Una Oración para Los Niños y Sus Familias (A Prayer for the Children and Their Families)

I’ve been broken down recently by the news and reports of how children and families are being treated at the Southern border of the country, specifically in my state. I want to go somewhere or do something or serve or help somehow, but feel overwhelmed by my own ignorance and inability to do anything to get in the way of a broken system. And when I feel overwhelmed by the world around me, I tend to write liturgies to help me gather my own thoughts in prayer, and to maybe help others do the same.

This is a common prayer liturgy for the children and families who are being torn apart at the border as they seek asylum from violence and persecution, or simply the hope of a life where they can provide for and protect themselves. I share it here in the hopes that it may help you pray communally, or even on your own. If you are a native speaker, forgive my unpracticed Spanish and please do let me know if anything should be changed. And if you have connections or know of tangible work being done to address these problems, please also share how to be involved.

Una Oración para Los Niños y Sus Familias

(A Prayer for the Children and Their Families)

Speaking Roles: Prayer and Response (Multiple), Background (Multiple),
Bearing Witness (Multiple), Matthew 2, Mark 10, Jeremiah 22, James 5, Amos 5

Prayer and Response
Dios de los pobres y los desesperados, necessitamos su Espíritu Santo ahora.
God of the poor and desperate, we need your Holy Spirit now.
Tú estas la esperanza de ellos sin esperanza.
You are the hope of those without hope.
Y hay muchos sin esparanza en nuestro estado.
And there are many without hope in our state.

Informally since last summer, and officially since April 6th, the Department of Homeland Security has been separating parents from their children at the border, taking the parents into criminal custody and handing the children over to the Department of Health and Human Services to be placed in shelters and foster families, sometimes thousands of miles away from their parents. The process is compounded in its brutality by its perhaps intentional disorder, as a Boston Globe piece detailed on Sunday: parents in custody often have no idea where their children are, how to get them back, or if or when they will see them again….
Endless harrowing accounts continue to emerge from the results of the separation policy. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that a thirty-nine-year-old asylum seeker from Honduras named Marco Antonio Muñoz hanged himself in a padded cell of a Texas jail after being separated from his wife and his three-year-old son.” (Via The New Yorker)[i]

Prayer and Response
Señor, ten misericordia.
Lord, have mercy.
Cristo, ten misericordia.
Christ, have mercy.

“Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the border illegally, a directive that is already leading to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and channeling children into shelters and foster homes across the country.
The goal, according to administration officials, is to discourage Central American families from making the perilous journey to the United States’ southwest border, where they have been arriving in swelling numbers this year to claim asylum.
In just the first two weeks under President Trump’s new policy, 638 parents who arrived with 658 children had been prosecuted, administration officials told Congress.” (Via The New York Times) [ii]

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“Christ of Maryknoll”/ “Christ in the Margins” Icon, by Robert Lentz

Prayer and Response
For those seeking refuge from violence and persecution,
Whose hope hangs by a thread, and who plead for protection;
For the parents separated from their children,
Whose anguish cries out to you from the earth;
For the children who have been taken from their parents,
Who have had all they know in this world taken from them,
Lord we pray:
Christ, have mercy,
God, have mercy.


Bearing Witness
[Senator Jeff Merkley visited an immigration-processing center in Brownsville, TX at the beginning of June, and has been attempting to raise awareness of what he found there:]
            “The makeup of that processing center is shocking when you see it, but let me go to the heart of the issue. The issue is this new policy of, when families are seeking asylum, their children are torn away from them and sent who knows where. The parents are beside themselves not knowing what happened to their kids, and they never know if they’ll see them again. The kids are going through the second version of trauma. Families seeking asylum have by definition experienced trauma abroad, and perhaps trauma en route. So finally they get to the border, and they think ‘finally, we’re safe.’ But instead they’re put into this prison-like facility, and separated, and put through this new drama.”

Matthew 2
Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
                  When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Bearing Witness, cont’d
[Merkley continues:] “The argument is if we deter families from seeking asylum, then they won’t take on this arduous journey, so they won’t be exposed to smugglers. They’re inflicting trauma on children, to influence parents. Who does that? What civilized society does that? What faith tradition in the world would inflict trauma on children to influence their parents?
I’ll tell you what was very difficult to see. One room had smaller cyclone fences—they look like the way you construct a dog kennel. They’re larger, but that’s the thought that comes to mind when you see them. Then they have these space blankets [light foil blankets], which is a very strange sight, to see kids using a space blanket as a cushion—but they don’t provide any cushion—or as a cover for privacy. There’re no mattresses in that section.
After they go through interviews, they go into a big warehouse. I called them cages, and the White House said that’s unfair, they aren’t cages. Well, call it a cell, then. It’s a cyclone-fence-constructed area. There were all these boys in this big enclosure, maybe three to four dozen boys, and they lined up, from smallest to largest, to get ready to go eat. The tiniest kid at the front of the line, he was knee-high to a grasshopper; he was 4, maybe 5 years old. They go up to age 16 or 17.” (Via The Nation)[iii]

Mark 10
People were bringing little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Jeremiah 22
Thus says the Lord:
Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed.
And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.

Bearing Witness 2
“Only one member of Congress has been able to talk to the mothers who have had their children taken from them: Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who got into a federal Bureau of Prisons facility Saturday near Seattle to meet with roughly 170 immigrant women held there. More than a third had lost their children during their migration, either when they were detained by US officials at the southern border or when they turned themselves in seeking asylum.
[Jayapal says]: ‘Thirty to 40 percent of these women came with children who had been forcibly taken away from them. None got a chance to say goodbye to their children—they were forcibly taken away. One said she was deceived, because they were in detention together. Then the CBP officers told her she was going out to get her photograph taken. When she came back, she was put in a different room, and she never got to see the child again. Some of them said they could hear their children screaming for them in the next room. The children ranged anywhere from one to teenagers… [T]his so-called zero-tolerance policy, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I’ve worked on these issues for years. I mean, I saw some of these things happening after 9/11 to Arab Americans, Muslim, people being secretly detained and deported. It takes me back to that time when there were mass roundups of people.
There was a time when waterboarding and torture was the accepted thing to do. Then it became unacceptable. This separation of children from their parents is really a form of torture. These women have no idea where their children are. There’s been a lot of research on what happens to young children who are separated from their parents. For some of these kids, it’s been a month—or more!’” (Via The Nation)[iv]

James 5
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.
Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.
Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire.
You have laid up treasure for the last days.
Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

Silent Reflection
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
            (Leviticus 19)

 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice.
            (Deuteronomy 24)

 Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.
            (Deuteronomy 27)

 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.
            (Ezekiel 22)

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
            (Zechariah 7)

 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
            (Malachi 3)

“For Christians are not distinguished from other people by country, or language or custom. Nowhere do they live in cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or live life in a peculiar way….They live in their respective countries, but only as resident aliens; they participate in all things as citizens, and they endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is foreign.”
           (Justin Martyr)[v]

Bearing Witness 3
“The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.
When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed, Natalia Cornelio, the attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, recalled from her interview with the woman, who had been detained under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer anyone caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution.
Since the policy was announced in May, some 500 children have been separated from their parents within the last month, according to Miguel A. Nogueras, an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas in McAllen, citing an unofficial count by an attorney in his office.
Some parents who are under arrest tell public defenders they don’t know what happened to their children, Nogueras said. Some parents also claim they have been told their children are being taken to be bathed or cleaned up, then the adults don’t see them again.” (Via CNN[vi]

Amos 5
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time.
Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate….
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Prayer and Response
God of the poor and desperate, we need your Holy Spirit now.
We confess that we have sinned against you and against our fellow human beings:
In our silence and our apathy, we are guilty.
Forgive us the actions and inactions that have allowed this suffering.

We confess that we do not know how to pray,
That we do not know how to help.
Awaken us to what you would have us do,
Empower us to be light in darkness.

We confess that we cling to privilege and comfort,
That we are blinded by our wealth to the suffering of others.
God, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

 Holy Spirit, pour out your comfort and presence on those families who suffer at the border. They seek safety from violence, deliverance from persecution, a life for their children that is free from fear—and yet they are denied these things in the name of laws made by their fellow human beings.

Lord Jesus Christ, let us leave all to follow you.
Give us the vision to see where you would have us go,
Give us the courage to empty ourselves for the sake of others.
We place ourselves before you,
That you may send us to respond to great suffering and injustice.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we pray,

A Song of Prayer for Comfort for Brothers and Sisters in Lonely Places:

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Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; the one who has God lacks nothing:
Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you; God alone is enough.


[i] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-language-of-the-trump-administration-is-the-language-of-domestic-violence/amp?__twitter_impression=true

[ii] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/us/children-immigration-borders-family-separation.html

[iii] https://www.thenation.com/article/senator-jeff-merkley-saw-immigrant-detention-center-children/

[iv] https://www.thenation.com/article/rep-pramila-jayapal-hear-children-screaming-next-room/

[v] From the Epistle to Diognetus; quoted in George Kalantzis, Caesar and the Lamb (Cascade, 2012), 86.

[vi] https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/12/us/immigration-separated-children-southern-border/index.html

A Shameless Plug for My Second Book of Liturgies (Overviews, Reviews, & Previews)

The second volume in my series of seasonal liturgy books is now available from Patristica Press (buy it here)!

CL2-mockup-1The first volume of Counter Liturgy was for the first season of the Christian year — Advent and Christmas. Volume Two is for the next major liturgical season, Lent and Easter. It begins with a liturgy for Ash Wednesday, runs through the six Sundays of Lent (plus a prayer for Saint Patrick’s Day), and concludes with a series of Holy Week prayers for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter morning.

Like Volume One, this collection also includes a pair of theological/devotional reflections — one an introduction to the season of Lent, and the other a reflection for the still silence of Holy Saturday. And yes, this one also features the artistic stylings of my main squeeze, Alexis Davidson.


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The liturgies in this volume are geared toward reminding us that Christian discipleship is about more than just the last two chapters of the Gospel accounts, and that God became a human being and lived for thirty-three years in a world of complex social, religious, and political conflict. By focusing especially on the words and actions of Jesus, the prayers challenge us to reckon with the ramifications of this truth.

My hope for Volume Two is that it will offer a fresh perspective through the long season of Lent on what it means to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and God, and that it will broaden our gaze to grasp more fully the significance of the empty tomb on Easter morning.


“The callings of the season of Lent haven’t changed, but we have changed; the cultural liturgies that form us have changed. We need a prophetic guide to pull us out of our “normal” and get us on the lenten journey toward the cross. Pulling from sources both ancient and contemporary, Sam Davidson wisely guides us would-be pilgrims on the way – out of our sleeping and toward the living and crucified Jesus. Oh how we need to encounter Jesus today, and, truly, this guide helps point the way.”

– Kyle Knighton, Minister of Spiritual Formation, DaySpring Baptist Church (Waco, TX)

“Many of the good things in life require rhythm – music, dancing, even the beat of the human heart. Sam reminds us that at the core of the Christian experience is the cadence of celebration (Advent) and seriousness (Lent). Thank you, Sam, for providing a resource to serve the Christ-follower who desires to stay in sync with the heartbeat of God.”

Deron Spoo, Pastor, First Baptist Church Tulsa (OK) and author of The Good Book: 40 Chapters that Reveal the Bible’s Biggest Ideas

“Counter LiturgyVolume Two is a graciously provocative work that challenges its readers to re-examine the liturgies of our lives—those patterns of living that form and shape us. In a world that draws us towards practices of selfishness, greed, and power-grabbing, this book calls the reader to discover the freedom and power found in the liturgies of Christ. By walking us through the Lenten season with Scripture, responsive readings, silent reflections, and guided prayers, Davidson invites us to participate in active, communal, and formative reflections that draw our minds to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In doing so, this book is a powerful tool for reorienting our minds and our hearts—and subsequently our actions—toward God. A must read for the Lenten season.”

– Julia Wallace, Missions Education & Urban Missions, Baylor University

“The liturgies that Sam Davidson has crafted help us ponder the extent of our discipleship, and to examine the contradictions that we are every day. Counter Liturgy is accessible for those who have discontentedly fumbled through the season of Lent and are seeking a better entry into this sacred time, yet also thought provoking and challenging for those looking for a new guide through a familiar period in the church calendar. Counter Liturgy at its heart is doing the necessary work of stripping away American cultural Christianity, and reminding us what the statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ really means.”

– Dilan Braddock, Youth Pastor, University Baptist Church (Waco, TX)

“Sam Davidson has given us a new window to see something very old. In Counter Liturgy, Volume Two, we find a story of defiant submission that has been lived and relived for thousands of years, presented in a way that is challenging to our own contemporary idolatrous tendencies. Davidson provides us with reflections, passages of Scripture, introductory essays, and even suggested monastic chants, as means by which we might make that story our own. If you are new to Lenten practices, or if you have been fasting forty days out of every year for your entire life, you will find this book helpful in discovering new relevance in Lent and Holy Week. Whether it is from the lectern of the classroom, the pulpit of the chapel, or my own couch by candlelight, I will be using this book for years to come.”

– Jeremy Crews, Grammar School Chaplain and Rhetoric School Teacher of World Religions, Live Oak Classical School (Waco, TX)


(From “Introduction to the Season”)

For many of us, what it means to be a Christian is defined wholly by the events of Christmas and Easter—that is, by God coming to earth in the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and by Jesus saving us from our sins in his death and resurrection at Easter. But this skips over quite a bit of material. As defining as both of these events are, we often forget that the Christian confession of faith is not simply that God showed up at Christmas and Easter, but that God became a real human being and lived in an explosively complex socio-political situation for thirty-three years—a political situation that eventually led to his death on a Roman cross.

Rather than jumping from the festive reading of the Christmas story in Luke 2 straight to the celebration of the resurrection accounts, Lent invites us to slow down and listen to Jesus—to remember that the great majority of the Gospel texts are concerned not with how we get to heaven, but with what happens when heaven shows up in the middle of earth’s mess. Lent invites us to walk where Jesus walks, to respond when he calls, and to obey when he commands. It invites us to sit with his words—not only the easy words of encouragement and hope, but also the hard words. Words that challenge what we take for granted about the way the world works. Words that, if we allow them to soak into us, may undermine many of our assumptions about right and wrong, wisdom and folly. Words that are not simply nice ideas about an afterlife to come later, but that directly confront the structures and systems that we live in here and now.

Lent invites us to confront the challenge that Jesus’s life presents. It presses us to recognize that if we confess that Jesus is Lord and God, we must also insist that what this man says and does is what God says and does.

The focus of this book of liturgies, then, is on the this-worldliness of the kingdom of God that Jesus bursts onto the scene proclaiming: on what Jesus has to say to us here and now, and on how not only the death and resurrection, but also the life of God incarnate transforms the world, summoning us to be transformed along with it. As I said, you may discover that in this Lenten season, God is concerned with more than just your prayer life.


Series Introduction
How to Use This Book
Introduction to the Season
Ash Wednesday
First Sunday in Lent: Jesus’s First Sermon
Second Sunday in Lent: Kingdom and Call
Saint Patrick’s Day
Third Sunday in Lent: The Sermon on the Mount
Fourth Sunday in Lent: The Way of the Cross
Fifth Sunday in Lent: The Power of God
Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday
Maundy Thursday
Good Friday

Reflections for Holy Saturday: On Good Friday and Easter
Easter Sunday

A Shameless Plug for My Book (Available Now) – Reviews, Excerpt, Video Interview

I wrote a book. Well, kind of. “Put together” a book is probably the most accurate way to describe it.

The guys at Patristica Press approached me earlier in the year about writing something for them, and after thinking through several possibilities, I decided to put together a book of common prayers that would revolve around the liturgical year, while also drawing secular holidays and seasons into a prayerful rhythm of life. Then as I started working on it, I realized that there are a lot of holidays in the year, especially when you combine sacred and secular. So I decided to break it up into three volumes: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and Ordinary Time.

The title of the series is Counter Liturgy: Common Prayers of Formation and Resistance, and Volume I (Advent and Christmas) is available for order as of today, November 1. Because my friend and reviewer Jamie McGregor (Worship & Arts Pastor at University Baptist Church, Waco) summarized it better than I’ve even been able to, I’ll let his review describe what it is:

In this first volume of the Counter Liturgy series, Sam Davidson has produced something accessible and significant. The primary content of this collection is an impressive weaving of Scripture, liturgical/historical exposition, prayers, carols, silent reflection, and thoughts from prominent Christian figures, into liturgies that do exactly what they should do: offer language with which one might both proclaim the story of God, and find oneself drawn into, challenged, and transformed by this Story. These liturgies serve as hammer blows to the petrified accumulation of scarcity-driven self-interest, consumption, and materialism left by the cultural liturgies in which we live…. This collection would be valuable for informal groups seeking to gather in worship, and should be consulted—if not directly implemented—by anyone tasked with crafting liturgies for churches during Advent or Christmastide.

Last week, I did a Facebook live interview with Tylor from Patristica to discuss the book, which you can view here:


My lovely and artistic wife Alexis also created sketch illustrations that are woven into each prayer:

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Below are some more reviews, the table of contents, and an excerpt from the Counter Liturgy series introduction. You can order the book here!


“It is not every year that we are offered Advent devotions that give us anything profoundly new, but this one delivers. Counter Liturgy gathers us not to merely huddle contentedly around the sentimental warmth of a hearth-fire, but stands us helpless, hopeful in Word and Silence before the One whose Fire burns in our hearts. We are reminded in these prayers that the Incarnate One still breaks in to the world with good news, turns the tables of Black Friday, and holds out hope for peace and joy even in times like these. With a smile I think that these Advent liturgies and prayers will make a wonderful early Christmas present for everyone on my list I wish to disturb and then encourage with the Good News revealed in the Incarnation.”

– Eric Howell, Pastor, DaySpring Baptist Church (Waco, TX)

Counter Liturgy is anything but your typical Advent devotional that would tend to focus on a manufactured, Western-focused nativity. This book delves into both the darkness and light we endure when we seek to approach the holiness of Christ’s first Advent. I plan to use it, although it’s not written to make me feel all warm and fuzzy in my pajamas with cider. Sam Davidson is a burgeoning scholar who is willing to wrestle with the very real tension between worship and justice in a world desperately in need of incarnation.”

– Eric Costanzo, Senior Pastor, South Tulsa Baptist Church

“In Counter Liturgy, we are reminded that the coming of Christ as a child has both eternal and present-reality implications. We are reminded that Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace are not abstract feelings, but a person; namely, Jesus. And we are given structure and direction that, I believe, frees the heart and mind to worship deeply. I look forward to using this liturgy with our church and pray that by doing so we would understand and celebrate Advent in a new and deeper way.”

– Jarrod Mathis, Worship Leader, Grace Church (Waco, TX)

CONTENTS (prayers bolded):

Series Introduction
How to Use This Book
Introduction to the Season
Black Friday: A Prayer of Repentance
Advent Week 1: Hope
Saint Nicholas Feast Day (December 6)
Advent Week 2: Love
Advent Week 3: Joy
Advent Week 4: Peace
Reflection on Christmas
In the Beginning: A Christmas Eve Scripture Litany
Christmas Day: God Becomes a Child
New Years: A Prayer of Rest
Epiphany: Light Has Come

EXCERPTS (from the Series Introduction):

Our lives are wrapped up in liturgy.

Whether we recognize it or not, everything that we do is in some way forming us to be particular kinds of persons. Through our daily routines and the way we celebrate special occasions, in our calendars and budgets and weekend activities, we come to see the world in certain ways. We learn through these patterns of living to take for granted various assumptions about what is right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, wise and foolish, responsible and irresponsible.

This is the liturgy of life.

The liturgies of our lives are the sets of traditions and attitudes that simultaneously reflect and guide what we believe about the world and our place in it. As we become accustomed to them, as we participate in them and adopt them as our own, these habits of thought and action become our liturgy. They become the formative practices that make us who we are, directing us toward what we believe to be highest and most valuable.

From the time that we become conscious of the world around us, we begin learning cultural norms and appropriate behavior. Through planning our life according to the five-day work (or school) week; by saying the pledge of allegiance and singing the national anthem; by learning the process of saving and buying; through hearing and watching stories about love, courage, and justice; by reading history books and going through election cycles: in all of this, we discover what is expected of us, how the world works, and how we should behave to make sure the earth keeps on spinning.

We learn that there are certain things we should respect, and certain things that we shouldn’t. We learn what is sacred, and we learn what should never be questioned. We learn what is wholesome and what is shameful. We learn to be good people; we want to be good people, and that’s ultimately why we learn to take part in the many liturgies that surround us.

But what if the liturgies of our lives turned out to be liturgies to false gods?

What if many of the things that we’ve learned to take for granted—about what is ultimate and unimportant, right and wrong, honorable and disgraceful, necessary and unnecessary, useful and impractical, safe and dangerous—what if the behaviors and attitudes involved in these assumptions turned out be sacrifices made to idols? What if many of these liturgies, and the things they are directed to, were actually opposed to the God we claim to worship, to Jesus Christ as the Bible testifies to him? And what if these unholy liturgies have become so ingrained in us—and we so enmeshed in them—that we aren’t even able to question how or why we take part in them?

This is the starting point for the Counter Liturgy series.

As we get caught up in the liturgies of other gods, we miss the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a fundamental reordering of everything we believe about the way the world works. We lose sight of how the claim that God became a human being and died at the hands of the state as a dangerous zealot undermines all that the world claims about the way things are and the way things should be

Without even realizing it, we are constantly being formed by the influence of other would-be lords and gods.

This is why we need counter liturgy: we need liturgy and prayers that reframe our vision, that teach us to think and to see the world in a way that is reflectively and holistically Christian. We need liturgy, grounded in Scripture, that becomes all-encompassing; liturgy that teaches us to see the world and every aspect of our lives through the lens of the life, death, and resurrection of the true Lord and God, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ…

You can also view an excerpt from the “Reflection on Christmas” on the Patristica Blog.


Confessions of a Homeless Theologian

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)

In the era of Trump, my life has developed into one enormous tension, the sources of which are seemingly endless. I’m sure that I’m not the only one whose worldview fails to conform to the categories of liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian, or even “centrist.” And yet as weeks pass, and news breaks, and Tweets go out, and policies are signed into existence, and blame is assigned to all sides, I find myself feeling increasingly… well, increasingly homeless.

I almost wrote “alone,” but that’s not quite right. I have friends who are adrift in this same boat with me, and I know there are plenty more like us, so it’s not exactly a feeling of loneliness. But it is an acute sense of non-belonging–of restlessness, of impossibility, of longing for an ideological home and yet knowing that the world has none to offer me. And it is a feeling that only heightens, only becomes sharper, the more I study the Scriptures and the history of the church’s reflections on Jesus Christ. The more that I study, the more that I pray, the more that I experience, the more aware I become that the foolishness of the cross will never be at home in any political or social system.

It’s an exhausting realization, and if I’m honest, it’s a somewhat frightening one as well. Whatever part of the country (or world) I’m in, whatever I say or think, someone has a label ready to apply to me as an insult.

The conservatives think me a godless liberal for not believing the Bible to be literal and inerrant. But then they also think me a hippie crackpot for taking Jesus at his word when he says to love my enemies. Most of the liberals who would applaud me for saying without qualification that Black Lives Matter would at the same time have to call me a bigot for holding nuanced though ultimately (mostly) traditional views of marriage. The conservatives like my stance on abortion, although it’s not black and white and has no interest in arguing about when “life” begins; but they would also condemn my self-identification as a feminist, a label which the liberals would then reject over my concern for the lives of the unborn. The liberals can pat me on the back for recognizing that the American history of slavery and Jim Crow is still playing out through various systemic injustices against black and brown people; but then they’d also have to kick me out of their meeting for critiquing identity politics. The libertarians could congratulate me for saying (in spite of my understanding of Christian marriage) that the government shouldn’t control the bedroom; but then, of course, they’d call me a communist for believing that healthcare shouldn’t be a privilege for the successful. Progressives can laud my stance on open immigration and refugee asylum, but they’ll only do so until they hear me say that neoliberalism is ultimately as violent, privileged, and self-concerned as right-wing nationalism. And as I insist that all of these supposedly different ideologies about government and people and rights and ideals are ultimately just arbitrary points on the same self-defeating spectrum of modern Western thought, the disconnect turns into a chasm.

And then, of course, all sides will either mock, reject, question, or ignore the claim that all of this is based on my reading of the Bible and its witness to the risen Jesus.

Now, I’m sure there are many blindspots in my reading of Scripture. And, I’m sure there are many folks who don’t agree with me on every point listed here, but who nonetheless resonate with this unavoidable tension of ideological homelessness that takes place when the Bible begins to absorb the world (to borrow a phrase from George Lindbeck). I don’t know about you, but my natural inclination is to try to resolve it–to convince one side or the other (or both) that what I’m saying is obvious, rational, and verifiably correct. And then I realize that it’s not; that there’s nothing tangibly productive, demonstrably effective, or naturally appealing about the gospel of a Crucified God who invites his followers to live into a different kingdom by carrying an execution instrument of their own.

And that realization, quite frankly, frightens me. It destabilizes a life that I want to be based on certainties, on comfort, and on some form of power.

But perhaps that’s what Jesus and the Apostles were trying to tell us to leave behind with all of those strange sayings about taking up crosses, glorying in weakness, letting the dead bury the dead, preaching foolishness, and rejoicing in persecution.


On Complicity, “Culture”, and Baylor Football

My earliest memory of Baylor football is Homecoming, 1997. I was 6, and we played Texas. We had no business being in the same stadium as Texas, but by some miracle we pulled off the unbelievable upset. Students rushed the field en masse, tore down the goalpost, and carried it three miles back to campus from Floyd Casey Stadium.

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Pictured: The author, likely the most adorable Bear you’ve ever seen, on his first Baylor trip.

Aside from that highlight, the first nineteen years of my Baylor fandom were filled with Saturdays of excitedly driving down I-35 to Waco, leaving at halftime when we were down by some ungodly margin, going to the bookstore, and stopping through campus to see the bear habitat before heading back to Dallas. We were bad, and we expected to be bad.

My first year at Baylor (2010), we beat Kansas State 47-42 in a rain-soaked, thunder-delayed Homecoming game, to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. As we stormed the field to celebrate, I remember consciously thinking to myself that this was the greatest football moment I would experience during my time at Baylor. Then we beat a ranked TCU to open the next season; then we beat OU in the final moments; then RGIII won a Heisman. Then we dominated #1 Kansas State at home, and crushed UCLA in the Holiday Bowl; then we beat Texas to close out Floyd Casey and won the Big XII. Then it was a new stadium, and 61-58, and another Big XII championship. It all felt great. Suddenly Baylor was cool. Baylor was relevant. Baylor mattered.

And then the news reports started coming in, and just like winning had seemed too good to be true, the allegations of sexual assault and cover-ups seemed too terrible to be true. To be totally honest, I’m still not exactly sure what to believe. Between the administration’s responses to allegations, instances of demonstrably inaccurate reporting, and claims of former staff, it’s impossible to determine exactly who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did with it. We’ll probably never know everything. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter exactly what NCAA rules were or were not broken — and the fact that we manage to spend so much of the conversation talking about “compliance issues” is itself a significant indication of what we really care about. The bottom line is that numerous women reported rape and assault, and the most prominent Protestant university in the country didn’t do anything about it.

Until people started digging and reports started hitting the headlines.

So we ousted Briles and demoted Ken Starr. We hired Grobe and dished out a bunch of discipline. Whether burdened by conscience or just seeing the writing on the wall, Starr and McCaw soon resigned. The University created panels and committees in response to the Pepper Hamilton report. We checked the appropriate boxes and made the necessary legal moves; we revamped the Title IX office and hired Matt Rhule, by all accounts a great guy — all in a frantic attempt to move on and put the horrific scandal behind us. We did a lot of talking about caring for our students and making the appropriate changes.

And yet, nobody ever questioned the culture that allowed this all to happen.

Sure, “changing the culture” of the Baylor football program was a major focus of Grobe’s tenure, and has been a central aspect of Rhule’s leadership. The “culture” of Baylor’s campus life came under well-deserved scrutiny, with numerous journalists and broadcasters pronouncing judgments (some well deserved, some unreasonable at best). Baylor started requiring Title IX training from students and created all sorts of programs and offices, all in an effort to change the “culture”. We tried and tried to start keeping the rules better, to create transparency, to ensure accountability.

And yet for all the effort and money and personnel changes, we fail to stop and acknowledge the simple fact that this happened because we care so much about football. 

It’s an unsettling statement, but a pretty obviously true one nonetheless: That if we didn’t care so much about football, this wouldn’t have happened. That if we weren’t so addicted to the distraction that football provides us, and to the sense of success-by-proxy that we feel when our team wins, then the situations in which assault happened and the decisions by those in power to cover up such actions would likely never have occurred. Of course it goes without saying that individuals are responsible for their actions — be they coaches, players, or administrators. But in a very real way, so are the rest of us.

Because we are so enamored with watching teenagers run, catch, and tackle each other on Saturdays that we helped to create an atmosphere in which student athletes felt confident that they could get away with raping their fellow students. Because we are so desperate for the revenue and notoriety that those players can bring us, that we helped create scenarios in which those in charge considered it more important to cover up rape for the sake of a football program (and by extension, a university) than to defend and advocate for victims of sexual assault.

Because we are so accustomed to the notion that college athletics as an industry is an obvious good for universities and students, that it never occurs to us to question whether the status of sport as cultural institution could itself be the problem.

Missing in all of the well-deserved talk about Baylor’s particular misconduct is a recognition of the bizarre pedestal upon which we as a culture collectively place 16- to 22-year olds who are good at playing games. Twitter follows. Commitment announcements. Official visits. Scouting services. Twenty-four hour sports coverage. College athletes are celebrities before they ever step on a college campus — not because of the kind of persons they are, but because of what they can do on a field or a court. Before they ever get a high school diploma, they are being told by the words and deeds of adults that they are different than their peers. That they are special. That they are better.

Lacking in all of the op-eds and special news segments about the Baylor football program’s real corruption is, not surprisingly, an acknowledgement of the enormous amount of profit to be made off of 18-year-olds playing sports. Game broadcasts. Around-the-clock highlights. Online columns. Endorsements. Advertisements. Ticket sales. Local economies. Whether they (or we) like it or not, student athletes are a commodity — and a valuable one at that. A commodity that is valuable enough to be courted, given privileges that their peers don’t have access to, and — as we seem to continually discover at Baylor and elsewhere — excused for misconduct for which the average student would face consequences.

Also patently ignored in all of the present talk about the importance of consent on college campuses are the manifold ways in which we train young men and women to see themselves and others as sexual objects. Movies. Television. Music. Fashion. Sports. Through all these media and many others we propagate a view of sex as meaningless physical pleasure, while at the same time conceptualizing the human self as an essentially sexual being. And yet we continue scratching our heads at why college campuses are hyper-sexualized epicenters of binge drinking, and why young men treat women as objects for their own sexual pleasure.

These and many other profound thoughts might lead us to reconsider our posture toward college athletics if we were willing to wrestle with their complexities and respond to their implications. But we won’t. Because it would be difficult, and because there are lucrative industries set up around the way things are. So instead we’ll ignore the complexity and only talk about the benefits of college sports. We’ll rationalize by pointing out the way sports enable many young people to get an education they couldn’t have afforded otherwise, rather than asking why so many people don’t have access to education to begin with — or why we only seem to care about them when it benefits our athletics program.

Instead we’ll settle for keeping rules and checking the NCAA’s legal boxes, never bothering to think about whether the profitable structures in which we demand coaches and players exist might actually render moral goodness (much less Christian discipleship) nearly impossible. And so other schools will chant “No means no” and crack Title IX jokes at Baylor’s expense, as though the whole situation was roughly equivalent to being stuck with detention for getting caught in some trivial act of mischief. And so ESPN will carry on with its self-congratulating crusade to expose abuse in college sports, all the while broadcasting multiple 24-hour stations that revolve around turning college athletes into celebrities and profiting off of them, creating and nurturing a culture that turns sports into religion and athletes into demigods.

And we will collectively look around and lament the failures of school administrations across the country to properly handle sexual assault, and ask how this could have happened again, all while continuing to ignore the structures of a culture that turn people into things and reward athletic ability with adoration, power, and privilege.

The Sermon on the Mount: An American Translation

Editor’s Preface: Those involved in this “translation” process are as wrapped up in its implications as anyone else. Which is precisely why it was so troublingly easy to put together.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But until we get to heaven, being poor in spirit is just a great way to get taken advantage of.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God will comfort them, so don’t worry about them.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Just tell them that the next life will be better.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. If you have time for that sort of thing.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Unless somebody is really bad, and doesn’t deserve mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. But you can never be truly pure in heart in this world, so just remember about grace and then do whatever needs to be done.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And if you kill enough bad guys, then you can make peace.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But everything I’m talking about here is spiritual so there’s no reason that you should actually ever be persecuted. So just do the right thing when you think it will be effective.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. But again, that’s really going to be a bad deal, so don’t feel like you have keep imitating me if it’s going to get you in trouble.…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. Unless they’re seriously evil and going to harm you or your family. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Unless you think you might get taken advantage of. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Unless people are addicts or are poor because they’ve made bad decisions—how will they ever learn if you just help them when they don’t deserve it?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. But if they hate you for no good reason and threaten to really hurt you, then do what’s necessary to protect yourself. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. But you really can’t be perfect, and trying might be like works-righteousness, so at the end of the day just be practical.…

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. But you do need to be fiscally responsible and have a solid savings account in place before you do anything like this. And keep some put away for a rainy day or a medical emergency….

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. And obviously I mean this spiritually—you can have all the material possessions that you want, just don’t let them get in the way of your relationship with God. And it will be really clear if and when you begin worshipping comfort and wealth instead of God….

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. But again, if this is going to be super inconvenient—and now that I think about it I could see how it might become ineffective—do what you need to do and stand up for yourself. Like I said, do whatever seems practical….

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ But as long as you’re going to church and being a good person, you’ll be in good shape….

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. And nobody was the least bit upset by what Jesus said or did, and they all thought him very sensible.

The end.

brand_bio_bio_frederick-douglass-mini-biography_0_172232_sf_hd_768x432-16x9“…between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.
– Frederick Douglass

The Liberalism that Cried Wolf

Once upon a time there was a boy. He was a shepherd, as his family had been for many years. His parents and grandparents had fought hard against cruel kings for the right to tend the land, and against many wolves to protect the sheep they cared for. The boy loved to hear stories of his family and their courage, for they had all grown old and died, and there had been peace on the land for many years. The boy knew from the stories that wolves could descend very quickly, and though he had never seen a wolf in real life, he felt confident that he would know one if and when he saw it, and that he could call the townspeople to come and help defend the sheep.

One day, as the boy sat tending the flock, he saw a creature walking around the edge of his land. The creature had four legs and a tail, and it approached him. The creature expressed that while many people in the surrounding villages considered abortion to be a woman’s right, she was concerned by the practice, for she believed that it was ending a life.

Wolf! the boy cried. Oppression! Fascism!

And the townspeople, hearing his shouts, came to investigate. But when they arrived, they saw only an old house cat looking very confused at why the crowd was carrying pitchforks and spears, as though she was a threat to their safety. The old house cat went away, rather hurt by the boy’s assumptions. The townspeople too, went back to their homes, telling the boy that he had overreacted.

A few weeks afterward, another creature emerged from the tree line adjacent to the boy’s fields. It too had four legs and a tail. It expressed that while many people in the surrounding villages were becoming supportive of same-sex marriage, he personally believed (based on the wisdom of his ancestors) that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Wolf! the boy cried. Intolerance! Bigotry!

Once again the townspeople came to investigate, though this time with some reluctance. When they arrived, they found to their annoyance that it was not in fact a wolf, but rather an old sheep dog with no desire to harm either the boy or the sheep. The townspeople grumbled and expressed their annoyance with the boy. Some of them understood his concern and knee-jerk reaction, while others began to think that the boy simply wanted to force his shepherding lifestyle on everyone else. The worst of the townspeople also began mocking the boy–“Snowflake” they called him, because they said he was too delicate and fearful to deal with the realities of his job.

Several more weeks went by, when the boy spotted something in the distance. The creature didn’t approach him directly, but from a few hundred yards away he could hear him shouting cruel things about certain of the sheep that looked or acted different from the rest. Seeing sharp teeth and a muscular body, the boy was sure that this time he saw a wolf, who would truly pose a threat to him and his sheep.

Wolf! he called out again. Bigotry! Fascism!

The townspeople once more came to the field, though many of them chose to stay home, deciding they were no longer interested in the boy’s problems, for they were quite safe and comfortable in their homes. And quite a few more townspeople came reluctantly, and many did not even bother to bring any tools to fend off a wolf, for they were now hesitant to believe that there was any true danger.  When they arrived, they saw not a wolf, but a lone coyote in the distance. Some of the townspeople affirmed the boy’s cause for concern, though told him that a single coyote a long way off did not pose much of a threat. But others ridiculed him, saying that coyotes can’t do any real harm, and that it had been many years since wolves had been in the area anyway. The townspeople went back to their town, a few of them concerned by the coyote, but many more thinking only of how very inconvenient it was to be drawn out of their comfortable homes for such a naive fear.

Not very many days after this, the boy was once again tending his field when he saw an enormous gray form emerge from the trees. Its teeth were covered in blood, and it showed no sign of fearing the boy. It growled and snarled and threatened the sheep, shouting that it would eat them because they were weak, and because the sheep and other animals like them were taking away the land on which he used to roam free.

Wolf! the boy yelled. Fascism! Hatred! Tyranny!

But this time only a dozen townspeople showed up. The other townspeople, who were ultimately rather self-concerned but had shown up to investigate previously out of a sense of duty, no longer came. They stayed at home and laughed at the boy instead, mocking the very idea that a wolf could be on his land. When the few concerned townspeople arrived, they confirmed that it was truly a wolf, and that the boy was right to call for help. Seeing the townspeople, the wolf retreated, but threatened to return with his pack. Unsure what to make of this, the townspeople returned and tried to tell all those who stayed home that the wolves were coming.

“Don’t be absurd,” the skeptical townspeople condescendingly responded. “There are no more wolves coming, and the one that came was probably not a real wolf anyway! You and that Snowflake take things way too seriously.”

The same night, the boy was in the field bringing the sheep in, when he spotted the glint of not one, but two, three, ten–twenty sets of red eyes staring from the trees.

Wolves! he cried desperately. Fascism! Tyranny! Hatred! War!

The same dozen townspeople, minus a few who had been convinced by the skeptical arguments of the others, came running quickly with pitchforks and torches and spears.

But it was too late. The wolves were too many, and the townspeople, who were by disposition quite self-interested and cared very little about the boy and his sheep, had all the excuses they needed to ignore the howls and screams and shouts.

And besides, they always rather admired wolves. They may be violent, but they sure know how to get things done.dr-seuss-foreign-children


The Bible Doesn’t Say Anything About America Accepting Refugees

But don’t let the title ruin it for you.

I find myself exhausted by claims of “what the Bible really says about X.” Not because I don’t care what the Bible says–I have an extremely high view of Scripture as the Word of God, and what Scripture says is the most important question we could possibly ask–but because more often than not when someone frames something (like immigration, refugee asylum, or religious discrimination) in terms of “what the Bible really says,” the point has already been missed.

The truth is, the Bible doesn’t say a word about Syrian refugees, Mexican immigrants, or how to deal with ISIS. And when we expect it to, we not only miss the point but fail to submit ourselves to Scripture as God’s Word that stands over the church.

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The Bible says a lot of things. Some are uplifting, some are frightening. Some align with a conservative agenda, some could prop up a liberal worldview. Some make us nod our heads in satisfaction, others may offend or even repulse us. It also says things that seem to conflict, or at least to create unanswerable tensions (Do we focus on Jesus’ constantly subversive proclamation of God’s kingdom over against the kingdoms of the world, or do we stick with Romans 13 and say the government is good and we should always do what it tells us? Do we imitate the Israelites and slaughter God’s enemies, or do we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?)

This is the problem with building cases based on “what the Bible really says.” If we treat the Bible as an ethics handbook to be straightforwardly applied to specific situations, or as a repository of clearly defined dogma, there are enough examples of the Bible saying different things in different contexts at different times that you can scrounge together enough verses to make a case for just about anything. And it’s all just alien enough to us to make us wonder whether some things just aren’t Bible issues at all. But this is not what Scripture is for, and it is not only problematic but also dangerous (even idolatrous) to mine through it as though it is.

The Bible is not a rulebook, a sourcebook of practical wisdom, or a culmination of religious experience. When we approach it in that way, we have already undermined the authority that we claim for it by attempting to make it primarily about answering our questions. We have decided for ourselves what the Word of God is, and in so doing have decided who God will be for us. When we do so, we miss that the Bible is not concerned with a religious system but with the man who stands in the middle of the story it tells: with Jesus Christ, the Word of God become human.

If anything should make us recognize that the Bible is not a handy guide to life or a culmination of human religious wisdom, it is Jesus Christ–himself the object of our faith, himself the way, the truth, and the life. Nothing about the life of Jesus Christ matches any of our expectations; nothing about him aligns neatly with what we hope for or expect to find when we look for God, and nothing about him is practical by worldly standards. Because in Jesus Christ we do not encounter the fulfillment of our expectations about who God is. We do not look at him and say that this is quite efficient, exactly what we would have done ourselves in fact.

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, everything about the way that God reveals himself to the world is a direct contradiction of what we desire and anticipate from God. Where we want God to appear in glory and majesty and dazzle us with his power, we find a Jewish child born in a cave to a peasant carpenter and his bride-to-be. Where we expect God to affirm us for keeping the rules, we find an itinerant rabbi pronouncing woe and judgement not on those who know they are sinners, but on those who presume themselves righteous by their own ethical standards. Where we expect God to reward those faithful to him with comfort and prosperity, we find a Lord who commands people to sell everything they own to follow him and to expect to suffer when we do. And where we expect God to demonstrate himself as a powerful king by means of force, ridding the world of evil and bringing a swift and violent end to all who dare oppose him, we get a Slaughtered Lamb who cries out with his last breath for the forgiveness of his executioners.

Jesus Christ is not the fulfillment of our expectations but the inversion of all that we imagine to be right, the contradiction of all our natural impulses. This, ultimately, is what the Bible says. The Bible does not confirm us in our calculated assumptions about right and wrong and what it is that God wants, but by testifying to Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord exposes our assumptions as utterly insufficient.

The Jesus of Scripture calls his people not to pragmatism, but to self-abandonment; not to self-protection, but to self-giving love of those who would do us harm; not to privilege but to imitation of him.

Jesus Christ is what the Bible really says. He is himself Truth and Life, and the lens through which his people must see the world–in his humility, his suffering, and his death.

And he doesn’t say anything about putting America first.

#IStandWithMoore and the Liberalism of the Southern Baptist Convention

Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has recently come under immense pressure by prominent SBC pastors for his staunch opposition to Donald Trump. These leaders have insinuated that they will use monetary and political means to oust him from his position as a result of that stance. Despite my own disagreements with Moore and the SBC generally, I stand behind him and his refusal to approve of our president-elect unflinchingly for myriad reasons, some of which I have outlined in this post.

You don’t have to delve very far into the world of conservative Christianity to discover the ubiquity of warnings against the ever-lurking threat of liberalism. The liberal worldview, the liberal agenda, liberal theology — all of these are right at the doorstep, constantly threatening to destroy God’s work in the world by corrupting faith and culture.

Yet ironically, the liberal boogeyman is exactly what has been let into the pews by the religious right’s nearly unequivocal support for Donald Trump. The theology of Trump-supporting evangelicals like Jerry Falwell Jr., Mike Huckabee, and Franklin Graham is in fact nothing other than liberal theology operating under the guise of a cultural conservatism.

The problem with the religious right’s unreflective condemnation of “liberalism” over the last half-century (well, one problem) is that the overarching label of “liberal” conflates a number of quite distinct–and quite different–movements and thoughts into a monolithic and unambiguous threat. For example, the United States is a liberal democracy. “Liberal” here means that its governing structures begin with a consideration of the rights and value of the individual. This is different, though not altogether unrelated to, a liberal worldview–an understanding of the human person, God/gods, and the cosmos characterized by the subjectivity of Enlightenment individualism. Both of these are related to, yet distinguishable from, a cultural liberalism that exalts human autonomy, eschews any form of moral authority, denies the possibility of objective truth-claims, and vilifies any opposition to this worldview (it is here that a “liberal agenda” could perhaps be attributed). And all this is different still from liberal theology, a formulation of ostensibly Christian thought that determines the meaning and value of Scripture and traditional doctrine according to modern contextual sensibilities.

The refusal (or inability) to distinguish between these uses of the term “liberal” is what makes the present situation so dangerous, because it both eliminates the possibility of nuanced thought and associates the sum of Christian faith with the “conservative” sensibilities of a particular time and place. But as students of history and theology recognize, “liberal theology” is not equivalent with any one issue–it cannot be summarized by a non-literal interpretation of Genesis, nor with the acceptance of homosexual marriage, nor with a concern for social and economic equality.

Liberal theology means, rather, theology-from-below; it is a theology that begins with the convictions, sensibilities, or concerns of a particular person or people and constructs a view of God that fits and supports that worldview. It often overlaps with cultural liberalism, but is by no means synonymous with it.

The predominance of liberal theology (known in its original European form as “Classical Protestant Liberalism”) is what paved the way religiously and intellectually for not only the nationalistic fervor of World War I, but also the neo-paganism and ethno-nationalism of National Socialism, World War II, and the Holocaust.

Liberal theology presumes that we can begin elsewhere than with the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Jesus Christ as God’s revelation of himself in our understanding of who God is and what God requires of humanity. Especially in nineteenth and early-twentieth century Europe (most concentratedly in Germany), liberal theology took the form of reducing Jesus to a good human teacher, or as someone with a particularly insightful awareness of God’s presence — incarnate God he could not possibly be, for this would interfere with the scientific and mechanistic view of the world that had been propounded by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. Stripped of his divinity, the Jesus of Scripture and tradition could be taken or left as the situation might dictate–his wisdom could be appreciated, but was neither final nor authoritative.

If the object of Scripture was not authoritative, then, how else could Scripture be read than through the lens of the cultural moment? If the natural inclination of a traditionally Christian people was that they were culturally superior to all other nations, and were God’s chosen instrument to bring Enlightenment and knowledge to the world, how else could Scripture be read than as affirming and supporting such a notion? And if God was pro-Germany, how could Germany fail to be both righteous and successful, whatever means it had to use to establish its greatness?

We now stand at the precipice of national and ecclesial catastrophe, as the cleverly disguised liberal theology of Falwell, Huckabee, et al threatens once again to subsume the subversive gospel of Jesus Christ and his cross into a vaguely religious cultural conservatism. By manipulative fear, these very public voices for “evangelicalism” and “conservatism” have blurred the lines of culture and theology, convincing swaths of American Christians that while God reveals himself as a suffering Jewish rabbi that goes by the name “Prince of Peace,” we can ultimately know who God is and what God requires of us by appealing to the conservative American values of capitalism, national security, and religious hegemony. Christians must recognize and reject this theology-from-below, insisting on a theology-from-above; one which recognizes that we only know God as he has given himself to us by taking on human form and being put to death by the powers of the world that presume to know better than the foolishness of the cross.

In so doing, they fall far short of the message of Scripture that they claim to hold so highly: that in Jesus Christ God has become a human being, revealing both who He is and what it means to be truly human through his life of love, sacrificial death, and triumph over the grave. In place of this reality, they peddle instead the meager gospel and paltry hope of economic stability, cultural privilege, and continuation of the status quo.

Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (my two greatest theological heroes) recognized the danger that such theology-from-below posed in the early twentieth century–not only to the church, but to Germany and the rest of Europe as well. They wrote and spoke against the church’s support of National Socialism that was manifested most concretely and disastrously in the formation of the “German Christian Church”–a collective of pastors, theologians, and congregants who considered it their duty and pride to swear allegiance to the Fuhrer. Theirs and other dissenting voices were largely silenced or snuffed out by the rising tide of nationalistic furor, the result of which was the moral and spiritual corruption of an entire nation by the church’s tacit (and often active) participation in genocide.

When well-respected, intelligent, and theologically conservative voices like Russell Moore are stamped out and minimized by the powerful elite of the Southern Baptist Convention, who brazenly equate the rise of Donald Trump with the will of God, conservative Christians can no longer afford to bury their heads in the sands of naivety. It is time to recognize that the world is not black-and-white, and that liberal theology may rear its idolatrous head in the form of cultural liberalism and cultural conservatism alike. It is time to think critically about where the gospel of Jesus Christ ends and the idolatry of Americanism begins.

White Evangelicals, You Now Have a Serious Responsibility.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Donald Trump is our president-elect. I have no interest in protesting the results of the democratic process. But if you voted for him, you now have a real and weighty responsibility.

See this massive list of racially and religiously motivated threats and crimes, by people who were emboldened by your candidate’s election. A candidate for whom 81% of white evangelicals voted.

White evangelicals, if you voted for Donald Trump, you have an absolute and unequivocal responsibility to denounce this in the strongest possible terms, as we all do. And you have a responsibility to call on your president-elect to do the same. Immediately, emphatically, and over and over again. Anything else can amount to nothing less than a denial of the gospel.


If you voted for Donald Trump (or even if you didn’t), you cannot remain silent in the face of this. If you insisted that he was the lesser of two evils because Hillary is a liberal God-hater and would destroy your religious liberty, you have no choice but to decry every single last instance of racism, Islamophobia, discrimination, and hate that now expects no consequence in light of his election. There is no excuse for failing to do so. Don’t tell me that you voted for the lesser of two evils if you’re not going to do anything about stopping this.

If you voted for Donald Trump because you say he is the lesser of two evils, it’s time to do everything in your power to make sure that’s the case. In face of racial and religious discrimination, to do nothing is to tacitly sign on your approval to such behavior. It is to say that your rights are the only ones that matter, that your vote was nothing more than blind self-interest. You can no longer say that this isn’t why you voted for him and bury your head in the sand. You heard the rhetoric he used from beginning to end of his campaign, and you knew what the results could be.


Make no mistake—whether or not you (or Donald Trump) explicitly support or participate in this, in failing to react against it you are choosing to support it. If you insist that this does not represent you and your motivations for voting for him, you have an obligation before God, and to your country, to stop it.

Do not try to contend that it’s not related, that it’s not his fault, or that our President Elect hasn’t sanctioned it. If you—and he—do anything less than scream against this with every fiber of your being, you are responsible for it and you are condoning it. It doesn’t matter if this isn’t representative of you; if you fail to address the results of your vote, you have already condoned it.

Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump is hateful. Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump wants to “Make America White Again.” But by supporting and associating yourself with someone whose victory inspires such things, you have placed yourself in a position of responsibility that you cannot avoid. If you are not willing to stand against this from every possible platform, you are participating in it.

Having studied the Holocaust and Hitler’s Germany pretty intensively, there is one thing that hits you in the face over and over again like a load of bricks: How the failure of apparently good and and civil people to do anything at all in the face of small injustice opened the gates to mind-numbingly massive injustice and genocide.

Don’t think it can’t happen again, and don’t think rationalizing it will make it go away.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not actively participating in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes. You voted for a man who has breathed life into White Supremacists and failed to reject their support. If you do nothing to stop it, you stand guilty before God and in the pages of history as allowing evil and injustice to take place.


First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak out for me.
(Martin Niemoller, German Pastor and Holocaust Survivor)