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It’s hard to believe that summer is over. Although it will end officially on September 21st, Labor Day weekend is the traditional start of Fall. The kids have returned to school and we can hear the loudspeaker from the school up the street, greeting students to the new day. I know it’s 8:00 AM when I hear America the Beautiful and the faint hum of students saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t know if they do that elsewhere, but they still do in White Settlement…

The other day, a fellow blogger, Stephen Black, posted an article titled “It’s Not God’s Fault that Christians are Idiots” (www.fracturedfaith.com) I’ve been thinking about that question a great deal over the few days. I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘Christian’ and being labeled as such. What does that really mean anyway? Often, it has negative connotations. Stories of spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse by Christian ministers and church officials are reported regularly. ‘Evangelical Christians’ are frequently associated with extreme right-wing politics and somewhat self-righteous individuals who leave a lot to be desired when it comes to loving God and loving others – the foundation of following Jesus’ teachings. Maybe if I identified myself as a ‘Jesus follower’ it would be better, except that’s what ‘Christian’ meant in the original Greek. Etymology can be frustrating.

I’m told that ‘Christian’ was originally used as a term of derision for those making up the early church because they lived differently from the rest of the Roman Empire. The early Church didn’t quite buy into the whole ‘Caesar’ as god thing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Jesus himself said, “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that – count yourself blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable”. (Matthew 5.10-11 The Message) The sad thing is that religious folk seen to be some of the most vehement prosecutors of other Christians. Maybe truth is just a bit uncomfortable…

So, I’m labeling myself a Christian, whether I like it or not. I’m a ‘Jesus follower’. I believe in grace and redemption. I believe in a God who is loving, and as my wife says, sweet. He created me as one of his kids and, like kid, I simply want to be like Dad. I believe, that despite the fact life has hardships and difficulty, He always has my best interest in heart. I want to share the joy, peace, and freedom I’ve found, so in that sense, I guess I’m even an ‘evangelical Christian’. When I read the daily newsfeed and see what others, who call themselves evangelicals, are doing with the appearance of self-righteousness and false piety, I want to run and hide. I don’t want to be associated with the likes of such. Still, I remain a ‘Jesus follower’, a Christian.

It took me a long time to be okay with calling myself a Christian. I had my own demons and past to deal with. I tried to do everything my way and the results were rather dire. Ask anyone who crossed paths with me then. Such is a life run on self-centeredness, obsession, and compulsion. I finally asked for help and help led me to a real relationship with God. That led me to a lot of frustration with ‘Christians’, since I found that relationship outside ‘church’ walls. Some of you know what I mean…

What I know today, with some degree of certainty, is that the people whose lives touched mine, and the way they lived was nothing like the way I was always taught. I had a religious upbringing, and that really sucks. I learned about piety and fearfulness when what I really needed to know was how to have a relationship with God. In one of my favorite passages, Jesus was questioned by a bunch of religious folks about his propensity for communing with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other ‘sinners’ (my kind of crowd!). His reply was, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this scripture means ’I’m after mercy, not religion’. I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Matthew 9.12-13 The Message). I’ve always felt I was ‘outside looking in’. Maybe that’s why I took advantage of the invitation to follow the Rabbi, and maybe that’s why I want to be like Him…

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Dinosaurs…

Today I was asked to repost this, and given the long list of things to do today, I’m grateful for the brevity required to put this up today. I wish all of you a wonderful and blessed day!

It’s raining today here in Fort Worth. It’s the kind of Spring rain I love: constant, but not too heavy, gently soaking the soil, and intensifying the vibrant greens of the trees beyond my porch. I’ll be picking strawberries this weekend! It’s the perfect morning for sitting here and simply enjoying the day. My thoughts stray and wander among the raindrops. All is well, except for the dogged determination of one little bugger that keeps asking me why good people do messed up things…

Many of you know that I tend to be a news junkie. It’s a habit I acquired in high school and college, long before the “24 Hour News Cycle” and the up-to-the minute “reporting” of the Internet. I was a student activist majoring in Political Science and had some pretty high ideals. I guess everyone thinks they can change the world when they’re young, but the reality of family, jobs, bills, and the often unfortunate drudgery of adult living hasn’t set in.

My motivations have changed over the years. I still watch the news (more than I should), it still drives me to some degree of activism and usually, insanity. The high ideals of my youth have come full circle. The difference today is in the lens that I view the world with. Today I see things differently because of my relationship with the God of my understanding. I’ve talked about that “lens” a lot. I apologize for any redundancy in my posts. Just think of a blind man suddenly seeing for the first time and maybe you’ll understand my obsession (one of the better ones that have dominated my life!) with visual clarity.

Seeing the world differently has enabled me to see all sides of the story. I say all sides because, as my friend Jim used to say, “There’s three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth”. I must confess that growing older, and hopefully a wee bit wiser, has helped broaden my vision as well. That’s probably why I understand “conservatives” better.

That being said, I hate political and social labels like conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, and socialist or libertarian. They seem to be ways of dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with you. It’s just one more way we divide into “us versus them”. Moreover, they don’t really define who we are. Most, if not all, of us are not the labels we use to define one another.

I am not the labels you assign me, nor are you the labels I often find myself assigning to you. I still do that even though I know it’s not true for any of us. Changing one’s way of thinking is a difficult and most likely (for me anyway), an impossible task. It took a new relationship with a power greater than myself to transform my thinking and, more importantly, my actions. I’ve grown a little less judgmental as a result. My vision is beginning to clear.

I’ve come to re-prioritize my belief structure and activism. Things that seemed so important in my younger days have been put on the back burner, and more often than not, taken off the stove completely. Social justice and peace are fantastic things to work toward and my calling toward them hasn’t changed, but the locale has. I’m not going to change the world, but I am going to change my response to it. I probably won’t change my Senator’s vote (especially our Senators!), but the way I live may influence someone else to live a little more loving and kind right here in my neighborhood. I’m not going to impact Washington, D.C. but I am going to do things different right here in Fort Worth, Texas. I’m going to look beyond the labels and be a little kinder, courteous and, hopefully, a lot more accepting. Above all, if I’m to be labeled, I hope I’m thought of as one of those crazy followers of the Rabbi…

It’s a little easier to be an “us” today. There’s far less of “them’ today. I still have differences of opinion with people on political, social, and economic issues. Cultural differences are hard to get past at times. I continue for clarity, to see people as God sees them, and they become easier to understand. If the truth be known, becoming older has made it easier to understand people who want to “conserve” old ways of thinking and acting. Change is difficult at best…

When I came in from the porch, Margaret was watching old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful and idyllic a place like Mayberry would be. I know a lot of other people, at least Baby-Boomers like myself, who share in my feelings. Nostalgia, no matter how well-intentioned lacks any foundation. There never was a Mayberry. Even in the early sixties it was just a TV show. It may have mirrored a simpler time, but not reality. I grew up in the last few years of the Jim Crow South. I know. I still recall the resistance to civil rights and acceptance of horrors like Vietnam. The reality makes me wonder about one’s motivation toward conservatism. How can you” conserve” an illusion; something that never was?

I was meeting with a business mentor of mine a while back and he pointed out that I’m a dinosaur. I know he was referring to my lack of technological savvy (I can still create great content though!). I don’t need any reminders that I need to ask my grandchildren for technical support sometimes but, if I’m honest, I am a dinosaur and I’m okay with that. There are times I wish we lacked some of the communication, informational and mis-informational ability in our world today. Just because you saw it on the Internet doesn’t make it true, if you know what I mean. There’s enough crap out there to cement anyone’s convictions – real or imagined.

I have a long, long way to go in my journey toward the kingdom where God’s will “is done on earth as it is in heaven”. My experience is one that tells me to move forward down the path and don’t look back. I’ve made my fair share of detours and walked in a lot of circles. The cool thing is that you have, too. We’re far more alike than either of us would like to admit. Maybe we can set aside the labels, lending a helping hand and try to figure out how to help navigate to wherever both of us are headed…