Watching growth can be exciting. It can also be painfully slow. But what about when growth is not happening? If that’s the case, I’ve found some measures to be helpful:

Stepping back and looking again. The more time you spend with a child, the less you notice they’re growing. But try being away for a bit and you’ll see quite a difference. Was this person the same person a year ago?

Wondering “when?”. Sometimes we just have to wait. This mystery was never more mind-boggling than when I worked with teenage boys. I’ve never been a boy, so if you are one, bear with me as I stand amazed at how some gentlemen look like they could be paying a mortgage when they’re really 14 while others suddenly grow 12 inches taller and drop an octave over a weekend during their senior year of high school. If there are signs of life, growth will happen. Wait for it. 

Wondering “why?”. When I see transformation in a lot of areas of others’ lives but not in a particular one, I immediately get impatient and wonder when this particular area will be transformed. More often than not, I wallow in frustration. But occasionally I trade the “when?” for “why?” And the answers aren’t usually so simple.

Asking “why hasn’t this happened?” warrants taking a much closer look. [And please note I’m referring to asking, not speculating… as in within the framework of a relationship].

A lack of growth is not always as black-and-white as good old fashioned disobedience. Sometimes it is. But when I see a person who has been genuinely transformed by the gospel and, as a result, is striving to be obedient but is not changing the way I think that should happen, more often than not, it’s a reflection of my desire for control. Other times, it’s asking “when?” but not asking “why?” Taking a closer look is not pretty. Sometimes it reveals a deep wound that seems insurmountable. Sometimes it just leads us to realize we don’t know what to do. If I’m honest, I hate it when I don’t know what to do… I think it has something to do with that wanting to be control thing.

It’s easy to look at an impossibly prideful person and wonder “what is wrong with this person?!” or “when is this person going to change?” as we roll our eyes or, more piously, as we pray for that person from the safe distance of our stoops. It’s much harder to live life out with that person, committed to loving them, and wonder “Why this pattern of behavior? Where does this come from?”.

As I read Scripture, I’m realizing how much of it was written to and for the church itself. The love and patience Christ has for those within the church is just as prominent throughout as it is for the lost. That doesn’t lessen the love for the lost. On the contrary, it deepens our understanding of His love.

The reality is: we are not the Holy Spirit. And sometimes people will not change no matter how deep and great our gospel community is. But sometimes they will. Our job is not to transform them. Our job is to love them. And love them well. Trading the “when?” for the “why?” has helped me to love others better. Not to mention, it’s the same benefit of the doubt I give myself. It’s deep community at its messiest… and at its loveliest.

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately.

-The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians (1:9, MSG). 

Originally posted May 19, 2010.

Itamah's Blog

I can’t help but wonder and gawk at the audacity of the strength and control we claim to have by our own tenacity and will when we are but fragile and weak beings dependent on and subjected to our surroundings, namely, our environment and own human body. We can work out and become physically strong and still succumb to shattering sickness. Muscle strength can be mutilated by arthritis. Tenacity and mental strength can be eradicated by death- the ill that no mere human has defeated yet.

We are weak. We are participants of, and thereby victims of sin, pain, suffering, and death.

I’m amazed at the striking irony we display in moments of severe crisis. How dare we display our so-called resilience in the face of that which we are powerless against? Is that force not stronger? Has it not won? What good is our tenacity when thousands are dead? What’s with our strength when we will…

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Some Single Solitary Things…

Some Single Solitary Things…

I am a sinner. I am loved. I am redeemed. I am a saint. I am a church member. I am on a mission. I am being restored. I am being renewed. I am in need of grace. I am in awe of the life I’ve been given. I am in awe of my Creator. I am not married.

For many, when I say many of those things I get a listening ear, maybe an agreeing nod, or a resounding ‘amen!’ from my more charismatic crew. That is until the conversation somehow becomes about that last line. Then the conversation progresses from engaged to a plethora of responses ranging from “Oh” to “well, don’t worry” to an expository study on 1 Corinthians 7. Or, if they happen to be from a particular cultural background that shall remain nameless because I happen to be of that particular background, the conversation progresses from engaged to alarming concern.

Apparently, this not being married is an issue.

Dean Martin crooned “you’re nobody til somebody loves you”. Elsewhere I’ve written about singleness carrying an unspoken label of “rejection” by our culture’s standards. Beyond what I call hyper-singleness* where everyone dates nonchalantly and noncommittally, the single status may be the last remaining scarlet letter in an increasingly accepting culture that is making scarlet letters obsolete. The label apparently screams ‘something is not right’. When it comes to relationships, singles are the ones wearing the dunce caps in the corner; we are doomed to play in the kiddie pool of life until the day we say “I do”.

That’s popular culture. What about Christian peers? A people who are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed & renewed?

Is marriage the stepping stone into adulthood? The gateway of maturity? The big-kid pool of life?

I say yes and no. For some, marriage may be these things. But not for everyone.

For some, marriage will be the impetus to grow up. But I can’t help but wonder if we are using marriage as the magic bullet to maturity, especially for the gentlemen. (An aside for those who seem like they’ve taken a liking to this magic bullet: being a complementarian and male does not automatically make one fit to be the spiritual lead. Far be it from me to give advice on that subject but as I read Scripture I have to come to the understanding that maturity involves more than just correct doctrine).

Here is my point: Life does not begin at marriage. Can marriage be sanctifying? Yes. Can it be a means to grow in holiness and evangelism? Yes. Can it be a means to make disciples? Yes. But what if that’s happening now?

Let’s not overspiritualize things. I know there are other factors involved in marriage– companionship, independence (as in starting a new family), legitimacy (especially within the increasingly popular view of the present generation as being immature, spoiled, sheltered and perpetually single), etc… but what if some are willing to let go of those very noble things for the sake of the gospel?

Now, I’m NOT saying married people are not living for the gospel. Quite the contrary, married couples have the potential to showcase the mutual love between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5), raise godly children (Deut. 4; Col. 3), and make disciples (Matt 28; Titus 2)… all that besides the social benefits mentioned, but there is a very real charge to singleness that does not diminish who we are as a redeemed people in the frontlines of a sanctification struggle; nor does it pit singleness against marriage, making the prior superior to the latter or vice versa.

I’m just sayin’…

Let a playa play.

[Ok, just kidding on that last line. Maybe I should get married and grow out of these immature comments].

*I consider “hyper-singleness” (non-committal, chronic dating) a coping mechanism. We are not just a people that are dying for companionship, we are screaming to be redeemed… but that’s not just singles, that’s all of us. I think hyper-singleness is just one of the increasingly acceptable (and emotionally damaging) ways to exhibit it.