Things to Think About

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The ‘Walk a Mile in His Moccasins’ quote is often contributed to various native American tribes, but it actually comes from a poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895. Lathrap, was an American poet, preacher, suffragist, and temperance reformer. For 20 years, she was identified with the progressive women of Michigan. The original title was Judge Softly.  

Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,  Or stumbles along the road.  Unless you have worn the moccasins, he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And its only wisdom and love that your heart contains.

For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.

I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.

Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and me.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.

Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.

In David P. Gushee’s ground breaking book: After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity (2020), the author’s research identified fifteen reasons why people are currently leaving the church. 

1. People leave churches to go to other churches.

2. Some leave because their faith in Christ has faded or lost salience. 

3. Some walk away because they are burned out from too many years of service. 

4. Some drift off to other weekend pursuits. 

5. Some leave because they got their feelings hurt. 

6. Some quit because they must work all the time or have complicated personal lives. 

7. Some abandon ship because they are tired of church conflict. 

8. Some leave for silly reasons. 

9. Others leave for reasons peculiar to the American evangelical experience. Those reasons begin with disillusionment over teachings that are viewed as harmful to the vulnerable. Some leave over the harm LGBTQ people and their families have experienced. 

10. Others leave over patriarchal teachings. 

11. Some leave over the damaging effects of purity culture. 

12. Others leave over white evangelical racism. 

13. Some say: all of the above. 

14. People are also leaving evangelical churches over reactionary attitudes toward science and liberal learning, over anti-intellectualism and theological rigidity, over the inability to deal with honest questions or anything other than all-happy-all-the-time faith, and over the identification of evangelical faith with conservative/Republican politics. 

15. The most embittered are leaving evangelicalism in a state of trauma, reporting their evangelical experience as one of abuse or violation. 

****

David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and past President of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Kingdom EthicsChanging Our Mind, and Still Christian.

Recently I watched the documentary Who Killed Malcolm X? on Netflix. I’ve always been fascinated by this man’s rise to prominence within the Nation of Islam and the controversy surrounding his assassination in 1965. While Malcolm was fighting against racism and the oppression of black people, another minister was engaged in the same fight, Martin Luther King Jr. King will be gunned down three years after Malcolm.

Both Malcolm and MLK were responding to the same thing, but there couldn’t have been a more different approach between the two of them.

“Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom.” – Malcolm X

And then…

“We are nonviolent with people who are nonviolent with us.” – Malcolm X

And in the documentary I heard him say in a meeting, “If the white man kills us, we’re gonna kill him back.”

I hope this doesn’t shock you but I really can’t blame Malcolm for promoting this way of thinking. Black Americans were being killed, unjustly incarcerated and discriminated against. They still are. Now contrast this with MLK’s approach to the same problem:

“World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.”

And again,

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

And my point?

At any given time I have a choice to respond to those in the church (Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, sisters and brothers) that I disagree with over very important issues and theologies, with either violent words and actions or non-violent words and actions. I can choose the way of Malcolm or the way of MLK.

Think of how you act when you are on social media and come across something that you passionately disagree with. Your blood starts to boil. Witty and mean responses begin to travel from your brain, down your arm to your hands, poised ready to bang on your keyboard. At that moment you have a choice, will I respond like Malcolm or MLK.

Although I understand Malcolm, I want to be like MLK. I want to practice non-violence. Will you join me?

I’m sorry, but I’m going to bring up our dogs again. But first, a text exchange that occurred this morning between Ellen and me.

Me: What is the medicine we use on the dogs that they hate and try to spit out? And what is it for?

Ellen: Panacur. It’s a broad spectrum de-wormer. Why?

Me: I’m going to use it as an illustration for an article I’m writing for my blog.

Ellen: You just did a thing about the dogs…don’t do too much about the dogs.

Me: This would only be my second blog where I mentioned the dogs.

Ellen: Just my opinion, but I would not use them that often.

Me: Why?

Ellen: It’s a one-trick pony. Wait and use the illustration in the future. If two out of four mention the dogs, it sounds like you’re one of those pastors who only uses their kids, or their diet, or their workout for illustrations. Boring. 

I put down my phone and thought; Well, we don’t have kids in the house anymore, I don’t diet (which I should) and I don’t exercise (which I should) so all I have left are my dogs.

Sorry Honey, and I apologize to the rest of you and promise that I won’t bring up my dogs again until this time next year. 

Have you ever had a dog with worms? It’s not that uncommon but it is kind of gross. No…it’s gross. I hope I never get worms. Here’s how Ellen and I deal with this.

I sit on the floor and hold the dog. Ellen fills a syringe with the medicine and shoots it down the back of the dog’s throat. Immediately she holds the dog’s muzzle closed so they can’t spit it out. They almost always manage to spit (or spray) some of it out, usually on me. And while all this is happening Ellen always says to the poor pooch, 

“I’m sorry, I know, I know. It doesn’t taste very good does it?”

“The human beings around us are often the bottles that hold our spiritual medicine, but it is our Father’s hand of love that pours out the medicine. The human bottle is the ‘second cause’ and has no real agency in itself.  For the medicine these human bottles hold is prescribed for us and given to us by the Great Physician of our souls.” (Hannah W. Smith: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life)

Is there someone who has wormed their way into your life?

Pause and think.

Is there a difficult person, someone overly critical of you, a church member or board member who seems to oppose every idea you come up with? Can you think of anyone who gossips about you or your spouse? Does a co-worker, boss, or someone in your family come to mind?

Do you have any worms? If not currently I bet you have had some in the past or will in the future.

Embedded in every worm is an opportunity for spiritual growth.

“Remember that He may use anyone at all, however unwitting they may be, to teach us and direct us on our way.” (Saint John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul)

I’m sure the Father stole this from Ellen but can you hear Him say, “I’m sorry, I know, I know. It doesn’t taste very good does it?”

Take your medicine. Don’t spit it out. It’ll be good for you.

Some Christians, and the Pastors who lead them, seem more attracted to the image of Jesus with a whip in his hand, driving the money-changers out of the Temple than they do of Him with a knife and fork in his hand sharing a meal with sinners. There are those in the Christian community who are demonstrating more hostility than hospitality. If you are fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to be on social media, you probably have encountered this.

Speaking of the need to move from hostility to hospitality, Henri Nouwen said,

“Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people, anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm. But still, our vocation is to convert the hostel into hospitality, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” (Reaching Out)

Much of our church culture is hostile towards anything they feel threatened by or anyone that thinks differently than they do. For many, their hostility sleeps until something pokes it, something they deem heretical, and unbiblical, or sinful. Hospitality can be hard work, but hostility is easy. These days hostility only needs one thing: Disagree with me.

I’m trying to push back against the surrounding pressure to be hostile and instead wade into the warm, peaceful waters of hospitality.

What are your thoughts?

We have dogs. To be precise, we have six Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Yes, you read that right…pray for us. I often feel like a rancher and my livestock have short legs and really cute butts. If you are unfamiliar with the breed…look them up.

Usually in the morning when I get up to have my ‘quiet time’ they are still crated, usually asleep, and, therefore…quiet. However, once in a while if I get up later, they have already been released outside and let back in, with me, in the living room, in my special red chair, trying to have a ‘quiet time.’

Now Corgis have a lot of energy to begin with, but first thing in the morning, after having been in their crates all night…oh mama, let me tell you, you have no idea the noise they can make. You try having a ‘quiet time’ with twentyfour Corgi feet racing around you on wood floors. I swear the house shakes.

A couple weeks ago I’m having my ‘quiet time’ along with my six obnoxious friends. I’m starting to get really irritated. They were having a good time, but not me. I was trying to be spiritual! I was trying to find God’s presence! I couldn’t take it any more and I yelled at them “STOP IT!” They simultaneously, like synchronized swimmers, stopped dead in their tracks, stared at me, laughed in my face (yes I heard them) and started back up. I shook my head in defeat, and then it came to me.

It’s easy for me to find God in quiet and solitude but what about experiencing Him in the noise, distractions, and interruptions of life? I took a deep breath, relaxed and refocused even with all the crazy happening around me. And you know what? It worked! Not perfectly, but I was able to have a meaningful quiet time in a noisy place.

Pastor’s lives are filled with distractions and interruptions. You start out thinking you’re going to have a productive day and then things go south because of a hundred unplanned intrusions. This is true for normal people as well. Maybe it’s chaotic and stressful where you work. Maybe you’re at home with a bunch of kids that behave like…well… like a bunch of Corgis.

Our goal should be to learn how to experience God’s peace and presence regardless of our surroundings. Silence and solitude are probably best for accomplishing this but that’s not the real world we live in.

Take or create every opportunity you have for silence and solitude, but the next time you are bombarded with noise or distraction or interruptions, take a deep breath and try to recognize where God might be in it all.

The older I get the more I’ve noticed my list of ‘things I’m opinionated about’ has gotten shorter. That’s not to say I don’t have some strong opinions about certain important things, only that I have fewer of those things than I once had. And then of course, once I retired from pastoring back in 2006 I experienced greater freedom to say “I don’t know.” or “I don’t really have an opinion about that.”

When you’re a pastor you’re expected to have an opinion about everything and not just an opinion, but a strong opinion. To admit that you don’t know, or say you’re not sure about some controversial subject can get you into as much trouble as landing firmly down on either side of the debate.

A few years ago I had a client who ended our relationship. He wanted help in navigating the touchy subject of same-sex marriages. Some in his church and leadership team believed one thing and others something else. He was not in favor of same-sex people getting married.  I shared with him that as I tried to objectively listen to both sides I discovered that both camps had some good points and that I was not sure where I stood on this. The silence on the other end of the phone told me that this was not what he wanted or expected to hear from me. About five minutes after ending our call I received an email from the pastor telling me that he would no longer be using me as a coach, that he was greatly disappointed in me, and that he did not think it was wise for him to let me influence him. Ouch!

Keep in mind, I did not say that I was in favor or not in favor of same-sex marriages. The fact that I tried to be open-minded in listening to the two sides of the debate resulting in me not having a strong opinion about the subject was enough to end our relationship. 

If you’re a normal person (not a pastor), you can get away with not having an opinion about certain controversial subjects like Trump, global warming, the role of women in marriage and the church, the mode of baptism and who gets to be baptized, Bernie, KJV vs NIV, immigration, to wall or not to wall…the list could go on and on.

But pastors, and I know because I was one for thirty years, have been trained and conditioned to have an opinion about everything. We are constantly evaluating, judging, drawing a line in the sand so that we and our people know clearly who is on our side and who is not, who is for us and who is against us, who is our friend and who is our enemy.

Life is a long struggle to let go of all evaluations and opinions, to be free from the burden of making judgments.

I want to live free. How about you?

Stop what you’re doing and read Luke 10:30-37, I’ll wait…

Did you do it? Probably not but that’s okay because you’re familiar with the story.

One day an “expert” in the law came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

That’s a good question but Luke tells us that it wasn’t a sincere question, he was saying this to try and trap Jesus. Now Jesus could have pulled out his KJV and started quoting Bible verses at him but instead, he asks his own question, “What do you understand the Law says about this?”

 

Side Note:

 Jesus was a master question-asker.

Great leaders ask great questions

and help people think.

 

This tricky fellow says, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus tells him that this was a good answer. I bet this guy was thinking, “Dang, this isn’t going as I planned. He’s not taking the bait. I know, I know…so Jesus, who exactly is my neighbor?”

Jesus answers his question with ‘The Good Samaritan.’ You know the story.

 

Side Note:

Jesus doesn’t always answer your

questions as you’re expecting.

 

At the end of the story, Jesus says, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t answer his question (Who is my neighbor?) but turns it around to “Who could you be neighborly to? Who could you show kindness and mercy to?”

Here’s my twist on ‘neighbor’:

A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness.

Whether you be a pastor or a normal person, most of us, if we’re really, really honest, have contempt and disgust towards individuals or people groups who are different than us.

I hate Pelosi and her Democratic idiots. She represents all that is evil in our country.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

Trump makes me want to puke. He’s an egotistical, racist, immoral pig.

Nope, that’s not love, mercy, or kindness.

 

Side Note:

 Contempt is easy to see in others and

hard to recognize in ourselves.

 

Does your stomach turn and your blood pressure rise when you think about that hard-headed board member who opposes you at every turn, the church gossip who has slandered you and spread falsehoods about you, churches that allow women pastors or those that don’t, Planned Parenthood or those that picket and protest Planned Parenthood, Evangelicals or Liberal Christians, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter, those churches that welcome LGBTQ+ people with no strings attached and those that have strings attached, Fox News or CNN. Need I go on?

Those people who bug the heck out of me are my neighbors. A neighbor is anyone who gives me an opportunity to show them love, mercy, and kindness. Jesus told me to love my neighbor.

 

Side Note:

Loving your neighbor is hard.

But try anyway.

 

You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve said it yourself, “The problem with Christians today is that they’ve developed a ‘consumer-mentality.’ Church is all about them, what’s in it for them, does the church meet their needs? If they don’t like the ‘menu’ at one church they simply go down the street to the next church that will cater to them.”

There is a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand…I sometimes think that we use ‘consumer-mentality’ as a cop-out, a diversionary tactic to shift taking responsibility for our failures as a church and on to those Christians who leave us.

Not everyone who visits our church and decides not to come back is a Consumer Christian. Not all who have been with us but then leave are Consumer Christians. Many are, maybe most are…but not all of them. If we dismiss those who leave and those who don’t come back as Consumer Christians we will lose an opportunity to sincerely and objectively evaluate our ministry and make the adjustments necessary to reach and retain new people.

Ellen and I have only been ‘church-shoppers’ three times in our entire lives. Having pastored for twenty-eight years (that’s five churches, three of which we planted) we’ve always been the ones being shopped. But when we moved from San Jose California to southern Oregon eleven years ago we became church shoppers. We shopped and landed at a church in Medford. Then, seven years later, wishing to find a church closer to where we lived, we shopped and landed in a church about three minutes away from us in the little town of Rogue River. Now, three years later, having moved to Medford, we are shopping again. Here’s how we do it.

We begin by looking at websites. You can size a church up pretty quick if you know what to look for on a website. You see, we have about four or five things that are important to us in a church. We’ve come to realize that if you can find three out of five you are doing pretty good. I bet you’re wondering what those five essentials are. Sorry, but I’m not going to tell you.

Some churches we checked off really quick. They were not the type of church we would want to commit to. It’s not that they were bad churches, just that they wouldn’t a good fit for us. Keep in mind, we are not Consumer Christians. Next, we start visiting churches that are of interest to us. After a visit, some we check off our list. Again, they are not the type of church we would want to be part of. I’m sure they are good churches, obviously many people who go there think so, but they are not a good fit for us. And again, remember, we are not Consumer Christians. Currently, we have our eyes on a couple of churches. We will probably visit them again before making a decision. Oh, and I hate to feel I have to reassure you of this, but yes, we have been praying about this. We are looking for a good fit. Not a perfect fit, but a good one. Does this sound like Consumer Christianity? I hope not.

There will be people that will visit your church and not come back, not because they are Consumer Christians but because your church would not be a good fit for them. There will be people who have been with you for a long time and then will leave for someplace else, not because they are Consumer Christians but because something has changed and what was once a good fit is no longer a good fit. If we label them and dismiss them we are missing an opportunity to evaluate why some people stay and others don’t.

If we want to reach and retain new people, and, if those people are young families, we’d better learn what type of a church would be a good fit for them and make the necessary adjustments. You see, your church is ideally designed to reach the people you currently have. If you want to see something different you will probably need to do something different. Many Christians have become Consumer Christians…but not all. Don’t hide behind ‘Consumer Christian’ and fail to honestly and objectively evaluate who your church is reaching and retaining and why…and who your church needs to reach and retain and how.

 

You’ve heard it before, “Set the bar high. People will rise to the level of your expectations.” Or, “Expect great things from God.” To be honest with you, and please don’t burn me at the stake for heresy, I’m not sure such statements always come true. Now hold on. Give me a second before you unfriend me on Facebook.

I think one reason why we experience frustration and disappointment in the ministry is due to unrealistic expectations. You can have unrealistic expectations of your people and you can have unrealistic expectations of God. Let’s start with God.

An unrealistic expectation of God is when we expect God to do something that He hasn’t clearly promised to do. Now, granted, Christians will differ on what God has promised in His word and what He hasn’t. Based on your theology, or hermeneutics, or denomination, you might think one thing is a promise to expect God to fulfill, while another pastor might think differently. But what I’m referring to here are the many voices (usually pastors of large churches) that tell us things like…

God wants your church to grow.
God wants to use you to reach your city for Jesus.
If you want to grow your church focus on _____ or _____ or_____.
God wants to do great things in your ministry and through your church.

I kind of believe those statements but the problem, as I see it, is that such statements revolve around formulas and numbers. There are more ways for a church to grow than merely by numbers. A church might grow in numbers but it be a very, very slow process. I haven’t heard of a church that has successfully “reached its city for Jesus.” Why is it that “great things” are seldom “small things?” If formulas work then why are there so many churches that have implemented the formulas and still are not experiencing numerical growth?

What are you believing God for? What are you expecting Him to do for you? What are you basing that on? If you are convinced that your expectations are based on the scriptures then fine. Hold on to those promises. But if not…rethink your expectations. And what about our expectations of our people?

If you expect your people to be as ‘into it’ as you are then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If, by raising the bar of commitment, you have seen your people leap up and over that bar like Superwoman (or man) then good for you. Congratulations, you’ve accomplished something most pastors never experience. I’m not exactly suggesting that we lower our expectations…but maybe I am. Maybe it’s more about having realistic expectations than unrealistic ones. And to be honest with you, many of the pastors I interact with have, again, in my opinion, unrealistic expectations and that is why they are so discouraged, frustrated, and lack peace and joy in the ministry. In regards to goals, I have a saying, “Set the bar so low that you can’t help but step over it.”

Before you ‘unfollow’ me on Twitter…just think about it. Keep praying and planning to reach new people for Jesus. Ask God to do great things with your church…just be careful of your definition of ‘great.’ Be content without becoming complacent. If you want to have more peace, discover those unrealistic expectations you have with God and your people and adjust them accordingly.

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