On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2020 I believe what I write in this post fully true as well as appropriate. Fact is I would have said the exact same over 30 years ago.
For quite some time my personal email signature includes an MLK quote.
What I’m convinced we need to face is the following.
As they were persecuted Native Americans were either driven or decided to move further away from their persecutors. Ditto for enslaved, then black freemen/women from South to North and many clear to Canada to escape ill treatment. Haven’t people on earth done likewise regardless?
The largest migration in U.S. history was due to Southern blacks moving -when they were able, North to Chicago, New York City, Detroit and elsewhere in order to find better work and to escape the inequity and brutality of Jim Crow laws (note, “laws”).
Though most found work and a measure of solace, they also discovered racism and classism in the North.
In noticing a trend in Michigan the other day I thought about a continuum across our nation and it’s causes as well as blindness, even willful avoidance of truth.
People often move like they vote: our of fear and anger. But what does history honestly tell us about the causes underneath all this?
In the streets, homes, urban and indeed rural areas of the United States there are huge numbers of white folks. I’m a white man. Though it is changing whites are the majority still.
The homeless population is certainly not merely a minority crowd by any means. So how is it typical that those whites not in poverty are often so angry, fearful, judgmental and self righteous when the facts of history clearly establish it was white lawmakers and their government policies who established slavery, Native American genocide and reservations throughout the land they conquered?
Today on the backs of our white ancestors we whites in fear and rage seek to escape the very impoverished urban and indeed rural experience our majority white ancestors created. Please read that last sentence over slowly.
Anger, fear, continuing racism and ignorance are fruits of white domination and exceptionalism. Yes, not only American exceptionalism, white exceptionalism. To this day we have opportunities people of color rarely have and we often elect politicians to help us while any sense of not “standing our ground” means we are creating or maintaining the next impoverished ghetto due to those people who are not like us.
“White flight” from cities to suburbs? We fear reaping what others now suffer from the seeds our ancestors sowed and if un-repented of, which we ourselves plant. It is that fear and anger that propels many a white vote.
One of today’s worst continuing diseases in this foul recipe is the gentrification process where pols placed by the financing of the rich work to upgrade/fix/beautify cities with ever-larger development corporate investment snatching up prime land -and when all-too-often allowed re. the residential issues, low-income housing regularly, literally goes out the window. Equality and equity go with the widows, widowers and generally poor and often minority people who had once called the area home. This is our common, repetitive heritage Americans!
The sad truth is others reap what we sow, not merely ourselves.
Consider, then understand why MLK had to do what he did, say what he said and eventually was murdered for it.
Was he sinless? No more than the white race, governments and laws- including incarceration for people of color that have continued to decimate minority and yes, white poor folk in both urban and rural settings to this very day.
God have mercy on us and cause us to have mercy on those we dislike, are fearful of or even outright hate. The way of Jesus is not the way of the vast majority of our national history.
Critics scream “Revisionist history!” I say what needs to be revised is us.
This a.m. I was inspired to post this due to a dear leader who very humbly, honestly wrote of her own frailty and how dearly she needed the Lord to do anything, especially and even when offering some of her best (to other’s judgment) work.
The other thing that moved me to write was a couple truly gracious, humbling encouragements from folks I respect who said the sort of positive stuff you could hardly pay anyone to say about you- and they did so in public. Whew.
I’ve mentioned this before, but in truth, those things I receive the most praise for from others have regularly been the most demanding but also gifted-from-God (in my view) while yet points of insecure, “Lord- bail me on this, I’m flying by the seat-of-my-pants-here!” work I have done or now do! Truth.
I struggle with pride, arrogance and when I’m aware of this I also repent. I also have to come to Him with my sometimes mis-placed lack of faith that I can accomplish anything of value. At the same time, this morning something came up I do feel confident about because I’ve spent a great deal of time, thought, study and effort WITH TONS OF HELP FROM WISE AND EXPERIENCED FRIENDS in so doing. Updating my wife’s computer. Yep.
The moment I recognized the need I emailed a close computing guru and he offered to help. Meanwhile I know what I can and need to do prior to his direct input, so there was that measure of confidence in myself present.
Now- singing, songwriting, recording, live performance, speaking, you name it and I’m often praying my heart and brains out before, during and after because I’m still in some cases quite the insecure little kid trying to do good with the ingredients I’ve been given.
When I say “Glory to God!” I’m not even slightly joking or just tossing out a phrase that often gets used glibly.
Where or when am I most confident? When after a great deal of thought, prayer, consultation and looking full in the face of the costs I’m deeply convinced I’m doing what the Lord has called me to do -and whatever the price, so be it. In such cases I’m in and whether hugs, “friendly fire” or “Go to hell” results I’m ok with it.
An old lyric of mine says it:
“Whatever one could ask of faith, Obedience will give, Together all express the love, In hearts where Jesus lives”
Jesus and people must be my focus, not merely some flawed dude named Kaiser.
Grace, daily grace, passion based on knowledge and God-help-us, wisdom and the willingness to live one’s convictions is key to a life well lived.
The rest is likely more about self than Jesus, the kingdom of God or people’s needs being met.
Here I stand. And I typically get there by crawling via prayer, study, accountability.
For the other person. For the other group. For the other church, etc., etc..
Most of us would rather be invited than commanded -not only in terms of people but re. God Himself. We so conveniently pass over, ignore or outright reject at least in part, the biblical God Who IS LOVE because we want gentle embrace, kind hugs and rarely if ever, commands. Me too, I get it.
Among self-focused, mean-spirited, harsh, sometimes brutal people and in an often incredibly painful world this is understandable! The more self righteous you are the less you’re likely to look to God and what He considers… about anything -including repentance. Ok, there are more reasons of course:
Plenty of people love preaching repentance to the savage/heathen/sinners, while the Lord (whew… see Revelations chapter 3!) calls all including professing Christians in “the church” to repent right along with those outside of saving faith in Him.
Alas, throughout Scripture He both invites and commands. He has every right and Himself defines and determines what “right” is.
The Bible term “repent” is not about a feeling nor at core that there is sorrow or anything -done- just yet, at first. The word simply means “change your mind”, “re-think”. Scripture is clear that actions will and must attend genuine repentance but in a progression of first thinking as God thinks about X, Y or Z.
Has any human who ever lived not wanted a change of mind to happen in others?
Ahhh but then the context, and I now mean in The Bible -is always at core, thinking what God Himself thinks and our best bet for that is what He’s already said.
If Scripture -and I mean ALL of it- isn’t our foundation, and if we will not wrestle with that how much does personal desire, agenda, passion qualify as “the Word of God”?
Because there is argument over who needs to repent and what the issue is, there will always be disagreement on what God Himself qualifies as sin or right thought, attitude and subsequent behavior/action. No surprise among flawed (myself included) humans!
So I leave you with 3 simple texts that bring not only healing and chance for sound relationship to God in Christ by the Spirit, but also the painful and personal cross-bearing side.
They include one of the earliest sermons of Jesus, from Peter and Paul as well.
Few would say there is no need for repentance in the world or church. It is simply ridiculous to believe or live otherwise.
Jesus in Matthew 3.2 and Mark 1.15 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Peter in Acts 17.30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…”
Paul in Romans 2.4 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
In conclusion, how can anyone love as Jesus loves both the Father and human beings (our neighbors, indeed enemies) if we will not allow Him to change our minds?
The Bible says a great deal more about repentance but to be sure, it’s not optional but essential. It’s not a one off (one time) matter, but an ongoing part of growing, learning, becoming all God meant for us to become.
In discussing the topic in this post with a Christian friend who is writer/historian/priest/musician I found myself commenting on Duane W.H. Arnold’s interview with John Michael Talbot:
“Very cool, thanks Duane! Funny, I seem to experience both monastic experiences, fluctuating between inner-city (inter-jail/prison, etc.,) ministry based in our JPUSA community life, yet also am able to take solitary breaks nearly every day in our garden or silent, empty spaces here (short time frames of course) and when I wish, 45 min. drive away to a country spot w. nobody and a very small building (woods and a field) and compost toilet on it. No electricity or running water, etc.. where I and on occasion others go, build a fire, sit or walk, pray, meditate, seek Him. All good. Balance for me really. -Glenn”
Perhaps it’s about personality? Introvert or extrovert? Perhaps ones childhood both wonderfully positive re. family or horrible, abusive relationships there or in later adulthood? Perhaps it’s encouraging, welcoming or full-on rejection, hurtful indifference or super painful experiences earlier in school or university, the workplace, or with a church, a denomination, a house fellowship or what was once a close-knit band of friends?
What about a sense of the reality of God Himself, a personal, deep conviction of His calling on our life to live alongside these people, those folks, here or there, and doing this or that service for the Lord and others?
All, some or none of these directly affect the linked just as they do the “dones”, “nones” and whomever else lives on planet earth.
Note my response above- “balance“.
Far as I and those wise, closest-to-me folks say, I don’t likely suffer from mental illness issues but some of course do. I’ve been deeply hurt on a number of occasions by Christian or at least professing Christian people during my lifespan but that’s not unusual either.
Looking back, my family was largely a train wreck but not constantly. As I aged and then came to saving faith it became pretty clear for me to understand how they each and together ended up in various addictions, adultery, divorce and pain. No doubt all this did and does affect my life.
I’ve experienced a fair bit of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 and plenty time pondering how it relates to my and most of our experiences (esp. vs. 1-12). In the end he decided the pain at very least was to teach him and his companions God’s faithfulness and gave them both authority and ability to share that relationship and wisdom with others. Note- “others”. Personal -and- others…
Monastic Christianity? Of course history offers a great deal on the subject, both in terms of solitary lives and shared, more gathered groups, both who served and today serve. One size doesn’t fit all just as not only one call of God fits all Christ followers.
I’ve experienced these things on several levels while living all but the first 18 years of my life in close-knit Christian community where I still gladly, indeed happily live and serve to this day!
So allow me to also pop any romantic bubble of utopia the reader may have! 🙂
At very, very least one must sooner and later visit two issues again and again while living and serving in close proximity/community with others regardless of anything else. In fact these can ONLY happen by living out the Scriptures in real-time, sincerity and some level of community engagement with others.
Foot washing grace (forgiving one another) AND “Father, bless me that I will have to Bless others” (sharing).
Without these gathered community for the individual, family or small group is in my view, impossible and in reality nonexistent.
Can a desert father or mother forgive and serve others via thought, prayer and distance? Yes. But the balance is in my view the most sensible, approachable and of course difficult path.
My sense of some sort of perfect individual, contemplative OR corporate serving life in the body of Christ has long been packed away. Fantastic? Sometimes, yes!
Monastic (either as individual or corporate life focus) as per this or that order or specific intentional community? For some, either. For most of us? Both.
Meanwhile, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”- and living out the kingdom of God in private/secret and public seems quite the passion and example of our Lord Jesus. Alone and together, serving. Washing feet, expecting and facing the dirt, forgiving, receiving forgiveness, sharing with a good heart all seems the reflection of Jesus the world needs.
For new or otherwise monastics, for what they are worth, these are my thoughts.
I am convinced God speaks through His Word The Bible, and equally sure none of us always “gets it right” in either interpretation or application.
That said I pose some questions that may help though often also, even simultaneously cause pain for any of us seeking direction from those texts.
Now, to be quite blunt, if your -or my- “scripture” is solely between our ears we may naturally avoid any such thing from what we dispute as not truly being God’s Word. In such case we we substitute our own thoughts with God’s. “What I determine is true about His Word is essential, not that Book”. Such judgment says more about us than it does Scripture.
So here’s what I suggest is one of the most basic, important issues for Christ followers when questioning “What does God say?”
Regardless of the issue:
Does Scripture ever directly, in context, address it?
Is the given issue mentioned more than once?
Does the text speak to the issue in positive, negative or sometimes positive and in others, negative terms?
Is prophesying mentioned in The Bible?
Are true and false prophets mentioned in both Testaments?
Did both true and false prophets speak publicly about and directly to Israel”s rulers in Scripture?
Did the chosen people have both godly and ungodly kings and priests as leaders?
One of several poignant sections of God”s Word -Jeremiah chapter 20-, illustrates these issues quite directly. Have a serious read there and elsewhere on the subject- https://biblehub.com/nasb/jeremiah/20.htm
Jesus said “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” -Luke 8.18
His comments contextually, specifically pertain to how we interact with and respond to the Word of God.
I’ve been pondering an axiom for some time now and it’s really a question that I do believe has a solid answer.
Boil it down to the “nth”, and ultimately, in the end, do we bring definition to our lives by bringing information to the Scripture or does the Word of God bring definition to us? Which is it?
A wise, studied person will likely say that science, archaology, history, textual criticism and personal/group experience and more bring great definition, enlightenment and clarity to the Bible. I would not entirely disagree with that.
Nor do I believe in the ultimate sense that we may trivialize or merely negate The Bible on those bases if it has any legitimate spiritual, metaphysical value to us.
While some will balk at there being any such thing as “spirit” or “spirituality” in say, scientific terms, my own life-long experience with both the Book and the God of the Book not only disagrees but disagrees with such a brush-off by my very life.
No Bible, no living Glenn Kaiser, simple as that.
In the absolutely most shortened form, my “testimony” is that John 3.16 became as real to me as the internet you and I are using to read this on. No internet, no communication/connection of this post.
No God? No worries, John 3.16 is simply words by somebody who may not even exist about someOne who may not exist. Certainly some have faith (see what I did there :)?) in that.
My take is that humans demand personal definition of what is truth, reality and in a practical sense, our own ability to control our life. Or as I repeatedly hammer at in my writings, self-deity. We want to be God, hence what we bring to The Bible is “cannon” as opposed to what it brings, says to us about us, who we are and where we’re going with or without Jesus.
Convenient… but a long study of history informs me the human race is a flaming mess in deep need with the occasional ray of light breaking in.
“The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119.130)
Oh there is much more to say, but for now, I’ll simply state that unless God defines us we’re dust-to-dust and without meaning or consequence before, during and after.
Jesus tells us something quite different. Eternally better. Or worse, depending on our willingness to trust and surrender to Him.