No Bad News

I think we can all agree social media and much of the Internet can be a toxic place. It’s where we vent, argue and too often call each other nasty names—all without having to accept any consequences thereof.

We also have the choice to either not participate, or offer something better.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to offer something better.

Over the last few years, I’ve written short devotions for my church (about 300 words or one page each). Some are pretty good—if I say so myself—and there’s nothing stopping me from sharing them with the rest of you.

The surest cure for emotional and mental toxicity is emotional and mental positivity. While some of you may not share my faith, I promise nothing of what I share from now on is an attempt to preach at or convert you. My only desire is that you find a little joy and hope in my words.

Consider my page from now on a no bad news area.

Shout It Out

I doubt anyone in this country has never heard the phrase, “Separation of Church and State.” It’s often attributed to the First Amendment of the US Constitution in that no church can interfere with state policy or law. It’s been used to eliminate any religious activities or symbols on public property, including prayers during public events (such as school football games). Some have even gone so far as to tell anyone appointed or elected to public office must leave their religious convictions at the door. Others use the phrase and the First Amendment to mean that we have a freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion. Amazing how one little word can change the entire meaning of something, isn’t it?

Yet anyone who’s ever read the Constitution knows that phrase is not there.

So where did it come from?

When our country was in its infancy, many had questions about what the new government had the power to do or not do. One of those concerns was religious freedom. In England, only one church was recognized by the state, and those who wanted to run for any public office were required to be a member of said church. Some churches, in this case the Danbury Baptists, were understandably concerned how they and their members would be recognized by the US Government—if at all, and if they would continue to enjoy their freedom to worship as well as take part in public/state policy-making.

In 1802, they wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson looking for those answers.

Jefferson responded in part: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” (Emphasis mine).

Both letters can be found here:

Many Christians (especially conservative Christians) hate the “separation of church and state” phrase, because—for one—it’s wrongly attributed to the First Amendment. The second reason I mentioned above in that it’s used to stifle religious freedom and expression instead of protecting it—especially in the public square to the point some politicians are using it as a religious test for governmental appointments (which is also unconstitutional and goes against what Jefferson said in his letter).

So why do I bring all this up now? Simple. Have you noticed that no one is using it anymore?

I believe it’s because government has—for the most part—finally succeeded in shutting them up and shutting them down. They’ve no more reason to bludgeon us with it.

As such, if we want to keep our churches open and free, we need to quit balking at using that phrase and shout it from the figurative rooftops.

Because that “wall of separation” not only means—as the phrase has been used for at least as long as I’ve been alive—that no church can interfere in government/public activity, it also means the government can’t interfere in any church activities. That includes forcing them to shut down down completely or holding services for only a certain number of people.

It’s not enough to say closing churches is unconstitutional anymore (whether temporarily or permanently). It’s become so cliche that it’s background noise that won’t even invoke an eye roll. Now, if we say it’s a violation of separation of church and state, that might make their ears perk up a bit.

In short, it’s time to play by their rules and use the same words they’ve used against us for so long.

Christ’s Mandate. What Is It?

I recently commented on a thread in Facebook about how we as Christians are responding to current societal and political issues of late. They are as varied as one can imagine: from accepting any and all governmental orders, to fighting tooth and nail for our constitutionally protected freedoms. Almost every single one uses different scriptural references to back up their point of view.

No, this isn’t about whether or not the Bible is rife with contradictions.

Nor is this post about politics (so you can relax).

It’s about our mandate as Christians, and to answer the question: does God expect us to create heaven on Earth?

My answer:

Many Christians keep making the same mistake some of Jesus’ followers made: that he came to overthrow human kingdoms and begin a new, literal and political kingdom as well as a heavenly one.

Some think our mandate is to make society look how we think Jesus would want it, when in truth the “Kingdom of God” is within all of us once we become one of Jesus’ followers. We are the kingdom, not government, not countries, not society as a whole. Our mandate isn’t to change the world, but to bring Jesus to those who need him, so that they themselves may be changed.

A Good Day

This blog is supposed to be about my life, my journey, specifically my writing journey. As most of you figured out quite early, my writing journey adds up to less than 25%. The other 75% focuses on religious philosophy and raving rants when life doesn’t go my way.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I’d like to do a pregnancy photo shoot with her and her husband. My response was probably more excited than it should have been. Any opportunity to see anyone other than my husband and son and my coworkers, though, that was something to be excited about, however “over-the-top.”

It didn’t matter to me that we saw no sun, endured a few scattered rain droplets and 48-degree temperatures. The only upside weather-wise was little wind. The point was being outside and doing something different with different people.

Admittedly I was a bit nervous. When it comes to photo shoots I have little experience. I only got paid once to take some family photos for a friend a few years ago. I once helped with a wedding and family reunion, but so many others also took pictures, mine didn’t shine when compared to everyone else’s (nor did I get paid; in both cases, I was helping out a family member).

All-in-all, the photos turned out pretty good this time around, although I still have some editing to do. I should have kept my eye on the settings, because a few turned out a bit blurry. But, that’s how we learn, right?

That wasn’t the end of my good day! That morning before I left for the photo shoot, I received a text from another friend asking if me and my son would like to do a one-shot D & D. Like I was going to say no?

I decided on a human monk as my character. As a monk, I not only had lethal punches, but I could punch as many as four times per turn. The last bad guy I punched in the face at least a dozen times total before I finally knocked him out. Even though I didn’t physically punch anyone, mentally I felt like I had. There was something cathartic about it.

Hey, women can have aggressive issues, too, ya know.

When my son and I returned home, I couldn’t park in the driveway, because two other cars had parked there. I didn’t care, because tell-tale smoke billowed out of our grill and engulfed my husband and two of his guests. That meant steak. Delicious, char-broiled steak. That I had already eaten supper at the D & D get together didn’t matter. There will always be room in my belly for steak. My son agreed, so we shared one.

We and our two guests sat in the garage to eat our steak and solved all the world’s problems in the next three hours.

Spending real, face-to-face time with so many others for such varied reasons is what made my day, and made it worth sharing with the rest of you.

Small Crises

I experienced a bit of a crisis earlier today that nearly drove me to literal tears. My pastor sent a church update that said in part:

Q: When will we meet face-to-face again?

A: No one knows. Montana just announced a three-phase opening. In phase one, churches can gather with no more than 10 people present. Phase two allows churches to gather with 50 or less people. Phase three has no restrictions. My sense is that it will be months before we can gather for worship face-to-face again, with a strong possibility of more seasons of isolation to come (emphasis mine).

I honestly wanted to scream after reading that. Not weeks to go back to fellowship, but months and more isolation to come?

It was then I realized not only how much I miss going to church, but how much I appreciate and need the fellowship that goes along with it.

Yes, my church posts online sermons on Sundays, and will start offering online classes. But it’s not the same. I “attended” a live online Easter service with my son, but while a good service overall, it made me sad. I doubt I can watch more. The online courses are the same way for me, so why do something that only makes me angry or sad? A part of me wonders if I should quit entirely. After all, what’s the point of attending or supporting a church that’s no longer a church except via computer screen? It’s cold and disconnected, and that’s not real worship or fellowship to me.

I was thinking on my way home today that once my church finally returns to normal, and I decide to continue to go, I will still be angry for a long time afterward. None of you need to guess as to why; I’ve made my position clear on all of this.

One could sat that God is aware of the limits we’ve been put under, so in no way do those limits limit him.

All true, and I can’t argue against it.

One could also say I’m being petulant, and I can’t argue against that, either. Yet I must also acknowledge my feelings—whether or not they’re rational or justified—before I can move past them.

Now that I’ve splattered my emotional brain vomit all over your screen, I will admit to something that happened a few minutes ago. While writing this entry, I researched the online classes available so I could mention them here. Turns out none have started yet. Instead, the link led me to a signup page with a poll asking what type of class I’d be interested in—along with a request to facilitate one.

Guess what God whispered in my ear when I saw the request to facilitate?

During trying times like this, God often asks us to be part of the solution, and I am not exempt from appointment no matter how much I mope (or maybe it’s because I mope?).

Dang it.

Motivational Asides

Some like to create controversy. It boosts their readership–clickbait if you will. While I like to see as many readers and comments as anyone else, since I don’t receive any funds from the number of clicks/reads I get, I can’t really claim clickbait status.

When people click on my Twitter profile, this is the first tweet they see:

“I use Twitter to comment on politics, culture, and religion. I’m opinionated, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. I like hearing differing points of view on varied subjects because I want to learn.

“I always appreciate civil discourse even if we disagree in the end.”

I also like to give my point of view on subjects with the hope it’s different enough that people will stop and think about it, maybe even do their own research to discover whether I’m right or full of [censored] (believe it or not, it’s been known to happen. Occasionally).

Do I hope to change minds? Absolutely! Do I expect it? Nope–as frustrating as that can be at times.

In talking to a friend recently, I mentioned how I may have lost a few friends online due to all my bloviating of late. I don’t know for sure, because I don’t keep track, and there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

That was a lesson hard learned, honestly. We all want to be loved, respected and heard. When I was a wee youngin’, friends were difficult to come by. While I have some guesses as to why, only when I reached my twenties did I figure out that love, respect and a listening ear can’t (or should) be forced. I have to freedom to choose whom I will love, respect and listen to, so how could I ever believe everyone else didn’t have that same freedom?

So while I like to share my opinions–however controversial–and be heard, I also want to give as many people as possible the same opportunity–even if I disagree.

Part of being heard is to listen, so if you’ve waded through all my rants of late relatively unscathed (or scathed, but waded through anyway), you have my undying love and respect. And, if you walk away from this entry with anything, I want you to know that you have also been heard.

Obey… Without Question?

I’ve seen some use scripture (such as Romans 13:1-7) to justify doing everything our leaders tell us to do without complaint. Some even go as far as telling others they’re not being “good Christians” if they don’t also obey.

On the surface, yes we need to obey the law. One reason is what good are we to God if we’re all in prison?

How then can I justify rebelling instead obeying the laws (or orders) signed by some governors and mayors at this time?

The simple answer is: they’re illegal orders.

During declared emergencies (which is what happened here), no one–not even the President or Congress–has the right to suspend our constitutional rights (except in the case of martial law, but it has not yet been declared). Plus, the US is not run by rulers, as such. Our Constitution is based on the premise that everyone in authority are our servants, not the other way around. The People have the power, not our elected (or appointed) officials. No member of our government has a legal right to violate our constitutional rights, so to rebel against orders that violate the Constitution is actually obeying the law, not the other way around.

To change directions a tad, in a comment on my last entry I touched on why all these orders about staying home, avoiding all social gatherings including church, etc. goes against God’s law.

Leviticus describes in detail what a person must do when/if they get infected with a contagious disease. First, it must be verified by a priest, and if confirmed, they must quarantine themselves in seven-day increments until the symptoms completely disappear and stay gone for another seven days. In every case (including leprosy), the person infected is responsible for making sure no one else gets infected (see Leviticus 13:45).

One thing I’ve noticed about Leviticus is not only what’s said, but what isn’t said. When it comes to preventing the spread of disease, the onus is always on the infected to prevent the disease’s spread. Under no circumstances were the healthy forced to quarantine themselves, act like they themselves are infected regardless, stop working and shut all economic and community activities down. Also, not once (that I know of) did God tell his people to not gather for fellowship, worship, and praise.

Those who stress passages about obeying authority also tell us that any violation of God’s law is exempt from obeying said authority (although there may be a cost for disobeying). For instance, God would never obligate us to commit a crime such as murder simply because the governing authority tells us we must.

The same goes for government officials taking away our God-given and constitutionally protected rights. It’s our legal duty to put a stop to it either by protest, petition, voting and/or through the courts. Anything less is actually violating what God said about obeying authority, because all those avenues I just mentioned are legal, and our right to exercise.

One question to think about when considering God’s character through all of this: when given a choice, would God want us to willingly choose oppression to the point we fear everything and everyone around us, we can’t work to feed our family, gather together in fellowship, and openly praise and worship him?

Counting on Death

A friend posted on Facebook about wanting to hear the number of deaths by all causes, not only COVID deaths, and how we would be shocked by the amount of death surrounding us. Yet because we’re ignoring all this death, we’re almost comfortable with it.

I responded thusly:

“Not to be too contrarian or to sound unfeeling, but while every life indeed has value, and all death is [tragic], we simply can’t expect every person to care about 9(?) billion people at one time. For one, we can’t control when/where/how everyone dies. Not even our own.

“Sure we can take certain measures to live healthy, and encourage/help friends and family do the same (but only to an extent. They still have the freedom to make their own choices). Life is hard/stressful enough to worry about everyone else on this planet.

“In other words, we should concern ourselves with what we have the power to influence or control (which ultimately is ourselves and little else), not with what we can’t. Eliminating death is a power we simply don’t have.

“And to add one more thing, I submit that to concentrate so much on country/worldwide deaths—by whatever means—is unhealthy. ‘Tis better to concentrate on living.”

To change directions a bit, I’ve been trying to write other entries, but I can’t seem to finish any of them. It’s part of why after that little burst last week, I’ve been largely silent. No words I’ve written seem to be good enough. When that happens, it’s usually because I’m avoiding the one subject I need to write about.

Part of it is what I wrote above, but also how we’re treating each other now. Yes, we like to say, “stay safe,” and “we’re all in this together,” yada, yada. We might even mean it. They’re lovely-sounding little platitudes that may make us feel good for a moment, but are ultimately useless. They don’t help those who can’t work and feed their family, or a person who’s in forced isolation, lost all hope and is contemplating suicide.

One of my concerns (and I have many in case you haven’t noticed) with all of this is how we’re now assuming every person we see–and not even come into contact with–is carrying the virus, and that to get even remotely close to them, we will automatically catch it and therefore die (or at least get deathly ill and spread it to others who will therefore die). We also assume that maybe, just maybe, because my coworker’s cousin’s best friend’s brother had it, we are now infected, too.

It’s the new leprosy where we all must hide ourselves away, and if someone comes close we must assume they (and we) are infected, back away and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!”

We’ve all become paranoid germaphobes, and worse, we are more than happy to isolate ourselves and others, and gleefully give up every freedom we’ve enjoyed (and taken for granted) for an unknown possibility of being infected with a virus that has nearly a 99% overall survival rate.

When Jesus described us as sheep, he couldn’t have been more accurate.

Okay. I feel better now. Next time I plan on my entry being a bit more hopeful and encouraging. I thank you for reading.

The Heartbreak of Asking for Help

I consider myself far more lucky and blessed than most, especially now. I still have a job (even if my hours can be shortened depending on how much work I have to do), and we have a good nest egg that’ll last us a while even if I didn’t have any work. And no debt.

A church member asked for help and told me how humbling it was. How she worded it, I could tell how much effort it took to do so. She was forced to set her pride aside, and even admit to herself and others she couldn’t take care of herself or her children as well as she needed to.

I wanted to cry after I read that. Not because I know exactly how she feels, but how difficult it would be for me to do the same.

Many consider self-reliance a virtue, and asking for help is a weakness.

While I think self-reliance is a virtue, asking for help when faced with no alternative is also a virtue. None of us is perfect or can do all things at all times. We, after all, don’t balk at hiring a plumber when a pipe breaks, or taking our car to a mechanic for an oil change.

Someone on Twitter created a poll on what pastors considered the greatest chapter in the Bible. Suggestions included Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, Psalm 23, and Isaiah 53. I didn’t know the answer, but I added what I thought was the most important chapter in the Bible–at least during these current tumultuous times: Ecclesiastes, specifically chapter 3, verses 1-8 (ESV):

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

There is also a time when we need help, and a time to help others.

Whatever time this is, we should also remember one of my favorite verses, Ecclesiastes 7:13 (NLT): Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?

We may not like the season we’re in, but God doesn’t ask (or expect) us to like it. We must accept it eventually, however (we have no choice, after all), yet also with the knowledge that it won’t last. Seasons never do.

“Am I Enough?”

For this Lenten season I wrote eight devotions for my church. In one I wrote about how sometimes God asks me if I love him. In my most honest and quiet moments, I have to admit I don’t love him as much as I know I should (I’ve added said devotion below).

Now God is asking me, “Am I enough?”

Again, if I am to be honest, I have to answer no on that, too. If he was enough, I wouldn’t stress or worry over anything, let alone the things I can’t control.

I long for him to be enough, but I also have to do my part—and that’s to trust him and seek him out when I’m feeling overwhelmed. He has never, and never will, let me down. Even if (when) I suffer difficult times, he’s always there to give me the strength and wisdom to make it through. As long as I trust him and know that he is indeed… not just enough. More than enough.

Not Without Help

I like to say I depend on God, and it is true. Sometimes. More often than not, though, I like to go my own way and don’t invite God to join me. He comes along anyway, a few steps behind, watching, waiting. Perhaps even shaking his head at my incessant idiocy of trying to do things my way and failing.

One problem of doing things on my own is I start to feel alone, abandoned even. Worse, I begin to lose my sense of right and wrong. I make excuses for my actions—my sins. I sometimes even consider them not sins at all.

When that happens, I no longer sense God’s presence. His voice becomes weaker, but when I do stop and strain my spiritual ears, I hear him ask, “Do you love me?”

John 14:15-16 (ESV) says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” There’s that word again. The big “if”. The qualifier to all of God’s promises.

Do I love God? Tough question, because I want to say “yes” without hesitation or equivocation. Yet I have to admit it’s not always true. Pride in myself interferes.

I should therefore not be surprised when the Helper Jesus promised goes silent.

We must always keep in mind that while Jesus is always ready to forgive us and intercede on our behalf, and the Helper always ready to give us the strength and wisdom we need to face whatever comes our way, we must do our part. We must love him above all else, and keep his commandments as an expression of that love. What a tiny sacrifice compared to what Jesus did for us.