A Pastoral Response to Charlottesville

In worship on Sunday, we joyfully celebrated the sacrament of baptism at Avery United Methodist church. As we do at every baptism, we asked the parents and sponsors to respond affirmatively to the following questions:

“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”

Evil powers present themselves in a variety of forms. In our nation last week, evil once again presented itself in the form of white nationalism and white supremacy. And while our laws protect the freedom to express our opinions, there is a limit to what is acceptable within the bounds of American ideals, and more importantly Christian belief and practice.

The idea that one group of people is superior to, better than, or even more important than another group is very openly being expressed in this nation right now, from the highest places of power all the way down to the smallest communities. This idea is entirely un-American and un-Christian. As Christians, we must resist such ideas and expressions without reserve. It is no longer acceptable to stand by silently while these forms of evil continue to fester, and eventually gain legitimacy and power to the point where they gain a national audience with a public rally as they did last week.

In response, it is tempting for the American and/or Christian to avoid the conflict and take the lukewarm political position of defending or denouncing “all sides.” It’s even more tempting to remain silent, becoming a passive observer of someone else’s struggle. There are times such avoidance may be acceptable. But let me be clear: this is absolutely NOT one of those times.

In the demonstrations in Charlottesville which led to violence and loss of life, there is clearly a side fighting for good and a side fighting for evil. To say otherwise, or to say nothing, is to give legitimacy to beliefs that are anti-American and more importantly, anti-Christian.

Declaring that white nationalism is evil and must be stopped at all costs is not a political statement. It is a theological statement rooted in our Christian belief that all persons are created by God and have equal sacred worth. It’s rooted in the Bible we so dearly love, which consistently teaches us to welcome those unlike us, consider others as better than ourselves, choose love over hate, defend the cause of those without power, and live compassionately in the example of Jesus. As the writer of Romans 12:9 implores, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” White nationalism (and the racism it’s fueled by) is entirely evil. Hate it. God is good and loving. Cling to God.

You may agree with all of this. I hope you do. But it’s not enough to nod your head in agreement. We MUST go further than passive agreement or nervous avoidance. This is one of those moments when we are called not only to believe the right things, but to live them out.

So I implore you: in social media and other places where you have the ability to influence others, speak out as clearly and forcefully as possible. In private conversations and social settings, don’t be afraid to call this out for what it is: evil and sinful and lacking any redemptive value. You have the capability to influence others around you, even simply by lending your voice to the side of justice and love. Will you remain silent as hate grows, or will you take up your cross and make a difference with your Christian witness?

I know it’s easier and safer to stay silent. I know because far too many times in the past I’ve chosen that option too. But our silence is what allows the space for hateful voices to speak up. Instead, be courageous! Resist evil as publicly and loudly as you can, and let the power of God swiftly defeat the powers of evil.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,

should threaten to undo us,

we will not fear, for God hath willed

his truth to triumph through us.

Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

 

Peace,

Pastor Erik

 

 

 

“Do Not Fret…”

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.” – Psalm 37:8

We do a lot of “fretting” in the Western world. Feelings of impatience, anxiety, and worry are not only common, but are in some ways even considered positive. These feelings are fuel for the efficiency we value so highly. But when living in Zimbabwe in the summer of 2012, I found a better way.

I stayed in the city of Mutare with a host family. Both husband and wife had attended seminary, and Gift, the husband, served a church downtown. During my first week with Gift, I saw a lot of Mutare as we spent several hours driving around town to help the district superintendent. A shipping container with all kinds of donations to the district was scheduled to be delivered to the district women’s hostel, but after several tries, the truck could not fit through the gate. We then tried to have it dropped off in the driveway of the district parsonage, but there we also found the gate to be too narrow. After more than 2 hours of following this truck around, the delivery still had not been made. Finally, the district superintendent arranged for it to be delivered to St. Peter’s United Methodist Church on the other side of town, but it could not stay there for unloading later. It had to be unloaded immediately. So they had to call together the members of that church to help unload.

To me, the most surprising aspect of the situation was how calm and easygoing everyone involved was. I never saw anyone show frustration or anger – not even the driver, who I assume was not expecting his delivery to take so long. On the contrary, everyone involved kept laughing about the situation instead of getting upset.

This never would have happened in the United States. It would only take a few minutes for someone to start pointing fingers to lay blame, and/or complain about how everything is taking too long because he had somewhere else to be. I’m not the type to outwardly display impatience, but I can tell you that day tested me. Internally I was frustrated at the lack of foresight and efficiency, and it took all my willpower to keep my “fretting” from showing.

But where does all our “fretting” get us? It only leaves us angry and frustrated over things we cannot control. I wonder if we spend so much time getting impatient and anxious in our lives that we fail to find the humor in gates that are 6 inches too narrow for a truck, or forget to be grateful for donations being given and the drivers who deliver them patiently.

Today, commit to abandon fretting in your life. After all, as the Psalmist says, it only leads to evil.

— Pastor Erik

The Importance of Showing Up

Sometimes when I lead funeral services, I provide a time of naming and witness for those who have gathered. It gives people an opportunity to share memories of the deceased, such as their love of playing cards or the way they made Christmas meaningful. Occasionally this time of sharing can go on for a while.

That was the case at a funeral I led this past week. So many people wanted to share memories of their mom, aunt, grandma, and friend that we could have stayed at the funeral home all day listening to the stories and reflections of the 60 people who were there.

One of the last things that was shared was by one of the daughters of the deceased, who said her mom always showed up for everything. Even as her health declined and she didn’t have much energy, she made it to as many of her grandkids activities as she could. She didn’t want to miss making memories.

I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us. What I’ve come to realize over the years is that you can’t make memories if you’re not there. That’s happened to me before – I miss a family gathering due to a scheduling conflict, and I’ll never share the collective memory of that time together.

We can’t be everywhere, and we will always wish we had more time to spend with people we care about. And yes, work and other responsibilities are important and might limit our availability sometimes. But let’s not use that as an excuse. Let’s make it a priority to show up to the places that matter the most: to family gatherings, to the side of a friend in need, or wherever God is calling us to be today. If we don’t remember to show up, we won’t be able to make memories.