Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Baseball jersey back with 34 and Hernandez

Saturday evening I attended a baseball game in Seattle and watched my beloved Mariners lose.

Nothing about that sentence is notable, as I’ve attended many games and been tortured by my devotion to the Mariners throughout my life as they’ve lost far more than they’ve won. In fact, Saturday’s game felt more like a home game for the visiting Toronto Blue Jays due to the sheer volume (both in terms of attendance and sound) of fans making their way south from Canada to support their team.

What was notable, and the reason I chose to attend the game, was the man who stood on the mound for the Mariners at the start of the game. Returning for the first time since spending several months on the injured list, Felix Hernandez pitched for the Mariners.

Even that fact would not be particularly notable – aside from his injury keeping him out of the rotation lately – as Felix (we’re on a first-name basis) has spent 15 seasons pitching for the Mariners. Most of that time, he’s been their ace and one of the dominant pitchers in all of baseball.

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Silhouette of hands raised with the word "Jesus" in the background

I think this is one of the underlying issues with the claim that America is a Christian nation and/or the desire to make it one. We can’t agree on what it means to be a Christian.

As anyone who has read many of my posts by now will know, I grew up firmly in the conservative evangelical church community. I have pastors in my family, we volunteered at church, and I spent 13 years in AWANA earning all the way up to the Citation award (the highest one).

I don’t say that to brag (although at one point in my life, I very much did); I say it to create context for where I’m coming from. I grew up knowing that being a Christian meant asking Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior. That’s all it took. Super simple.

Except that’s not true. Because I remember participating in many conversations with friends and family members about people from other church backgrounds and communities who might think they’re Christians, but they weren’t “real Christians.” This was usually referenced on an individual basis, but in some cases included entire denominations/communities that were either outright not included or maybe included with some level of skepticism (let’s be real, they’re probably not included, but we can’t be sure).

Various examples of these people included Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, plus some varying degree of Lutheranism, Anglican, Presbyterian, and more. Oh, and most definitely “anyone who places a ‘D’ next to their name.” That was an absolute: you cannot put a ‘D’ next to your name and be Christian.

It was quite the exclusive Christianity, but then again, Jesus told us that the gate and road that lead to life are narrow, and only a few find them (Matthew 7:14). And, of course, we were and are part of that few. The next verses in Matthew right after that point to recognizing a tree by its fruit, so we would point to our exceptional fruit (carefully crafted to look as beautiful as possible and hide any blemishes that might bring shame upon us).

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Silhouette of a pastor delivering a sermon

Jesus’ closest disciples spent three years in close quarters with him, and they still got most everything wrong much of the time.

It’s kind of entertaining (not to mention reassuring) to see just how bold Peter will be as he says something completely missing Jesus’ entire point. Thankfully, Jesus always corrected him and provided clarity. Of course, that never stopped Peter from doing pretty much the same thing again.

I reference this for two reasons:

  1. None of us has everything right. And even if somehow we did at one point, our human nature would mean that we inevitably screw it up at some point soon. These people literally followed Jesus everywhere He went, clung to every word, physically witnessed His teachings and deeds, and still made all kinds of mistakes. If that happened to them, none of us is above reproach.
  2. Leadership is vital to ensure followers don’t get off track. Jesus modeled a perfect expression of what we are to be both in word and deed. Those closest to Him witnessed it first hand and still made mistakes. In those times, He was prompt to call them out (sometimes aggressively – Matthew 16:23) to ensure they did not get too far off.

In light of those statements and our current culture, I have a simple question: where is our evangelical Christian leadership?

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Handgun in holster on American flag

In the midst of even more tragic massacres of human life, debates about gun control always return to the forefront. So today, I’d like to take a look at the Second Amendment and consider how its text lines up with the arguments facing our culture.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Aside from some strange comma and capitalization use (by our modern writing standards), these 27 words form two pretty simple statements. First, a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state. Second, because of the first statement, the people’s right to bear arms shall not be infringed.

So we have two statements, with the second dependent on the first. But here’s our problem today: we no longer operate in our country with a well-regulated militia. The founding fathers saw permanent military structures as tools of corrupt governments. Since military is only necessary in times of war, the nation should have a well-regulated militia made up of the citizens who will come together when needed to fight wars on behalf of the nation. In times of peace, the militia disbands and people go home.

That’s how the continental army formed for the Revolutionary War; we won our independence from England using militia (and the help of the French). But we don’t do that anymore. Now in an interconnected world of constant conflict, we have the largest military force on the planet operating 24/7. This presents two problems for the Second Amendment and its intent.

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Automatic rifle on a table

In the midst of even more tragic mass murders in our country, we hear a similar echo of responses offering some form of “thoughts and prayers.”

I’ve written recently about various doublespeak pieces we’ve adopted in our society at the expense of robbing the words of their actual meanings. And as a lifelong Christian, it breaks my heart to acknowledge that in our society we have redefined prayer to correlate with inaction.

It’s become all too predictable: a (virtually always) white male goes on a shooting rampage using guns designed for war. Politicians and faith leaders offer “thoughts and prayers” for the families and victims and almost immediately follow it up with something along the lines of “this is a time for mourning. It’s way too soon to try to politicize this tragedy.”

There’s another form of doublespeak: “politicizing” the tragedy means discussing (and bringing about) actual changes to laws to help lower the risk of something similar happening again. Or at least helping to lower the risk of something similar having such a devastating casualty count.

You see, we don’t consider it “politicizing” the tragedy when Boeing planes malfunction and we demand that the company make changes to fix the issue. Airlines cancel flights using the specific model of planes, and passengers refuse to board those planes. Government leaders speak out and bring about action. Even more after a terrorist event like 9/11 that led to massive changes in FAA regulations and flight restrictions.

We don’t politicize. We take action. Except when the terrorist is a white man with war weapons. Then we offer “thoughts and prayers.”

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Two hands holding a baby's foot

Our world is full of double-speak terms, where we politicize our words to make them sound better than they are. So I think it’s important to really consider our vocabulary from time to time and evaluate if it lines up with the meaning it seems to claim.

I did that a little bit earlier this week with the idea of a “Christian nation.” Today, I’d like to do something similar with the question of what it actually means to be “pro-life.”

Stripping away how the word is used in our modern culture, I want to start from scratch with a new definition based on the core premise. And it begins with this: pro-life means, quite simply, in favor of life.

What does it look like to be in favor of life, to desire for life to succeed and thrive? Everything is based on priorities, and I believe this stance would put the sustainability and success of life at the top of that list. And that aligns with the statement in the Declaration of Independence that we have certain unalienable rights, the first being life.

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