Monday, August 31, 2015


The other day I posted a little (cynical) quip about the options some churches are offering at communion.   I think some might have been offended either by my quip, or the comments that came afterward.  Most of these were simply people telling stories of what they had seen offered or done.  I wanted to clarify how I feel about Holy Communion.

   I have the opportunity to visit a lot of congregations, and sometimes have the joy of celebrating communion with the saints.  I don’t have the opportunity to officiate at it as I did when I was a pastor, which was one of the great joys of ministry for me.  As with most believers celebrating Holy Communion is very important and meaningful to me and I am concerned when it is not done with seriousness and/or especially when it is not done Biblically.

    I try not to be judgmental about little differences, and I don’t want what might be simply my personal preferences to cause division with my brothers and sisters.  Every once in a while I have actually refrained from taking communion because I thought what was happening was more of a political statement, and was forcing me to accept that statement, rather than an opportunity for me to partake in free conscience.  I have been distressed when the table was not fenced, no warning given, no call for self-examination.  I have been dismayed when I thought the administration was perfunctory, where the pastor just said some of the basic statements in the ritual without any explanation or Gospel warmth.

    I am a Presbyterian so that makes me pretty conservative as to where and when I will serve communion, and to whom.  I have always felt it right to leave the taking of the elements to the conscience of folks, but tried to make sure that conscience was well informed.  I have always tried to reflect the joy and thanksgiving side of it along with the scary warnings part of it, but I have never refrained from spelling out the sobriety of it.  This is another reason why I don’t believe it should be a children’s festival, nor an attempt to make it a new version of Passover where children are given an object lesson.  To take communion is a decision that has consequences, at least as far as I read my Bible.  It is and ought to be tied to the discipline of the church.

    I am not a Roman Catholic so I don’t approach the elements as a priest would, seeing the wine and host as the actual body and blood of Christ so that it must be consecrated and must be disposed of only in a certain way.  However, I tend to think the frivolous way some churches handle the elements, spill things, let children attack the bread and juice after the service, is and can be offensive to those who have a high view of what is happening in this meal.

    I think it wise that Elders pray and discuss what elements they will use and why (choice of wine or juice, leavened bread or unleavened, etc.).  Being offered a buffet line of choices certainly bothers me some, but it doesn’t keep me from participating.  I see this meal as part of the worship, not part of a church lunch or supper, because I think that is exactly how the church in Corinth got in trouble in the first place.  I think it wise the Elders decide on the frequency, and I don’t think this is worth fighting over, unless the sacrament has become so formidable hardly anyone gets to take it, or takes it so lightly it is not given its deserved seriousness and deliberation.

    What I love about the Supper is the Gospel.  The Gospel over and over again, and my desperate need of it, is what is felt in my heart when I take it.  It makes me feel my failure, see my hypocrisy, and hate my betrayal of my Savior.  It makes me remember how He is never willing to abandon me, never gives me up, never turns away from me and what that radical and complete commitment cost him.  It gives me hope that the Spirit of Christ is in the meal forgiving me, renewing me, healing me, and that His grace will be with him in the battle to come.  This is the strongest relationship in my life, and it is renewed every time I take the meal.  It is one of the places where I think the church guards sacredness, spells out a difference from what is profane and what is holy, all in the context of exquisite and serene joy.


Saturday, August 22, 2015


By Randy Nabors, (the imperfect husband)

1.      Sometime in the relationship you have to choose to love the person they are, and accept the idea that they don’t have to be (maybe will never be, maybe should never be) the person you want them to become.

2.     Sometime in the relationship you should finally want and try to be the person they hoped you would be.  The speed in the pursuit of this desire should be in direct proportion to their concept of the ideal you which matches conformity to Christ.

3.     Hopefully, soon in the relationship (and for the rest of your life,) you should begin to attack your own essential selfishness and carry your own part of the load, and some of theirs.

4.     If, or when there comes a time in your relationship when everything has become routine and there is no spark or joy in your daily interaction, you should refuse to settle for the status-quo and take some practical steps to re-connect and re-ignite emotionally.  Take action on this quickly, and reject the tendency toward emotional laziness.

5.     Hopefully, sometime soon in your relationship (and for the rest of your life) you should care about the spiritual health of your spouse, and pray for them.  Seek to listen to them with spiritual discernment and compassion. The primary verb here is to “listen” and not to correct, fix, preach, or criticize.

6.     If you love them you will pray, work toward, and plan how to give them some spiritual support, without condemnation, manipulation, condescension, or ultimatums.  Here, make a practical list right now:

7.     If you love them you will think about the ratio of what encouragements, thank-you-s, and compliments you give compared to the amount of criticism or silence you share.  Make sure the silence you share is the message you mean to give.

8.     Being nice, polite, and kind is its own kind of romance.

9.     Keep flirting (with your spouse) and be funny.  Write your own memoir on “how not to be boring!”

10.  Get over being resentful when your spouse tries to help you or compensates for your obvious weaknesses.

11.  Count the number of “no’s” you keep giving to their ideas, plans, or desires and ask yourself if that is the signal you want to send about your love and care for them.  Work on generously pleasing your spouse.

12.  Every once in a while, just for the love of them, do something for them (and I emphasize here for them) that they aren’t expecting (especially when they aren’t expecting it) that you are pretty sure they will like.  Birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas is obligatory so go beyond the norm.  Don’t be “norm,” unless you are.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015


   Recently I read an article from the Atlantic Monthly (Why So Many Black Men Are Dying In America by Jeffry Goldberg) in which it cited that 260,000 African American men were murdered between 1980 and 2013.  I have also heard that the number of homicides annually is about 15,000 in America.  These are frightening numbers, but just like all statistics it doesn’t really strike home until it happens to someone you know, or in your family, neighborhood, church or even to you.  If it happens to you then of course it will have to be others who are shocked because you will just be dead.

    It is helpful sometimes to do that with statistics, not to simply read them but to imagine someone you love could be in that statistic, or that it might someday be you.  Driving down the interstate the other day I saw posted on one of the electronic boards the number of people killed this year in Tennessee, and then it hit me that I knew one of those people and had called him a friend.  The moment went from a sober warning to “damn,” because it hurt.    We need to move from ignorance about this bloodbath to knowledge, and from knowledge to empathy, and from empathy to enough outrage to do something about it.

    The public outrage over the killing of unarmed black people by police, as well as videos of sometimes vicious police beatings of handcuffed individuals, has sometimes been met with a scolding comparison of black on black violence and murder.  This comparison seems (at times)  to be offered as a way of minimizing the injustice of oppression and brutality by authorities, and is met by frustration if not anger from those who are calling for justice.  It seems to be offered as a way of saying, “if you were really interested in black people being killed you would do something about the violence in black communities by black people.” 

    The evaluation of what black people are concerned about when measured by a distant white population may have more to do with the national media and what they chose to cover, and events that are “coverable,” then it does with reality.  The estimation of whether or not African Americans are concerned about the rate of violence in their communities cannot be measured by riots showing anger, or the burning or looting of stores, which sometimes happens in the frustration of reacting against oppression by government authorities.  While in not in any way seeking to justify those reactions, how would those kind of activities make any kind of sense or be at all a symbol of frustration for something that doesn’t present an easy target such as the cultural reality of violence and murder?

     I suspect that an immediate response to the protest of police misbehavior by bringing up black on black crime is a cynical way of using a problem the critic is probably not really concerned about to deflate the legitimacy of black anger.  Whether this is a racist response or a political one I am not always sure.  I also strongly believe that those who are concerned about police misbehavior cannot, and must not, diminish the urgency about what is truly a national tragedy and scandal, and that is the murder of so many of our nation’s young African Americans.   Both of these issues are of immediate and fundamental concern to the African American community, but should and ought to be of immediate concern to everyone.

    These two concerns are not totally unrelated but they should not be used against each other to diminish the pain of either.  Certainly the violence that has caused the deaths of so many young African American men has also brought many of them into conflict with the police, and sometimes created a climate of fear even among some policemen who throw suspicion on all young black men.   One unfortunate result of the alienation from the police by the population of young African Americans in the inner cities of America is the difficulty in using the police to effectively cut down on the violence.  It has usually been true in the matter of homicides that most people kill other people within their own racial group.  The problem of black on black violence is not that fact, but the facts revealed in the numbers.  The enigma that needs to be unraveled is why so many black people get killed by other black people. 

    Why should we be so concerned about this violence, since this is really just a problem in the black community? Are some of those who have been killed guilty of murder as well?  Yes, some were.  Are some of those who have been killed gang members?  Yes, some of them were.  But, were some of them kids walking home from school, athletes playing ball or coming back from practice, children sitting on a porch or playing in their yard, or watching television in their own home and bothering no one else?  Yes, too many of them were.  This is where we dare not let the numbers or the frequency make us callous to the bloodbath.  Death by murder is a sin, a crime, a tragedy to the victim, their family, and a loss for the future of the community and the nation.  It is injustice, certainly in a personal sense, but also in a national sense if we will not rise to help put an end to it.

       Why, and from whence, does this bloodshed arise?  What brings about this passion to kill one another?  Why are so many of the “brothers” killing “brothers?”  The rate of women being murdered in gang and vendetta killings seems to be rising as well. What has made life so cheap? That quantitative query begins to get at the heart of the philosophical question and I would say it is a theological one as well.  We are speaking of a lived out anthropology, in the sense of, “what is a human being, and what is he or she worth?” 

     God’s book, the Bible, has an anthropology.  It has a measurement of the value of men and it has a perspective on their identity and purpose.  Each one is made in God’s likeness, and when we hurt people we are attacking what rightly belongs only to God.  Though each man’s “God likeness” has been marred by sin, and though every human is broken spiritually and morally, God proved our worth by sending Jesus to die for us.  Our worth is proved throughout the universe by this simple phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

    The irony about all this killing among young black men especially is that the life of another becomes cheaper the more one strives to makes one’s own life count, not just physically but emotionally.  The more someone feels threatened, disrespected, and insulted the more they might want to authenticate the value of their own life and that might be by the killing of the one who dared to insult, disrespect, or attack them.  So, in a vicious cycle, the hunger to feel worthy creates a devaluation of another’s life (the insulter), and ultimately diminishes the value of the one feeling insulted as they become an insulter, violent, and a killer in return. 

   Ultimately men cannot diminish other men but only themselves.  Worth comes from God and not by how we are treated by others; psychologically painful as abuse may be.  The psychic  pain during any dehumanizing attack comes from a lack of the knowledge of the love of God for ourselves within ourselves; from a failure to know or believe the value he puts on our lives.  We cannot increase our worth by illegally and unjustly taking the life of another.  Street cred doesn’t really make anyone more of a man.  Our lives already have worth, no matter how poor, ignorant, ugly, or bestial they seem to be.  Each person is made in God’s image, and when we despise a man or a woman we despise God.

   The culture says otherwise.  God puts in us a sense that we are worth something, and we each yearn to see that realized in ourselves.  Yet, the culture tells us anyone but ourselves is not worth that much. The sense of self-worth, especially for those without fathers and who are poor, comes from the thrill of instant gratification (such as the killing of my enemy), a quick climax of feeling that proclaims we are loved, a winner, and worthwhile.  In fact the opposite is true, as there is no accomplishment in the murder or maiming of others.  All that remains is the guilt, if we still have that sensitivity, or the callous numbness of being a socio-path, or the uselessness of a life lived in a jail cell bordered and hemmed in by memory and the feeling of futility.

   This is a culture of death, and it is one segment of the broader cultural definition of a materialistic and mechanistic view of human life.  This culture of death limits every person’s view to the immediate plus or minus benefits in each relationship.  Could a culture that produces so much abortion possibly be related to the casualness of life and death in ghetto gangs?  Could the disrespect of police against those citizens they are in the act of arresting have something in common with the disregard for life by gangbangers?  I am sure some policemen would be insulted to think so, as would those who might think it is time to end the life of grandma since she is a drain on the pocketbook.  They might think their actions are within their rights and so much more nuanced and intellectual, but it sure seems to look like a cost-benefit ratio.  My life counts and yours doesn’t is the mathematical formula, if it interferes with my prospects for happiness.  We seem to live in a society that says, “I really don’t owe you anything unless I am forced by law or public observation and opprobrium to give it to you. 

    Men and women are more than that and we owe each other more than that because God has made us more than that.  We still believe the conscience tells everyone this fact, no matter how the present evil day tries to shut it up and shut it down.  This present philosophical-cultural devaluation of human life, the agonizing emotional quest to think of ourselves as important and necessary complicated by the spiritual emptiness left by absent fathers plus the peer attraction for young men by other young men involved in action and violence drives the frequency of using the seemingly ubiquitous availability of guns to settle the question of identity and worth.

    We all ought to be tired of seeing and hearing people use one tragedy to diminish the pain and importance of another.  This is collectively our country, our society, and our culture.  We are all walking in the blood and we don’t just need more impermeable boots to feel comfortable in it.  We need to change our thinking so that we can change the way we are living, and killing, and dying.


Thursday, August 13, 2015


There are two dynamics of current American life that are on my mind as I write these articles.  One is the too often tragic confrontation between African Americans and police officers, which I will write about first, and the other is the mass killing of African American young men.  These two experiences are related in some ways, and unrelated in others. I believe the relation that these two kinds of events have in common are shared with other dynamics in American life as well.

     My sense is that this commonality follows from a philosophy that underlies a lot of behavior  in our culture, and most likely a philosophy that is often unconscious, but which affects behavior nonetheless.  The philosophy of which I speak pertains to the arbitrary value of persons and this is in direct correlation to how some people think of other people as made in the image of God, or not.  The prevailing philosophy of which I speak is the denial that human worth (or even person-hood) is simply due to a person’s existence, but that worth can only be affirmed when there is pragmatic utility, cooperation in the general stream of my or “our” corporate sense of security and well-being, or potential to be a contributor to such.

   If this philosophical cultural stream is not changed then that stream will continue to take us down the river of death.  We are going to have to expose it, refute it, repent of it, and change streams in mid-boat as it were if we are as a society going to see a real difference in how we treat one another.

   If all human beings are made in the image of God, in God’s likeness, then their lives are important.  They matter, and they have worth, and they are worthy simply because they are human, alive, and have that life as a gift of Almighty God.  Of all people police officers need to have this belief. It doesn’t matter how well some have lived that life, how mean or impoverished their circumstances, how ignorant or vile their lifestyle, how uneducated or uncultured, or even how limited we sense their potential might be.  Their value is not bestowed by men, their worth is not determined by other humans, since no human being had the ability to create that life.  Biologically men have the ability to beget, and women have the ability to bear, children.  None but God have the ability to create and give life.

    If this is so then only God has the right to say when a life should be taken, and for those of us who believe the Bible we think he has done just that, by creating limits on who, and by whom, and when a life should be taken.  This limitation is not just in the sense of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” (which I understand as a prohibition to murder) but also in the acceptance of the sacredness of the image of God in man.  James, in his epistle, reveals this sense of the sacred as he speaks about how we use our tongues, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:9)  Once this sense of sacredness (seeing God) in other human beings is gone then anything becomes possible; seeing certain groups (of people) as obstacles to our economic progress, abortion, torture, murder, and even genocide.

    Many unbelievers and scoffers of Biblical literature see it, the Bible, as a bloody book.  Certainly the history it reveals has some bloody parts to it, and admittedly some of the God directed acts of violence make it seem as if it is not in touch with our modern sense of morality or human rights; as if modern morality was better, or more humane, or that modernity had allowed us to view human beings today with greater kindness and compassion than the Bible does.  I don’t think a fair reading of modern history, or the philosophical trends that have guided how we have treated one another in our present age can possibly be compared favorably to a Biblical ethic or value on human life.  In fact the vestiges of a Biblical world and life view might be the only thread holding us back from wholesale slaughter.  Even directions in the Bible for the execution of those guilty of murder was due to the worth of that lost human life, and it is an affirmation of the dignity of the life of the guilty that makes them forfeit it.

    The conflict between certain policemen and members of the African American community have exposed what I believe are examples of this human denigrating operating philosophy. We are living in an age of social media where immediate accountability by video allows the general public to make assessments as to whether authority is being properly exercised in the use of force.  Fast leaving us are the days when we could just accept the word of a policeman as to why someone has been arrested, or why someone’s face looks like it has been beaten, or why someone is now dead.  

    These videos have shown us one alarming fact, some policemen and police departments have lied about how they have treated citizens. That fact ought to be alarming to all of us.  For those in inner city communities this does not come as a surprise, but it has to some in the privileged class who seem to have had the expectation that authority figures never lie. 

   This is why being a believer in human depravity is fairly stabilizing.  Who would think educated lawyers would ever deceive (except when they become politicians), or doctors would lie about treatments and costs to get richer, or students at elite universities would cheat on tests so they could pass or keep a good grade point average?  Who would think judges would take bribes to send children to detention to enrich the owner of detention centers (as was recently done in Pennsylvania)?   So we see that sometimes the real criminal is not the black young man who was driving while black, but possibly a brutal thug wearing a uniform and a badge who decided it was okay to be abusive and then lied about it.

    This abuse of authority is especially galling because it strikes at the heart of our democratic system.  If our history is correct it is one reason our forefathers fought the revolution so as to create this country, and why some of us have fought to maintain its principles.  When authority is abused it puts not only individual citizens at risk, but the very system which requires respect and support from the entire community to be effective.  It also puts the lives of officers at risk, as sooner or later citizens in their anger take upon themselves the role of vigilantes to overthrow what they think is abuse.  This was done from time to time in towns in the old West as marshals were run out of town, as I believe happened to the Earp brothers a time or two.

    The moment a police officer thinks or acts as if this “perpetrator” is less worthy of respect or less deserving of human rights than he is, despite the pragmatics and necessity of his job, he or she is devaluing the worth of that person.  Here is a counter-intuitive thought, the consciousness of the sacredness of persons is most important when bad behaving persons need to be constrained, restrained, arrested, or stopped by deadly force.  When we argue that it is okay to torture those in prison for terrorist acts because they are no longer worthy of human rights, we have stopped believing in the sacredness of persons. 

   The use of force by police is supposed to be progressive and proportional and only escalated to the point of deciding the issue so the offending person is controlled.  Some officers have taken this to mean that they have the right to smash heads into the ground, pound suspects with fists or batons even though they are handcuffed and immobile, gratuitously body slam others, and even use deadly force (though not in moments when their life is in danger) simply because they were afraid, nervous, or angry.

     The wide space of an officer’s discretion as to what constitutes “resisting arrest” has allowed for too many abuses.  For the record let me state this clearly, in all the thousands of incidents between citizens and police on a daily basis most people are treated with courtesy and respect, even when they get arrested.  Nevertheless, the continued occurrence of deadly decisions between armed officers and unarmed, and now deceased, African Americans is and ought to be a cause for national concern.

    Now, any of us, even while believing that people are created in God’s image might still become angry and lose our self-control and hurt someone.  Yet, I think we are dealing with more than the immediacy of our emotions in many of these confrontations.  We are sometimes dealing with a despising of certain groups of people by authority figures and a reckless disregard of their human dignity when they must be brought into restraint or, even more on point, when they don’t have to be restrained but an officer simply wants them to be.

    We readily admit that there are many people who act nasty, show disrespect to officers, are threatening and intimidating, and whose general behavior is disgusting.  We admit there are some very bad people out there who are dangerous and need to be locked up, and we need the police to do that.  The police have such a very hard job to do.  Their vocation necessarily calls for them to suffer, but I am afraid that the present practical ethos in some departments calls for them to avoid suffering by making others suffer first.

    All lives do matter, though some who have said this have misunderstood the context and injustice of not admitting that “black lives matter” is an important and necessary statement for our nation.  This is because it has been the evidently widespread and too frequent occurrence of the shooting and killing of unarmed black men which has led to such community tension over the last year.  It is not new, and that just gives impetus to the fact that change is long overdue. 

   We will speak next as to the devaluing of human life and how it plays a part in the slaughter of so many young people, mostly by gun murder, in the African American community.