The COVID-19 Diaries: Not My First Rodeo

Let me emphatically state that Covid-19 is not my first Rodeo. My childhood was deeply impacted by my parents alcoholism and subsequent divorce, creating a deep wound of insecurity and fear. I was kicked out of numerous schools and due to all of the transition attended seven jr. high schools in a 2 year span. Yes, seven in two years. To say the least, it was incredibly disruptive. 

In my adult leadership and family life I have now gone through the trauma of Y2K, September 11th, the 2008 financial crisis, Karie’s (my wife) brother’s suicide, a 9 month panic disorder and now this. Not to mention all of the other worldly concerns like epic fires, tidal waves, school shootings and the like.

Looking back, I am now more grateful than ever for these events in my life. Each has led me to a place of deeper faith and trust. Dare I say surrender. In the moment, each of these seasons seemed larger and more foreboding than they actually were in reality. This is the problem with trauma and traumatic events, they blur reality and cause us to depart the moment and descend into a quagmire or future thought, most of which is a conjuring of our deep embedded and rooted core fears.

When this happens, we begin to cement future fears into a false, but very present virtual reality. What might happen in 5 days, one month and one year all seem imminent and in the present. The truth is that they are more than often not.

When working with my counselor Bill Faris during my 9 month reconnoiter into panic disorder,  he suggested that when all of those overwhelming thoughts present themselves that I should pause and take a moment to take stock of true reality. What was really happening to me this second. I even started wearing a rubber band on my wrist to pull and snap myself back into the moment. This is a tool I learned while reading a book on anxiety cures. The snapping signals to the brain to get back to focusing on the moment as fear and panic are usually future laden. Bill suggested that I ask myself the following. Was I under imminent threat? No. Was a bear chasing me? No. Was it my 4th day without water? No. And so on. Actually, every single time I took that survey the results were the same. I was never once in imminent danger. Now only to convince my mind. 

The days directly following the September 11th attack were totally surreal. Planes stopped flying, no one went out to eat and there was this eerie silence happening. I still find it more dystopian than anything I have ever experienced to date. The thing that made it more potent were all of the images that kept being fed to us. We were consuming a steady stream of videos showing towers collapsing, zombie like New Yorkers caked in grey dust and buildings on fire.

Looking back now, it is crystal clear that the fear was based more on unknowns than reality. What is also true is that like every other traumatic event that I have witnessed in my 50 years, never yet has one actually lived up to the perceived fear. Not one. Nada. Zero. 

Had I been more perceptive at the time, I would have sought to live in a place of deeper gratitude during these times. Gratitude and thanksgiving are powerful cures to worry. Both are deep spiritual tools that transcend our emotions and allow us to surrender all of the things that we tend to cling to as support, but often let us down.

The book of Job has a powerful statement uttered by a man who had lost everything but his hope! Job says, “”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Solid!

Today, I am grateful that during this trying time, it is raining in California after the driest February on record. The snow stores have been replenished and the reservoirs that  will water the Central Valley crops which feed ⅕ of the world’s population are brimming. Food is not a scarcity in America. 

I also have an amazing family and friends, especially at our church who are filled with hope and positivity. The few of us that gathered for prayer yesterday laughed until our sides hurt. It was medicine for the soul.

As previously stated, COVID-19 is not my first rodeo, it’s just another angry bull with a different name. And like those that have come before it, I will ride. The difference is that this time I am equipped with a ten gallon Stetson of faith and spurs sharpened with hope. I plan to gouge the “hell” out of this bull and give it everything I got. Yeah, these next 8 seconds might seem like an eternity, but now is our time and now is our moment. Let’s do this thing!

The Covid-19 Diaries

There is a reason why the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” has sold a billion tea towels around the world. It’s one of those phrases that has the rare ability to call for dignity and normalcy in the midst of chaos.

During the Battle of Britain, Nazi bombers began a civilian bombing campaign designed to cripple not only the seat of political power in London, but also destabilize the psyche of the British people. The hope was to cause Britains to scorn their government, develop an individualistic and survivalist mentality and to sow disunity, incivility and discontent in the people’s hearts. 

What transpired over the next 56 days of continued fire bombing could not have landed further afield of that intention. Rather than a mass social chaos, the people of England banded together like never before in what came to be known as the Blitz Spirit. 

An American who witnessed the raids first hand stated, “By every test and measure I am able to apply, these people are staunch to the bone and won’t quit … the British are stronger and in a better position than they were at its beginning”.

In a massive civilian mobilization, people began to sacrifice their own well-being and safety for the care and survival of others. Relatives and friends in the country took in children from the cities. Food was not hoarded, but rather rationed and shared. Fire brigades fought blazes every night and rushed into burning buildings to rescue the injured. Even the British lexicon added new phrases to downplay the terror and liken it to the weather with sayings like, “Today was a little less Blitzy than yesterday.” 

Here’s the point. A person or society, is rarely measured by how they maintain in the good times. Rather, it is how they choose to live in the midst of the most dire of times that defines them. 

    Over the last couple of months global societies have endured a modern day viral Blitz of sorts. Concern has in many cases given way to panic. While some might be forecasting an apocalypse, what I sense is an incredible opportunity. Because this is the thing with crises, all of them have a weakness that can be exploited for the greater good. 

    It was said of the Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant that what made him incredible in battle was not that he knew how to counter a foes greatest strength, but rather that he was a savant when it came to exploiting their weaknesses. What destroys a foe is rarely an assault to their front, but rather an attack on their flank.

    The societal flank of Covid-19 are sacrifice, generosity and concern. It is here, on these fronts where the real battle is being fought. Yes, viruses are often a matter of life or death, but they also war for our humanity.

    While this might be counter-intuitive, could it be that Covid-19 is the exact enemy this society needs? Perhaps this is a devilish looking blessing in disguise which offers us the opportunity to heal the growing fracture in our civil discourse? 

The discord I speak of has been growing for decades. It is a discord bred from the poultice of self consumption, electronic distraction and political disdain so often displayed in the realm of social media. 

Maybe, just maybe this Covid-19 is our chance to regain our soul, to care less about ourselves and more about others no matter who they are or what they believe, a time to truly love our neighbor. 

But it is also an opportunity for a renaissance of our own souls. Will we bow to the clamour of panic and fear or will we define ourselves as one of those rare individuals who waits for these moments to rise up and become fully human? Perhaps this is our last chance to become those people who are not defined in the ghetto of squalor called fear but instead define greatness of character by the way we live during a Blitz.

Sovereignty Over Freedom

1. A religious entity cannot maintain integrity as long as it is in a civil contract with a secular governmental institution.
2. The original religious migrants to this continent were not looking to create a Christian nation, but rather a sovereign independent theocracy void of civic contract.
3. In agreeing to function within this nation’s quasi Christian civic founding, religious leaders became unequally yoked and hence became part of the civic society and thus regulated to that and by that agreement, hoping to maintain certain freedoms.
4. Civil rights belong to the civic body, thus one’s perceived civic rights can never be violated by a sovereign state which refuses to be part of that civic system.
#IDISSENT

Discontent

This is an idea that I have been considering for a few year’s now, especially as it relates to Christian culture. The bag of goods you are being promised is that if you can just find that “thing” or “purpose” or “center of God’s will” than you will have all of those riches Christ promised. These would by hope, joy, contentment. The problem is that those things are not found in making it to some destination, but rather in Christ alone. This is the bait and switch that offers all Christ gives you for free and says you have to reach some imaginary place of future being to have it. It is Christ plus “your purpose” will bring fulfillment and man does it sell…

Stuff Jesus Said: Episode 7. The Jesus Peace. John 14:23-27

In this scripture just before Jesus says, “My peace I give you,” He implores us to obey His teaching. Obedience is the road God’s love and presence travel upon. Pastor Adam gives us a spiritual equation that exponentially multiplies peace in our lives: Holy Spirit Guidance + Obedience = Peace. Have you ever experienced the rush of comfort, peace and blessing that comes with obedience?

Jesus on the Stump: The Politics Of Jesus Part 2

We love to imagine Jesus on the stump and us as his stump speech writer, sitting somewhere joyfully behind the scenes as Christ blast away at political opponents. Few people though, when thinking about how Christ would weigh in on a certain political hot-button topic stop to think about the actual politics of the place and time Jesus existed. Instead, we extricate Jesus from any historical context, put him in a blue blazer with a copy of the Federalist papers in his hand and espouse what his views on a host of political topics would be based on our own highly biased and tightly corralled modern opinions.

The context of Jesus’ social and political world must be considered if one views context of value. And we must. Jesus a first century Jew, was from a failed theocracy, a political system meant to have God as its sovereign and its priest and judges acting as mediators of that supreme hierarchy. Instead, Israel demanded a king and got one. Check that, they got many and most all gave them the same results, oppression and more loss of inherited territory. By the time Jesus hits the scene, Kings David, Solomon and Joash are long gone and the nation had been upended and conquered by one of the most dominant societies of all time, the Romans. (Say it again, and this time with the Monty Python accent “The Romans”.)

At the same time, as you will see throughout the book of Acts, a secondary shadow government, run by the Jewish ruling elite and council were also trying to carry on with a government within a government and implementing Jewish laws under the very watchful eyes of the Romans. This is something that  Rome allowed as they had become masters of the art of conquering and knew that some form of self-rule must be allowed to stem revolt.

Like the church today, Jesus found himself on the razor’s edge of being part of two political systems, both vying for hearts, minds and territory.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when trying to descend into the wormhole and assume the understanding of Jesus politics is to remember that Jesus was not running for office.

The temptation to make Christ a political figure for one’s purposes is a strong potion. It is as true today as it was back in Jesus day. In trying to damn Jesus to the cross, the Jewish leaders protested to Pilate that Jesus was declaring himself a king trying to overthrow Roman rule. On another occasion, the Jewish people, so enamored by Christ’ power tried to make him king by force. Many believe that Judas, Peter and the other disciples followed Jesus at first not for the kingdom he was offering, but for the earthly one that they imagined. This illusion would be dismantled on the night Jesus allowed himself to be led away for conviction.

Thus, before we get into messianic policy making, we must come to a reckoning with the fact that while Jesus actions and words cataclysmically rocked the political world of its day, Jesus himself was not political, at least not in the way that we understand politics. Here again we come to another question. If Jesus was not intentionally political, than what would the politics of Jesus be?

The Politics Of Jesus

As I am getting ready to embark on a new sermon series called, The Politics of Jesus, I am wanting to use my social media platform to test some of my thoughts before I take them to the pulpit.

Spoiler Alert: Before we start, let me state that when we talk about the politics of Jesus, we need to make sure not to box Christ into our conceptions and political ideals. Meaning, we must extricate ourselves and our minds from the American, British or whatever political system you happen to be a citizen of.

If we are going to ask ourselves about Jesus particular political positions, we must try and comprehend it from a multivariate analysis and with fresh baby skin. How would you answer the question if you lived in Spain in the fifteenth century or were a field worker in Brazil sixty years ago or a first century Egyptian?

Until we can do that, becoming as unbiased as possible, we have little chance of escaping the bondage and perhaps tyranny of our own isolated conclusions. This is the bubble that so many people live in today. Here, in this ideological space, there is only one reality, your reality and to hell with the rest. When we lack the ability to identify and empathize with someone other than ourselves, we have little chance of ever defining, defending or even finding truth. In the words of Francis of Assisi, “Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.” Freeing ourselves from our own ideologies and intentionally seeking to take on another person’s reality and or social space as best we can for the sake of truth is perhaps one of the greatest charities of all.

Bringing it closer to home. Can you imagine yourself as a lesbian who is deeply in love with another woman and is being told that this is an abhorrence to God? Can you feel the pain of perhaps losing the relationship to follow a different path? Or, if you are black and lived in the South during the Confederacy, can you picture yourself as a white slave owner who was truly trying to follow God, perhaps in ignorance to the truth of freedom, but legitimately seeking to be a “good” person? Or, perhaps you are Chinese and were witness to the Rape of Nanking, one of the least known and most devastating genocides of our time. Can you frame yourself a young enthusiastic Japanese soldier, who entered into his countries service with joy and naivete, not knowing that he would soon be hoisting Chinese babies on his bayonet in a macabre game of keep away?

Jordan Peterson, the Canadian firebrand, clinical psychologist whom I saw two nights ago at the Balboa Theater in San Diego has an interesting challenge. He encourages people to imagine the worst you. “Imagine yourself as a Nazi” he says. You protest. I would never be a Nazi. Ha! And that is the first step in becoming one he says. Do you think that the fresh faced seventeen year old German youth ever pictured him or herself at the death camps of Auschwitz gassing a Jew. No, most did not. Rather they got their incrementally, step by step.

Back to our starting place for understanding the political views of Jesus. When we demonize those we disagree with, we put a robe of virtue upon ourselves that is self-vindicating, and can lead to immense horrors. By imagining the worst you that you could be and defining the steps on how you might get there, we become a little less stable, perhaps a bit more contrite, can we even say more human. To know your weakness is perhaps your greatest strength.

For our own purposes of comprehending the politics of Jesus, we must realize that Jesus was not an American, having self-limited his divine knowledge (Philippians 2) he probably had no conceptualization of it. No Constitution, no free speech, no Bill of Rights. None of it. Rather, Jesus was a Jew, living under Roman tyranny in an occupied territory. Here, slavery was law, healthcare was non-existent, pedophilia was legally regulated and religious corruption was rife. Now, put yourself there, in that place. A place filled with poverty and misery, a place where public executions happened almost daily and widows suffered in the streets, and ask yourself. What are the politics of Jesus?

Stuff Churches Like: Top 10 List

One of my favorite things to do is watch Christian church culture morph and change. I’m not talking about the core stuff like evangelism, mission or our views on the atonement, but rather the not so important stuff, the stuff we like, until we don’t. Here are some of our current favorites. If your church scores at least 5 of these 10 you can consider yourself #BLESSED.

10. Fair Trade Coffee Coffee Sourced From Indigenous People Groups:

It started in the 80s with Folgers and a styrofoam cup. In the 90’s it was all about the in-church coffee shops like “Holy Grounds”, “HeBrews” and “Jehova Java”. Today we have gone missional with our coffee and are fighting global injustice with every drop.

9.The Episodic Sermon Series:

Who wants to spend 68 weeks in the book of Numbers. Not me. Rather, give me short punchy 6-8 week sermons filled with challenge and invitation. And by the way, keep um under 28 minutes and make sure that I’m the star.

8. Beards and Hair:

You would have to imagine that any man who aspires to be a pastor but cannot grow a full beard or is thinning is definitely questioning his calling at this point in the game.

7. Motion Graphics:

Nothing says “Building Campaign” like rolling out the motion graphics video. We love simple, animation with smooth voice overs to get that ground breaking event kick-started.

 

6. Livestock

No big church holiday event is complete without livestock. Give us our petting zoos and full blown Christmas extravaganzas complete with live elephants. While ceremonial livestock was also true for Isrealites in the time of Moses, it seems that a sacrificial bull might have the children running for the exits and PETA at our door.

5. Smoke And Fog

I recently heard at a church conference that we don’t want to give them church, we want to give them an experience. Unfortunately a few weekends ago a local toddler experienced emotional trauma after not being able to find his parents in the service for 26 minutes.

4. Found Wood Backdrops:

Pretty sure that we are nearing the end of the pallet wood backdrop trend. After 10 years or so of making our cold warehouse churches feel like warm Alpine lodges, it won’t be long until the youth group is burning them down at the beach this summer.

3. The Edison Light:

Ok, I like these, but you need 126 of them to produce enough ambient light to read a book by at night. I wonder when really sterile white LED lights will become in and we think that having churches that look like operating rooms will be cool? #HeIsTheLight

2. Gold Rush Era Worship Leaders:

I’m pretty sure that most worship leader job descriptions these day include smithing, biscuit making and proficiency in playing the saw.

1. Jesus

While the church loves its trends and chasing the next fad, most of all I still find that churches love Jesus and he will put up with all of our shenanigans if we keep the first thing first.