Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Person holding sign with words: "what lessens one of us lessens all of us"

The 1987 classic film The Princess Bride features countless memorable quotes. One of my favorites comes when Vizzini repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” to describe things happening around him. Finally, Inigo turns to him and says simply: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line pops into my head every time I hear republicans and/or President Donald Trump speak about “religious liberty.”

That phrase is supposedly the biggest concern prompting the republican party to abandon virtually all of its professed priorities in favor of Trump. And that transition has been powered by, rather than opposed by, white evangelical Christians.

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Trump Casino in Las Vegas

I’ve heard a lot of evangelical leaders in America compare Donald Trump to the Persian King Cyrus from Isaiah 45 who, as a non-Jewish ruler, played a key role in allowing the exiled Jews to return to Israel and rebuild the temple.

The argument has been termed “vessel theology,” suggesting that God ordained Trump as a non-Christian to carry out God’s will in America as God’s “vessel” despite his character or religious shortcomings. This approach has many flaws, including the fact that America is not God’s chosen people (a sort of new Israel as adherents to this approach like to think) and King Cyrus was not the king over Israel (so the analogy would really require Trump to be a leader of a foreign nation who brought about good for America).

Contrary to the focus on Cyrus, I think if we desperately want to compare Trump with biblical leaders, I think he more closely aligns with a different non-Jewish king: Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is heavily featured in the book of Daniel, and he was one of the key subjects in the talk at church this past Sunday.

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White rose at September 11 Memorial

Eighteen years ago today, our world changed forever. Scrolling social media today, you’ll see countless “Never forget” posts and tributes to all who died as a result of such a horrific act of terror.

That event led revealed to us a much more dangerous world than we’d previously realized. It prompted permanent changes to security processes and endless efforts to keep up with the latest threats. I don’t know if anyone who remembers life prior to Sept. 11, 2001, would say they feel safer now than they did before. Even if the changes we’ve implemented have made us safer on a daily basis, the loss of innocence means we can never go back to a time when that potential threat wasn’t always in the back of our minds.

It’s very easy on a day like today to fall into a trap of bitterness and rage. The attack was truly devastating both in terms of casualties and cultural impact. I had the opportunity to travel to New York earlier this year and visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and the experience prompted extreme reverence and greater awareness of the interconnected nature of our world. It’s only natural to see the names and hear the stories of the people who lost their lives and grow angry and desire vengeance.

But that’s not the feeling I want to remember today. That’s not beneficial to our world. Hate and anger only leads to more hate and anger. Instead, as I see all the “Never forget” posts, I’m choosing hope.

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Pastor speaking on a platform

I had a brief but engaging conversation the other day about the challenge of being a pastor and remaining apolitical. Essentially, the goal is to teach about Jesus and how to follow Him without encroaching on people’s political stances, since Christ followers line up across the political spectrum.

On its surface, I support this. Jesus did not spark a political uprising (although that threat was used to try to justify a need to kill Him), and I’ve written about the problem when Christians place their efforts into politics.

Unfortunately for that effort, it’s too late. We can’t try to live in a world where Christianity is apolitical because Christians have already made it political. To be honest, that’s been the case in America going back generations (e.g. using the Bible to support slavery), but it’s played an even greater role in recent decades with the “Moral Majority” and similar movements.

Christianity has become so politicized that messages from the pulpit are (whether intentionally or not) interpreted as triggers to support or denigrate one side or the other. This often happens with comparisons of how we “should stand out from the world.” That statement is absolutely true and aligns with the words of Jesus, and pastors usually include a few examples in that statement. The problem is that they often include the ones that pretty much every “Christian” will agree with while leaving out any that the audience might find controversial (regardless of Jesus’ words and actions on the subject).

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Selfie with man and woman in front of Notre Dame Cathedral

One year ago, Kelli and I were in the midst of a three-week, once-in-a-lifetime trip throughout much of western Europe. We crammed as much as we could into a nonstop adventure, and it was truly amazing.

One of the many highlights for me was visiting some of the most famous and beautiful churches in the world, some as many as 1,000 years old. I love old buildings, and especially old places of worship, so pretty much every time we passed an old church (which was constantly; they’re seemingly on every street corner), I made us wander inside.

Exactly one year ago today, we were in Paris. That meant the chance to see Notre Dame, and it was everything I could have dreamed it would be. We toured the cathedral itself but didn’t have time that day to climb the steps to the top of the bell towers. Luckily, we were able to do that on the final day of our trip after returning to Paris for our flight home.

As everyone knows, tragedy struck Notre Dame just a few months later. Heroic efforts by the Paris firefighters saved the structure from complete destruction, but it will be many years before it is restored and reopened. Immediately, people from across the world pledged donations to the restoration of the church, with figures topping $1 billion.

Closer to home, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tacoma has stood along I-5 since the freeway was built (the church has been there for nearly 100 years). While that history cannot compare with the churches of Europe, it is still a gorgeous landmark and part of the city’s history. But recently, it’s fallen into disrepair, and it’s currently closed to the public. Authorities estimate at least $2.5 million in repairs just to get it functional to reopen, and $18 million to provide the full renovation it needs. Church and community members are banding together to see if they can raise the funds and save it from destruction.

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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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