Monday, September 21, 2015

Bonhoeffer's Legacy for Today

There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since I heard his story, and especially since I read his work The Cost of Discipleship, I have not been able to stop thinking about the man. Much of this comes from parallels that I can see between the American church of our era and the German church of the National Socialist era, and I desire for men like Bonhoeffer to rise up and confront the temptation that the church faces today. I daresay I harbor a desire to be like Bonhoeffer myself. 

The parallels I see between the German church of then and the American church of now lie specifically within the homosexual movement and what Bonhoeffer called the “Jewish question.” But there is an inverse: the German church was being asked to exclude Jewish saints, and the American church is being asked to include practicing homosexuals. And this is what makes the issue so tempting: if it were a compromise of exclusion, we as an enlightened culture that prides itself on eradicating racism and hatred of all kinds, would not find it as tempting to give in. It is fairly easy as a church to say no to exclusion. But to say no to inclusion? That’s a different matter. 

Bonhoeffer stated, in response to the German church’s proposal of creating separate churches where converted Jews could worship, that a church which excluded Jewish brothers and sisters would cease to be a church. He went further and said that any church which did not stand with the Jewish people, converted or not, was in danger of apostasy. Many churches fell away, accepting the Nazi rule and capitulating to state pressure. 

We see the same happening today, with a growing movement in the American church of embracing same-sex marriage. Beginning with mainline denominations and now even moving through evangelical churches and conservative denominations, there is a wave of pastors and church leaders who are caving to social pressures and affirming homosexual relationships. And there are many American Christians would find it less damning to do so than for a church to say it didn’t accept non-whites into its membership. Both, of course, are enough to make a church cease to be a church. 

My point is, the time is soon going to be upon us where the American church will find itself in a similar situation to the German church. The state will soon no longer allow freedom to disagree with the rule of law. Churches who refuse to affirm or perform same-sex marriages will first lose tax-exempt status, then soon be forced to close doors. The American church will be forced underground. We need to understand exactly how crucial it is to continue to hold the line, because it’s soon going to cost us quite a bit to do so. 

Let me be clear: I am not totally comfortable with this issue being “the one.” It would be far easier for me if it was an issue like Bonhoeffer was faced with. I’d be much more comfortable standing against racism in the church than standing against same-sex marriage. “LOVE WINS” as a battle-cry is a hard one to oppose. It makes me feel mean, small-minded, hateful, to say I so strongly and vehemently oppose same-sex marriage, on the same lines as saying I support killing puppies. But here I stand; I can do no other. I believe God, and I believe that His Word is true, and is the only source we have for knowing and relating to Him, and I just can’t see any way around what He says about homosexuality. And as such, for the church to deny a truth, even one so seemingly inconsequential as this, is to erode the whole of Scripture. To quote Buffy Summers, “It’s like the little boy with his finger in the duck.” We allow the crack to grow, and the whole of it will crumble. We deny a part, then we can no longer accept the Bible as the Word of God.

I have nothing but compassion for those who suffer from same-sex attraction (and I choose those words intentionally, because it is an affliction, as surely as an eating disorder or compulsive lying). I believe it to be something out of the control of many who are afflicted by it, due to what I don’t know. And on the one hand, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have desires that God has given me no recourse to fulfill, especially in a culture which elevates sexual gratification to a human right. I understand, and fully affirm, how difficult a position it is. And I can only say that I am glad it isn’t me, because I don’t know what I would do.

But I know what must be done. I am fully convinced of what must be done. The truth must be proclaimed, and Jesus Christ preached, and the only freedom for all people must be held firmly in view. There is only one way to be free from sin, and that’s through the blood of the Savior. The law of God shows us our sin, the blood of the Son of God covers it, and the Spirit of God leads us in freedom out of it. 

We must hold this in view. It is not merely the redefinition of marriage that’s at stake; it’s the gospel.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shadows Shot Through with Light

Sometimes I can see it: great and ugly, the squatting creature that dirties the world, that spreads its stink on all and covers everything in its dark slime. There's nothing it doesn't touch, nothing that remains unsullied by its presence. 

And I hate it. I hate the way it chuckles as it releases its filth, spreading it so seemingly indiscriminately on the world. I want to kill it, murder it and begin to wash the world. 

But the most I can do is try to clean up after it. It's not my job to kill it - as a matter of fact, I have it on good authority it's already dead, and its activities now are simply the death throes, like a chicken thrashing about when its head's been removed. So I clean: I go through the motions of what often seems like futile labor. I scrub a spot clean here, only to look and see that the spot I scrubbed moments before has been rubbed with the creature's excrement again. I go to work. 

Sometimes I can see the progress. Occasionally I'll be able to look up from my cleaning and see the behind me the sparkling trail I'm leaving. But most of the time my head is down; I'm focused in on my work; scrubbing until my hands bleed. It's amazing, actually, how effective blood is as a cleanser. 

Not my blood, though. His. He poured it out, in the battle with the beast where His death sealed the beast's own. He poured out His blood on His people, making them clean. And while the stains remain, I soak in His blood to get them out a little bit more every day, and I keep going back to that blood to scrub out the stains that beast leaves on everything. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


I get a little wistful this time of year, a little bit more each year.

As I live and serve here, on this reservation, on this earth, I long for the hope of Christmas more and more. I long for the realization of what Jesus started when He came the first time; for the completion of His work in the Second Advent. I long for His return, when all will be made new, and the wrongs and the hurts and the pains will be done away with.

This year has seen a lot of hurts. A boy I love and care about deeply is losing his grandmother, who's cared for him best she can since his parents passed. A little girl I came to love as my own has been moving from home to home since she left ours, and I don't know if she's safe, and can't keep her safe. A boy told me the other day at youth group he'd been thinking about hanging himself. And that's only some of the sorrows I've seen in our community. There are other sorrows, too: young black men getting shot by police, a school shooting on another reservation in the state, the deaths and beheadings of Christians and Westerners by ISIS. Our world is sick with sorrow, groaning with the pains of childbirth. Can we look at all of it and endure?

There have been moments where it's been too much. It has seemed like evil is winning, and all of it is futile. The little we can do is surely not enough to stem the tide, not enough to redirect the current. Why persist? The war is lost.

And yet.

And yet, there is Christmas.

There's a baby. Powerless, helpless. A very little thing, infinitesimal, born to lower classes in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, not even registering on the radar of anyone who mattered. It surely couldn't be enough to stem the tide of evil, could it?

Yet that baby was. That small thing was the one thing that could do it. It was the lynchpin, the cornerstone. It when that baby came into the world that evil lost, albeit it has taken a couple thousand years of the devil thrashing around with his head cut off.

I'm ready for the devil to stop his death throes. I'm ready for the job to be finished. I grow so weary of seeing the devastation sin and evil still is able to thrust upon this world, even after the head's been cut off. I'm ready for the triumphant return - so ready.

My favorite Christmas song remains still "White Horse" by Over the Rhine. Their lyrics of the triumphant return of Jesus on a white horse, come to set all things right, recall the language of the Old Testament prophets who made no distinctions between the First and Second Advents. May we remember always that He didn't just come and die and rise again. While that is certainly the root of our hope, the full realization of our hope and the consummation of our hope is in the Second Advent, the White Horse, the Flaming Sword. He is coming again to finish what He started! While we can remember now what He began as a baby, in humble beginnings, and allow that to give us hope that the small efforts in which we partake now will indeed work His will against evil, we can look forward to the grandiose way in which He shall return - riding in the clouds, sword in hand, to do battle with the devil for the last time.

It'll end. He will win. Come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reflection on a Sunday

There's a church in White Swan, a haven of rest and safety for the many who have neither. A playground unequaled on the Rez, where the kids run and play and get fed and wounds are treated and shoes are given and Bible stories are told.

Three are here who have been gone for some time. I ask the middle one where they've been staying. "With our mom," he tells me. 

"In Totus?" I ask. 

"No," he tells me, and clarifies where they've been. "But we've been moving every day." 

I murmur that this must be hard, and he nods. "We used to live in Totus for  a long time." There's a bit of sorrow, a bit of a shrug in his tone, like at 10 years old he's seen enough of life to know it's just hard. And I know enough of his story to know he's seen some things in his time. 

But here, he tosses another ball through the net and smiles. Here the sorrow and burden can be lifted for awhile, and he and his brothers can hear about Jesus' love and shoot some hoops after. 

The last three Sundays I've been averaging 1.2 shoeless kids per week. It's not the same children every time, and usually it's in a frantic effort to get ready and they can't find their shoes. It's a symptom of the larger problem: neglect. The kids are on their own, parents and family caught up in their own addictions, too wrapped up in their pain and avoidance to care for their kids. Everyone is giving up. Holding on to hope has become too difficult.

But these kids still have it, to my wonder. The God of hope has granted it to them. They have been told - and have begun to believe - that there is hope for them, and that God cares about them, and that they matter not just to Him, but to us. To me. They matter to me.

And who knows how it starts: do they matter me because I care about what God thinks, or do they matter to me because they matter, inherently, and I can see it? I don't know. It doesn't make a difference where the source is. The crux is that my eye is now trained to detect the evidence of God's plan and purpose in creating each person here; in hunting out the beauty and the stamp of His image even in those who seem the furthest gone. We have hope. We have a God who is the God of hope. His Spirit is the source of hope. We know what He can do, because we've seen Him do it. We can trust that He will continue to work out His plan, and that He'll bring to an end all that He wishes.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Questions for Heaven

Father, when you used to
    Meet Adam in the garden
    For an evening walk,  how much
    Did you miss him when he left?

Father, when you looked down
     And saw
     Only one family left
     Who remembered you,
     Was it your tears that covered the earth?

I can see you now: rushing the remnant
     Onto the ark, holding back
     Just long enough
     To get the door

      And then you wail.
      And everything

Father, did a sob
     Catch in your throat
     As you stayed the hand
     Of Abraham, knowing
     That someday
     What he was just spared
     You would not be?

Father, sometime I wonder
    Sometimes I just wonder
    Sometimes I just cry and I just wonder

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Was Both Amazed and Left Stunned and Speechless By What Happened Next.

"You won't believe what happened next."

I just about hate those words now. Scanning through my Facebook feed, I almost lost count of how many times they popped up.

At what point did the internet decide collectively to begin to use this formula centering around the three words "what happened next"? The formula consist of a) a situation introduced ("This mom surprised her high schooler at lunch"), b) a "power adjective" (stunned, speechless, amazed, etc) and c) "what happened next." I'm sure you've seen it.

It evokes a visceral reaction in me, and since I've noted its arrival, it has guaranteed that, no matter how intriguing the subject material is, I WILL NOT CLICK ANY LINK WHICH INCLUDES THIS VERBIAGE. I just won't.

It's probably my issue. I have a deep-seated fear of being manipulated, and I think I may react strongly to anything I see as a possible attempt to coerce me into a certain action, no matter how innocuous it might be. But really, my objection is that it's simply a cheap way out. If one can't think of a creative way to hook people in to watch a video or peruse a link, one can fall back on a formula which (assuming from its over-usage) has success.

I admit, I feel a pull on my curiosity when I see the words. Who doesn't want to know what happened next? Isn't that why TV season finales always end on cliffhangers? The power of curiosity and the desire for closure and resolution is so strong. But it's that very pull on my curiosity that makes me despise the words. I despise my own reaction to them, wishing that my natural desire to know "what happened next" could be curbed. I hate being manipulated. Don't trick me into watching your cat video by tempting me to find resolution. I was happy without knowing "what happened next" five minutes ago; I will be happy not knowing "what happened next" five minutes from now.

There's my curmudgeony moment of the day.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Madness sets in like
Like, you can't
is true because, who are you just you're just a little
        so-and-so and who do you think you are to think
        you can tell you what's what

And the funny thing
you start to believe it firmly.

But madness gotta be
Gotta fight it, gotta tell it where to go and where to get off, I got Truth on my side, you old so-and-so so you
 Better, that's right, you better run

Gotta go to Jesus, man - go to Jesus, He got, yeah He got the Truth:
          Tell the madness what's what
And that
You can KNOW
(Are you LISTENING? Can you HEAR ME?)
You can KNOW!

freedom. love. family. forgiveness. honor. respect. love. grace. love. grace. love.

and the end

I'm not sure where this came from. I started writing and this is what came out. I haven't changed a single word to it, so you can take that for whatever it's worth. I can give no real commentary on it other than it came from thinking about the problem of wallowing in guilt and isolation, a place I would find myself in frequently if I did not embrace the denouement of the piece. I'm not sure why I feel prompted to offer commentary on the piece, either, since I wrote it with no real intent in mind other than to see what came out. Still, here the commentary is, and I suppose it shall remain. 

Let's try this again.

It's a new year, right? A new year, a time for trying to form new habits (or re-form old ones that you let die).

I'm a writer - at least, I've always called myself one. But it's hard to keep believing it when I cease to write. When I let my pens and pencils die in obscurity. When my notebooks languish from want of use. When I have to blow layer after layer of dust off my blog before I can see the screen to write this post.

Most of the writing I do these days is out of duty rather than delight, when I'm writing to supporters to communicate about work and life here on the Rez. There are times - quite often, even -when these two hemispheres of the Venn diagram overlap, and duty and delight squeal with glee when they meet. I love those moments when I feel like I'm clearly communicating the passion and joy I find in the work I do here in a creative way. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.

But there's the part of my writer-soul that's weak with hunger from neglect, rocking in the corner of my mind, having ceased about a year ago asking to be fed. It's that part that likes to write poetry and make up stories and imagine that magic is real, and just write about whatever it wants. I'm gonna start feeding it again this year. Maybe it'll be fat in 2015.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Because I Don't Know What Else to Do: Thoughts on the SGM Lawsuit

While this is out of character for me to write about, and to publicly come out on one side of this issue, I can't be silent on this. Too many people already have.

You may have heard about the lawsuit (recently tossed out due to statue of limitations) against Sovereign Grace Ministries, alleging a conspiracy to cover up multiple incidences of child sexual abuse by pressuring families not to report abuse. 

I can't stop thinking about it, for many reasons. 

One reason: The details of the kinds of abuse that occurred are horrific. At least eleven people came forward with stories that I wish I could forget. If you know anything about child sexual abuse, it’s that allegations of abuse are rarely false. In so many of these instances, church leaders were made aware of the abuse that was happening by either other church members or people in ministry roles, and their response was to defend the victim and push for reconciliation over and against alerting authorities.

This was not one church within the Sovereign Grace network. This happened in at least two locations, and the charges in the civil suit were aiming to prove that there had been an orchestrated effort on the part of the leadership to keep the abuse under wraps and out of the hands authorities.

A second reason: C.J. Mahaney is a well-respected and influential leader in Reformed circles, one of the founders of Sovereign Grace Ministries and its long-time president, one of the “4” in T4G (Together for the Gospel, the quartet of Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Mahaney), and a council member on The Gospel Coalition, an organization composed of almost all influential Reformed folks (John Piper, Tim Keller, the T4G boys, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, D.A. Carson, Matt Chandler, and many more). The lawsuit included many instances of abuse that happened at the church of which he was senior pastor, some of them under his watch. He was named as one of the men allegedly covering up abuse.

Now, in 2011, CJ took a leave of absence from his position at Sovereign Grace Ministries, in order to examine his heart over several charges leveled at him by others in leadership. These charges were perhaps not directly related to the abuse cover-up, but it wasn’t long after that the lawsuit was filed, and it isn’t hard to link the two eventsIn a post on The Gospel Coalition website titled “Why I’m Taking a Leave of Absence,” CJ explains that, while the charges aren’t immoral in nature, they are serious, and he was leaving to go under the care of his friend Mark Dever while examining his heart, etc.  A statement put out last week by Dever, Mohler, and Duncan seems to echo the language of this 2011 article:  

A Christian leader, charged with any credible, serious, and direct wrongdoing, would usually be well advised to step down from public ministry. No such accusation of direct wrongdoing was ever made against C. J. Mahaney. Instead, he was charged with founding a ministry and for teaching doctrines and principles that are held to be true by vast millions of American evangelicals. For this reason, we, along with many others, refused to step away from C. J. in any way. We do not regret that decision.

I read that and felt my blood boil. Were I a victim of abuse, or a family member of a victim, I would feel betrayed not just by one church organization, but by the church at large, whose leaders have chosen to minimize the seriousness of the charges and spin the truth to protect a single leader. Add to that the fact that it’s simply not true. Mahaney was charged with aiding in the cover-up of abuse happening in his church and the network of which he was the head, not with simply being the leader of the network where the abuse happened.

Later, The Gospel Coalition website posted another response composed by Justin Taylor, Don Carson, and Kevin DeYoung, “Why We Have BeenSilent About the SGM Lawsuit.” This one was equally troubling; though the language was somewhat more sensitive to victims and those with reasonable questions, the aim of it seemed to be to discredit the victims and those who brought the suit and to defend the actions of those around Mahaney and SGM who have not spoken up about this.

This is an example:

So the entire legal strategy was dependent on a theory of conspiracy that was more hearsay than anything like reasonable demonstration of culpability. As to the specific matter of C. J. participating in some massive cover-up, the legal evidence was so paltry (more like non-existent) that the judge did not think a trial was even warranted.

Simply not true. The reason the judge decided to throw out the suit was because the statute of limitations had passed for civil complaint for many of the plaintiffs named in the suit. The plaintiff’s attorney was hoping that the judge would consider a charge of a conspiracy to cover up the abuse would be enough for the judge to consider bringing the case to trial anyway, but the judge decided against that. Not because of lack of evidence being “so paltry,” but because of the statute of limitations.
And that’s a huge deal. Because it means that, since this won’t go to trial, the pattern of behavior in these churches may continue. It also means that the leadership of the reformed community in America can feel justified in standing by Mahaney and SGM, claiming their innocence because the judge threw out the case against them.

A third reason this weighs on me: I am Reformed. I’m a member in a Presbyterian church, and I’m part of a Presbyterian church-planting ministry. These people are my people. I’ve watched and listened some of the sessions of the Together for the Gospel conference and gained a lot from them; I’ve respected these men for their solid biblical teaching and for their reputation for integrity in leadership. So it grieves me to my soul that they are so far off in how they are handling this. It grieves me that C.J. Mahaney has not simply come out and said, “ I did wrong; this happened on my watch. I can’t fix what happened, but I can make sure I do whatever I can so that it never happens again.” Instead he’s done the opposite, running and hiding from it and having his powerful friends run interference for him. He stepped down several months ago from leadership at SGM to become senior pastor at a church in Louisville. He’s gotten around coming clean about his culpability by retreating, rather than owning up and asking the church community how he can begin to work toward restoration.

And Dever, Mohler, Duncan, Carson, Taylor, and DeYoung have publicly sided with him, each one of them going on record as saying that Mahaney is above reproach in the whole thing.
I know there’s the possibility for Mahaney’s innocence. It’s a possibility, but it’s fairly unlikely. I have (regrettably) read many of the details of the case, and the close ties many of these instances of abuse have to Mahaney (close associates and men in ministry roles accused of abuse, cases of abuse being handled inappropriately by the leadership of the church while he was senior pastor, etc.) would make it next to impossible for me to believe that a) he had no knowledge of abuse happening in his church (and network of churches) on his watch, and b) he had no influence on how the leadership structure handled their approach to abuse victims and victimizers.

The reformed leadership – these celebrity-like figures within the landscape of Christianity in America – has a lot to answer for in these circumstances. I almost wish they had remained silent, because when they spoke up, they made things a whole lot worse. What they did was the collective equivalent of telling the abuse victims what happened is their problem.

And a fourth reason this bothers me: the Church is called to look out for the widows and the orphans. We are to look out for and speak out for the oppressed and the powerless, to defend and give voice to those who have none. We are told that the Kingdom is made up of children and the child-like.
These men have done the opposite. They have acted to silence those who have been oppressed; they have prioritized defending the powerful against the powerless children who were abused on his watch. They have publicly spoken out in such a way as to dismiss their plight. They have failed to do what they are called to do as Christians.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us all in the hands of a sovereign God whose grace covers over all sins. I pray that these men repent of what they are doing; they are hurting the church at large by shielding Mahaney. I pray that Mahaney repents, that God pursues him as only He can until he can’t resist any more. I pray that, even if nothing changes with the men who lead reformed America, the victims experience the healing that only Jesus offers. And I pray that other believers speak out against this cover-up, that pressure is put on these leaders to repent of their actions. 

May God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Tree on a Foggy Winter Day

Its many limbs
Finger the cold sky, rising
Out of the mist on my approach
Till, sharp,
They stand like dancers frozen in a pose,
Arms lifted
In praise of the sun's
Fog-filtered orb - a cold
Ball of silent fury.