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False Witness

The one about lying. Because ultimately, that is what it means to bear false witness…

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Today we are on to the ninth commandment. The one about lying. Because ultimately, that is what it means to bear false witness.

There were actually two different Hebrew words used in this commandment – one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. The word for “false” in Exodus means lying or untrue. The one in Deuteronomy means empty, frivolous, insincere. Quite similar. Nevertheless, the distinctive definitions offer us greater understanding of what precisely God is getting at here. Because sometimes, it’s not all in good fun.

So, some history. There are three main things you need to know about the Jewish legal system when it comes to this commandment. The first is something quite remarkable about how the system sought to protect those accused: no one could even be accused or found guilty without two, count them, two witnesses against them. Hearsay, also didn’t count. Quite a bit different from our current system. This has both its blessings and curses to it.

Next: if you were found guilty of bearing false witness against another, you would be held liable for the same sentence that they were facing – and then some. So, for example, if the person on trial was facing forty stripes (being whipped forty times), then the person found to be lying about their guilt would be whipped eighty times instead. In other words, false witness was taken quite seriously.

Last, if someone has evidence to give, but does not speak up, they are guilty of a sin against God. Their silence is not neutrality. It is sin. Not doing anything when one is able to is sin. Period.

So, let’s think about some situations where lies and false witness play into our stories…

A child is sitting with her grandmother at the dinner table. And when her grandmother uses the phrase “colored” to refer to someone of African descent, the child begins to correct her before being kicked under the table by her mother. Even though her mother has often taught her the importance of overcoming prejudice. And when her grandmother asks what she was saying, she responds, “I said, ‘I love you.’”

A young man, finally ready to fully accept who he is, tells his parents. But his father responds, “Um, yeah, can you just wait to do this until next year when you’re away at college?”

A grown woman sits at the conference table in the executive suite of an office building and is about to share her opinion about the new account when her male colleague cuts her off and asks her to go get some coffee.

A teacher who loves working with kids and is excellent at his job is falsely accused of hurting one of those children. He is fired from his job, lives with the aftermath of the accusation for years, and is never hired in his field ever again.

A young woman is assaulted by a pledge from a fraternity. When she speaks to her friends who are older members of that fraternity, they convince her not to go to the authorities in order to protect the brotherhood from any fallout. Though the pledge was terminated from the fraternity, he goes on to become a Resident Advisor and uses his position of authority to take advantage of other young women.

You see, there are countless ways that lies, insincerity, seemingly frivolous moments can cause irreparable harm. Sometimes when someone intentionally accuses falsely. But also, far more times, when we are too uncomfortable with the truth and we use falsehoods and lies to make ourselves more content. We choose ignorance while ignoring what makes us uneasy. We choose perfect pretense when our integrity is crumbling beneath us. Oh, the messes we make.

After my father died when I was little, one of my favorite movies became A Few Good Men. I think it was because my father was a JAG attorney for just about his entire adult life and somehow that movie helped me feel close to him (even if it was the wrong branch). 

For those who don’t remember or who have never seen the film, the movie is a murder-mystery about the death of Marine William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Two men, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private Louden Downey, are on trial for his murder. And a young Tom Cruise ends up being their attorney. It’s honestly an all-star cast, even Kevin Bacon is in it (so yes, you can play that game). And the question the attorneys face is two-fold: did the accused intentionally kill the young marine? And did someone higher up order them to do what they did?

By the end of the movie, we find that they two young men are in fact not guilty of Santiago’s murder, because, indeed there had been quite a coverup and a whole lot of lies happening down at Gitmo. However, there was a third charge on the roster that was never addressed by their attorneys. And as a child, it was the part of the movie that I never fully understood. They were charged with “conduct unbecoming.” And one of the young men does not understand why he is guilty, feeling he has done nothing wrong because he was just following orders. But his compatriot explains it to him: “We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy [the deceased].” 

You know, I get it. Sometimes it is really difficult to figure out which way is up these days. A whole lot of lies are headed our way and sometimes it is very hard to decipher fact from fiction. All of us are facing that same challenge right now.

But a wise sage once suggested that “we must all choose between what is right and what is easy.” So here are my suggestions, my friends. First, always be sure that you are not just taking your own easy way out. Protect your integrity. Protect your relationship with God. Do your best not to sin. Do not remain silent when it really matters.

And second, remember that the question we should always ask ourselves is are we putting love first. Does whatever we are choosing to do, to think, to say, does it choose love over hate, over ignorance, over lying, over false witness, over perfect pretense? At the end of the day, if love is our first choice, the rest will fall into the place. If we learn to let love rule, let it open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and to finally pull our heads out of the sand, then, well, we might finally find our way forward together. Using our voices to support and empower one another as we grow in God’s kingdom of new life.

Loot

We must never forget that there are countless ways we can steal from others. Ways we can loot their lives. It is not just about objects or property. It is also about health. About livelihood. About reputation. About their future. About their ability to flourish. Sometimes even their very life…

VIII. You shall not steal.

Today we are on to the eighth commandment. In the second table – that second tablet that teaches us how we are meant to live with one another. And today we are talking about stealing. Theft. Larceny. Burglary. Misappropriation. Swindling. Embezzlement. Fraud. Knicking. Snatching. Raiding. Pillaging. Mugging. Pinching. Heists. Break-ins. Looting. And all the other synonyms you can think of. 

Generally, when we think of this commandment we think of petty thieves who do stupid things. Sometimes, we might think of much bigger thieves, like Jesse James back in the old west or pirates or vikings. And then occasionally, we might remember that the way we finally got to some of the biggest gangsters in history was by proving tax evasion – yet another type of stealing.

So, let’s talk some history, as has become our practice with these commandments from God. The Hebrew Bible was very clear about stealing. If you steal something, the punishment is restitution. In other words, making it better. But the patriarchs went beyond simply restoring what you took. For example, if you stole a sheep, you must restore four. If you stole an ox, you must restore five. In the book of Numbers, whatever is stolen, must be repaid plus one fifth its value. According to Proverbs, anything that is stolen must be restored seven times over.

Getting the picture yet? Stealing is a very big deal. 

In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the penalty for stealing a person is death. Though we were not alone in this particular sin in the world, I want us to think about the generations of trauma done to bodies on our own soil – not only humans stolen from other places, but children and spouses and siblings stolen from their families arms. For hundreds of years. All in the name of profit. In the name of loot.

There is another historical and theological aspect to this commandment that we do need to acknowledge. This one comes to us from the prophets: ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn the needy aside from justice and rob the poor of my people of their rights, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! What will you do on the day of punishment…? It is not only things that we can steal. Nor do we have to go so far as stealing a whole person to ruin lives and leave people destroyed in our wake. Also note that this is not written only for individuals. This is written to the full body of people. To the nation. Meaning that it is not only us as individuals who can ultimately steal from one another. We as a body, as a governance, can also do so. And God will not hold us innocent if we stay silent in the face of so many getting hurt.

Think back to the British Isles and everyone’s favorite hero of the people: Robin Hood. Everyone remember the dashing Lord turned rogue? Brad and I actually read Roger Lancelyn Green’s classic to the boys when they were just babies about the green hooded thief and his merry men. He was the perfect example of chivalry, fighting for true king and country, against the evil pretender. But do you remember the heart of that story? The rich paid no taxes while they taxed the poor to the point of extreme poverty – pushing good old Robin to act. Disney’s animated version does the best job envisioning what this looked like. We love a good hero of the people, don’t we?

But what about when we end up siding with the rich? Think about the parable from Luke’s gospel: the story of Lazarus. It is one of Jesus’s most scandalous parables. Remember that this is not Jesus’ best friend, but the poor wretch. Lazarus lives a terrible life. Never able to get food, not scraps at the rich man’s table. Even dogs come and lick his sores, exacerbating his pain. Then he dies and goes to heaven, to nourishment, to wholeness, to rest. The rich man dies and goes to hell. And the tables are turned. Still, the entitled rich man demands that the poor Lazarus serve him in death. Finally, he is denied. Now, this Lazarus is named, while the rich ruler is not. Why? Because Jesus wants us to put ourselves in this story. But not in the hero’s role.

We often think that Jesus spent his life giving comfort to everyone. However, that was not actually the case. Much like the God of Israel, Jesus often shared a vision of God’s kingdom that deeply disturbed many, especially those who already had comfort in this life. 

He instead spent much of his life ensuring that those who would otherwise not have comfort gained what they needed. Those who needed to be healed. Those who were physically blind. Those who were poor. Those who were outcast. Those who were overlooked. Those who were dead. And in the final week of his life, Jesus accused those in the highest echelons of authority among his people of outright stealing from the poor – those whom God had told them to help.

We must never forget that there are countless ways we can steal from others. Ways we can loot their lives. It is not just about objects or property. It is also about health. About livelihood. About reputation. About their future. About their ability to flourish. Sometimes even their very life.

And the scriptures have made it very clear that when we have taken from another, it is not enough to merely make amends with a simple “I’m sorry.” We are to make amends with a process of reconciliation – one that takes into account what has been lost and works to reinstate far more than was extracted in the first place. Something God has held God’s people to as individuals and as a body, throughout history. Something we are meant to hold one another and our leaders to, as well. 

So, what then shall we do with this eighth commandment? Well, first and foremost, if we start by following in our Lord and Savior’s footsteps, by loving our neighbor as ourselves – with gumption and gusto – that will certainly help. Next, we must open our eyes to how we continue to break this commandment as individuals and as God’s people, so that we might begin to finally fix the looting that has far too long gone unchecked in our midst. And finally, we must remember that there is always a Lazarus nearby. Always someone Jesus is calling us to find in our midst who needs our love. Our respect. Our aid. We should give it, without judging who is worthy. This day and always. 

Disloyalty

…disloyalty is really what adultery is about. It is about breaking relationships.

VII. You shall not commit adultery.

This is every teenage parent’s favorite commandment: adultery. It’s probably up there with murder as one that a lot of people know is on the list. But unlike killing people, there is a whole lot, lot more to this commandment than meets the eye.

So, let’s start with some history. When it was created, the commandment should have probably been translated thus: no woman should have relations outside of marriage and no man should have relations with a married woman. I intentionally made that simple relations, because in many cases women were literally kept cut off from the world.

Here is the even better part: the way the humans immediately translated this meant it had nothing to do with human relationships. This commandment was about property. Yes, you heard me correctly. In ancient Israel, women were property. They were the property of their father and then became the property of their husband, for the sole purpose of bearing children. And men could have more than one wife. And concubines. And slave women to bed. But the women had no rights. This is also why a widow has always been a symbol of destitution – if her husband died and she had no family, she had no ability in polite society to live, because she was not a person and could not inherit either. So yeah…

There were also a whole bunch of death penalties for those who broke this commandment, but historically they were almost never carried out. Instead, divorce was created. Only for husbands. If a wife was unfaithful, she was cast out. Also, if she could not have children for a period of ten years, she was handed a slip of divorce. Those were the only valid reasons. But over time, the rabbis began to allow more and more reasons for a man to divorce his wife. By the time Jesus arrived, simply displeasing your husband was on the list. And note, again, that women had no recourse if they were poorly treated or if their spouse was forever unfaithful. 

If you ever wonder why Jesus was so stringent about divorce, which is where everyone takes this particular commandment, it actually had far less to do with the protection of marriage – which is extremely complicated. It, instead, had everything to do with protecting the women who were consistently and constantly being thrown out of their houses and made into destitute on the whims of their husbands. 

Then we have this saying that we read from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. If you look with lust in your heart, it is as though you have already committed adultery. You have already broken the relationship. Because the truth is that Jesus is about teaching us how to grow healthy relationships and how to ensure that humans have healthy lives.

During my rounds of chaplaincy that every pastor is, or at least should be, required to do during our training to become a pastor, I had the chance to work on the maternity ward in the biggest birthing hospital in Nashville. Generally, I spent most of my time visiting the women who were on bedrest due to pregnancy complications. Every day I would pop my head in and say hi, just to check on them. 

One day, I came across a young woman who eventually shared with me that she was certain God was punishing her baby for her sins. You see, she was divorced from her first marriage. One that had been abusive. Unhealthy. Cruel and sadistic. She and her first husband had been a part of a denomination that believed that divorce was the ultimate sin. Somehow, she had managed to get herself out of that situation, but not without long-term damage. She was now remarried to a kind and caring man. And pregnant to boot. But she wondered if she was now being punished for getting divorced.

What hateful, hurtful, brutal trauma we have wrought, lo these many years, in the ways we have mishandled this commandment. I have seen far less barbaric renderings used and it still cause decades of damage. And I have seen cultures become so afraid of the “relations” that are meant to happen as a part of healthy human existence, especially between a loving married couple, that in their efforts to dissuade young people from their misguided notions of adultery, they have laid waste to countless marriages in their wake.

So, I want to look at something for a minute. Throughout the prophets, the writers often referred to Israel as an adulterous wife. An odd turn of phrase, to be sure. But why? Much as we see the New Testament writers refer to the Church as the bride of Christ, Israel was often referred to as God’s bride or wife. Meaning that when the body broke the covenant, broke their relationship with God – as individuals and together – they had been disloyal to the very heart of their bond. 

At the end of the day, disloyalty is really what adultery is about. It is about breaking relationships. Specifically, what is at the very heart of our relationship: our bond. Some of those bonds are made without even speaking words – as between a parent and a child. However, far more often, we solidify our bonds by speaking a very specific set of words. Vows. At every major relationship that we make in our life, we take them. Weddings. Baptisms. Ordinations and Installations. Those who serve in different roles and government positions, say their own vows when they begin or renew. We teach our children pledges, another type of vow. And probably the very simplest vow any of us makes are three little words: “I love you,” which is likely why so many fear them so much. Because, ultimately, these are all the same thing: a promise to uphold something – a relationship. Either with God. With one another. Or with ourselves. 

So back to the hospital, that story I began a few minutes ago. The young woman and I began a battle of scripture. Not something to be undertaken lightly. We would go verse for verse, she trying to condemn herself and me trying to find something that would allow her to see who she truly was in God’s eyes. Until finally, one day, I found the right one to break through: for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here is the truth: no matter how many times we break our relationship with God, God still loves us. We are not strong enough to break that bond, no matter how disloyal we may be. 

However, we humans are far more fragile. Sometimes a look is all it will take. Because our hearts and minds are prone to wander. And we have become far too fickle and relaxed in our sincerity when we take our vows these days. Nevertheless, we are all equals here. None of us are property. None are subject to any other. Instead, we all have the opportunity, every day, to choose to grow our relationships with one another and with ourselves in healthy and loving ways. If we begin by holding onto the love of God that will not let us go, growing there first, the others should be a bit simpler.

An important caveat here, though. If you find yourself in a place where someone who should have loved you has not. Has been severely disloyal. Or even worse, you have been abused – hear me say this now: you are breaking no vows by getting out of that place and relationship. Those vows were broken long ago by the other person. It is not your job to “fix’ them. Or save them. That is God’s job. Yours is to protect yourself and your family.

So, then, what shall we say about the seventh commandment? God created it to remind us that we are meant to be loyal and loving to one another. To hold, especially those we marry, in the highest regard, and to do all we can to grow that relationship in health, life, and love. We are to take all of our vows that seriously, however, and never enter into them lightly. Remembering always that God made us for relationship – with God, with one another, and with ourselves. All loyalty must always be given in light of all three: with love for God, love for ourself, even before we give our love to another. By God’s grace, may we all find the balance that was originally intended so that we might see God’s love unfold in this world.

Murder, We Wrote

The commandment not to murder, for most of us, at least, has far less to do with not killing (pretty sure most of us have that down already), and far more to do with living lives that courageously make life a priority. God’s life. Life that is filled with God’s justice for the last and the least, the lost and the forgotten, the hated and the feared. Life that is filled with a love that is untamable, unfathomable, and unending…

VI. You shall not murder.

This is probably the very best known of all the commandments. Whenever a comedic news anchor wants to do a story about the Ten Commandments and polls the population at large, if they can name no other mandate from God – they know we are not supposed to kill anyone. At least, that’s what the King James’ Version said. Frankly, there are lots of directions we can go with this one, but we are going to start with my favorite path first: history.

Why did God choose this one as the commandment right after the most intimate of our relationships between a parent and child? Well, let’s think back to Genesis for a minute. Back in the very beginning, after God created our primordial parents, after they chose to choose themselves in God’s place and were promptly kicked out of paradise, our first parents had two children: Cain and Abel. They became part of God’s own creative process and were given the opportunity to raise children in love, just as God had wanted to do with them. And yet, the next story that we find, as we all know, is about how Cain kills Abel with malice in his heart. He murders him. And Abel’s blood calls to God out of the very dust from which we humans were drawn.

Love comes first. Its counterpart comes next: life itself. For though we are meant to be reared in love, we are meant to learn from the very beginning that life is sacred. It is God’s gift to us. To take it is not our choice.

There are some obvious places this has come up. One is about capital punishment. Interestingly, in Jewish society, in the Levitical laws, though there are countless reasons one might be killed, there are also countless ways that the justice system tries to avoid using the death penalty. There were even rabbis throughout history who went so far to say that they wish they could go without it altogether.

Oddly enough, Rome did not like to kill its own citizens (slaves didn’t count, nor anyone who did not have that citizenship – hence, all the crucifixions). But they actually preferred to avoid the death penalty for crimes when it involved those who were a part of their society. It was actually Great Britain who helped bring it back into vogue in the past centuries.

And this is one I will not specifically say one way or the other, but I will offer this important question: if the point of punishment in Christian practice, as most scholars would suggest, is always to reform, to transform, to provide an opportunity for change to the person who has committed a crime, even the very worst ones (even if it should take the remainder of their earthly life), will the death penalty actually aid in the purpose of punishment?

Another question that the conversation about this commandment brings up is about war. Fighting in battle. Serving in the military. My commentaries provided centuries upon centuries of wisdom about the theories of just war. And I personally believe it is certainly justified at times. As did the people who first held this commandment close to heart. What I always hold up in my own mind is this. Jesus said, close to when he died that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Meaning, in my mind, that war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. And if there is no other way to protect those you love, we all pray that God will give us guidance in our understanding correctly.

But speaking of Jesus, we need to look at what he said about this commandment. Because, like so many other things in his time, the sixth commandment had been part and parceled out into a strict code of dos and don’ts. And Jesus came into the picture and said, ah ah ah. It is not just what you actually do. It is also your intentions. It is also what is in your heart. It is what is in your soul. For God knows it all. And to me, well, we can get bogged down in arguments about all the ways we can physically murder or kill. But quite honestly, the biggest place we write murder is in our hearts.

For some reason, a lot of stories have been coming to me all at once recently. From a variety of friends, all over the place in this country – since I have lived a lot of places at this point. But they all bear one thing in common. Let us see if you can find it. 

         When I took my Baton Rouge youth group to Texas for a mission trip several years ago now, it was the very first night that the other pastors, all men, realized what I did for a living. And they would not speak to me. Not one word. For the remainder of the week. Because I was a woman who would dare to follow Christ’s mandate as a woman to preach.

         A friend of mine was told that her child was an abomination because of who she loved. In a bible study. In a different part of the country.

         In another part of the country a friend heard a teenage child called a racial slur just within the last couple of weeks because of the child’s ethnicity.

And the stories just get worse from there. Did you catch the commonality? Hate. 

As the wise green sage once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” 

Jesus told us that if we look on our neighbor with anger, malice, hatred in our heart – we have murdered them. I guess being the Word made flesh had its advantages, because the Hebrew word for “murder” also means to break or to dash to pieces. And how often have we managed that without laying a single hand on a person?

Yes, we have written murder into this world in so many fearsome ways. May God forgive us. Yet, we hold within us, by God’s grace, the love that can bring new life to this world. When we are brave enough to live it.

One of my all-time favorite movies has to be Remember the Titans. And I may have used this before, but I will retell my favorite scene again and again, because it will always preach. The two team captains, one black, one white, start off completely butting heads. Unable to stand each other. Can’t even be in the same room, and they’re forced to be roommates at camp. But somehow, someway, they start to see each other through the fog of all the hate the world had told them to feel. 

When Gary, the white captain is paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident toward the end of the movie, Julius, his fellow captain goes to see him in the hospital. The nurse sees him enter and tells him only kin is allowed. But Gary quickly quips, “can’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” When the whole world told that team they should fight and buck and bother, that team became a family that stood strong together. Even as all the other teams, all the other schools, all the other crowds – all of them entirely white – snarled hatred in their face. They chose love over hate. Life over death.

Because, my friends, that is the honest truth about what we are called to do. The commandment not to murder, for most of us, at least, has far less to do with not killing (pretty sure most of us have that down already), and far more to do with living lives that courageously make life a priority. God’s life. Life that is filled with God’s justice for the last and the least, the lost and the forgotten, the hated and the feared. Life that is filled with a love that is untamable, unfathomable, and unending. Life that is a gift. One we are meant to cherish and protect. To foster and empower. Not only in ourselves. In our families. In our neighbors who look like us. But also in every other person on this planet – because they are children of God, too. 

Yes, we humans may have written murder into the story of earth’s history. But God’s story is far from finished. And just as love will always have the last word, so will life. So let’s get to work, seeing Christ’s legacy of new life here in this world fulfilled.

Your Ancestors

…here is what I will say about the fifth commandment. It has been badly abused over the years and used to cause irreparable harm. Because it is never, ever the child’s responsibility to be the bigger person. To be the grownup in the room. To blindly accept disrespect as a human being from those who are meant to love them totally, completely, and without reservation. 

V. Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

That morning, I woke up so excited. I was in my yellow footie pajamas. I slid past the rail on my bed that made sure I didn’t fall out and ran down the hall to find my parents. It was my birthday and I was so excited to see them. I must have been three or four at the time, but already I knew this was a very big day. Somehow I managed to stop and slide into the kitchen where they were sitting at the table, camera ready in hand. As they exclaimed, “Happy Birthday,” they pointed to the corner where a brand-new toy kitchen was sitting. It was white, with a little green roof, and a tiny yellow telephone on the side. It was perfect. And as I walked slowly over to examine my gorgeous new gift, I turned back to look at my parents, and immediately… burst into tears. I then proceeded to try to give the present back.

You see, the day before I had gotten into some sort of trouble, Lord only knows what, and they had put the fear of God into me. I had disappointed them. And I did not feel worthy of such a wonderful gift. 

With this commandment, we move into the second table of the law – the one that deals with how we are to live with one another. The first table or tablet gave careful instructions on how we are to live and grow in our relationship with God.

But, God does not stop there. Part of the covenant has always been the way we are meant to live with each other. All God’s children together. Because we cannot do one without the other, honestly. And God has always known that.

So, God begins these six commandments at the beginning. Well, our beginning. Where most of us start out in life: with our parents. Some of us may be saying, e-oh-boy, but you gotta admit, there might be something to this method.

Let’s think about this for a minute: the house we grow up in, whoever is raising us, is going to have a profound effect and affect upon us. They will teach us how to walk, talk, eat, drink, hopefully how to clean ourselves (though a whole lotta middle schoolers seem to miss that step). Whoever raises us, cares for us when we cannot care for ourselves. Provides our first understanding of how we are to relate to others. Shows us our first vision of how we can be in this world.

In the ancient world, around Jesus’ time, the Romans had a terribly horrific practice surrounding the birth of a child. When a baby was born, the child would be laid at their father’s feet and he would either pick it up and claim responsibility for the child, or, if not, the child would be cast out into the wilderness. Birth defects. Too many children. Little girls when you could only afford one or two children. The Romans did this well. And most of those left out were then abducted. Sometimes by wealthy families who could not have a child of their own. But far more often by the arenas for the boys. Or by brothels for the girls. Or by others who would maim them and use them for whatever else. The ancient world was not kind to children.

When I was a little girl, every night after I would take my bath, my mom would wrap me up in a towel, pull me up into her lap and sing: I love my baby, oh yes I do. I really love her, oh yes I do. I love her, I do. Janie McElwee, I love you. I can still hear her voice. Years later, as I was driving between pastoral visits one day, we somehow got to talking about that practice. And she told me this, “I just wanted to make sure you knew you were loved. More than you could possibly imagine.” I realized then that was my first real introduction to who God really was. Because our parents or those who raise us in love, are given to us as gifts from God, in order that they might fill those needs we have until we can stand on our own two feet. And the most basic and most important of all those needs is love.

That is what is missing when we look at this commandment on its face. It appears to be an order to blindly obey your parents no matter what they do to us, how they treat us, or what they command us to do.

The New Testament writers knew better. As they wrote about honoring our mother and father, they also ensured that parents knew their responsibilities to their children. For us, it is always a reciprocal relationship. It is never a blind hierarchy. 

Family is built on mutual love and respect. Parents ensuring enough resources for their children and proper boundaries. Children learning their limits and how to show courtesy to people of all ages. And the children learning how to be loving, healthy, hopefully fun, and servant-minded adults by watching their parents.  

Because we learn from what we see. And we teach people how to treat us, even as parents. 

So here is what I will say about the fifth commandment. It has been badly abused over the years and used to cause irreparable harm. Because it is never, ever the child’s responsibility to be the bigger person. To be the grownup in the room. To blindly accept disrespect as a human being from those who are meant to love them totally, completely, and without reservation. 

What is more, we should remember that we are Presbyterians. We do not accept things blindly on faith. We do not shy away from questions. Or from outright rebellion when something is truly wrong (never forget that the American Revolution was nicknamed the Presbyterian rebellion for a reason). Our mothers and fathers going back generations have taught us to show respect for those who have gone before, for those who raise us, but also for those around us. To do right by them. And to do better whenever we can. 

That is our calling as individuals. That is our calling as Christ’s church. To honor our ancestors, as our children will honor us if we have shown them the remarkable all-encompassing wonder our God truly is and keep on reforming in that understanding. This day and always.

Sabbath

…what God has always wanted for us is the opportunity, every single week for us, to love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit find peace. To see our soul at rest, even if only for a time. And, for those of us who follow Christ, to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps from the early church: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven. 

IV. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.

This commandment takes us back to the beginning. Not of the commandments this time, but the beginning of the creation. We need to remember at least a little bit about how it all happened. And whether you read Genesis one or Genesis two, you will find that after six days of hard work spent creating and breathing life into a whole world full of wondrous things, God chooses the seventh day to stop. To shavat. Literally, “to rest.” 

Millions of years later, when God chooses to covenant with the people of Israel, God writes this same practice into the ground rules of how the people are meant to live together. Interestingly, if you read this rule carefully, you will notice that there is no mention of worship. There is no mention of prohibitions against cooking or cleaning or playing or talking or studying or any other of the myriad of rules that would end up existing one day.

Instead, God was the God of a people of hard labor. They worked with their hands. As did their children. As did their neighbors and their servants, and, yes, even their slaves. And God said you all must give yourselves a break. You must rest from the hard work you do all week. Rest. Play. Spend time with your family. Remember what God has done for you. Just breathe. That is a sabbath day holy unto the Lord.

But then… the humans got involved. They saw an opportunity and ran with it. And created rule after rule after rule. You may pick up your child, but not if your child is holding a stone – because that would be work. For example.

Eventually, it got to a point where the sabbath became such a burden to the people that their backs bent from the weight. 

When Christ arrived, he challenged the rules. He reminded the people that the sabbath was created by God for the people, not the people for the sabbath. It was made to give us space to simply be. To rejuvenate. To re-create. To feed our souls, our spirits, our bodies. To reconnect with God and with one another. And with his resurrection, which meant the creation of the Lord’s Day (a very different day than the Jewish Sabbath), we were no longer tied to the old traditions any longer.

So what happened? Well, for the first four or five hundred years, Christians were in hiding. They couldn’t take the Lord’s Day off of work and, frankly, the old rules didn’t really apply to them anyway. As long as they made it to worship on the Lord’s Day, which was part and parcel of the Christian community from the get-go, then the rest was hunky-dory. 

From there, slowly, work lessened on the Lord’s Day as the Empire began to control Christianity, or should we say the church sort of controlled the empires. But amusements still reigned and you were still allowed to do many other things on Sundays in addition to attending church.

When the Reformers arrived, Luther and Calvin believed that we all did indeed require a day of rest and refreshment, as God had instituted in the Sabbath practice of the Ten Commandments. However, because we were no longer under the old law, the particular day no longer mattered. And it was up to the individuals and the families to follow through on this practice.

Then the ghastly happened: the Puritans came to power in England from 1644 to 1656. You remember them, right? The ones who believed that Christmas was a heathen holiday? Not a very tolerant people. And while they were in power, the Westminster Standards were written and were taken back to Scotland. They came across the pond with many of the ancestors who helped to create our early laws. Like say, our blue laws. Which is how our understanding of the Lord’s Day being what it may or may not “should” be has arrived.

So then, now that you’ve learned the history of this very, very controversial commandment, and why a major chunk of the world thinks we’re nuts for still debating it, what do we do with the Fourth commandment?

Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting an author named Maryanne McKibben Dana who wrote this wonderful little book entitled, Sabbath in the Suburbs. She and I have run into each other a few times since we first met and she is one of the more profound practical theologians we have. What her book illustrated, quite clearly, is that in all of our focus on the “correct” performance of the Christian sabbath, the Lord’s Day, in the last few centuries, we have lost touch with its original intended purpose. What she and her family found over the year-plus of research they did was that at the heart of the practice of Sabbath was drawing near to the heart of God: a place full of love. A place full of re-creation and recreation. A place full of justice. A place full of life.

The specific day we take that rest and seek God’s presence is less important. So is the way we worship – though being too far removed from a community of fellow believers for any length of time can very easily lead us down the rabbit hole of self-delusion. How we rest is also not so specifically spelled out, though it would seem that engaging in our usual labors and work would appear to be against the spirit of it all. 

Instead, what God has always wanted for us is the opportunity, every single week for us, to love and be loved. To know and be known. To be a part of the creative process. To ensure our body’s wellbeing. To let our spirit find peace. To see our soul at rest, even if only for a time. And, for those of us who follow Christ, to follow in our ancient sibling’s footsteps from the early church: to recommit ourselves to the work of Christ that will see God’s love and justice done on earth as it is in heaven. 

If we start by seeking to do these things, rather than getting all tied up in knots over who is right or wrong about how we are doing something perfectly, we will eventually find our way to the Sabbath rest our God desires for us. 

Abusing God’s Name

…what if in all our focusing on cursing we have missed the entire point? What if we dare not take God’s life, the life that God breathes into this world, in vain?

III. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses God’s name.

Onto the Third Commandment – you shall not misuse the name of the Lord. It is, in many ways, a continuation of the first two commandments. For again, we are ensuring that we honor who God is. That we not abuse who God is meant to be in our lives. And just like the first two commandments, this one has often been misunderstood.

Why? Probably because the phrasing of the commandment is very, very difficult to translate. It is almost Presbyterian – there is a range of meaning that is acceptable. Here are a few ways the commandment can be translated:

  •                   Do not use the name as if it has no significance.
  •                   Do not use the name as with irreverence.
  •                   Do not take the name in vain.
  •                   Do not use the name thoughtlessly.
  •                   Do not misuse the name.

In other words, we should be extremely mindful of how we use God’s name. For the ancient people, they knew there were two key places this would play out. The first and main way was when they were taking oaths. And the second, the one we all think of, is being careful not to abuse the name in curses. 

In terms of oaths, God actually doubles down on this one a bit later on in the list with the commandment against bearing false witness. However, our commandment today is reminding us that when we swear by God’s name, we should hold ourselves to the highest level of veracity. Of truthfulness. Of faithfulness. 

Now, an interesting fact from the ancient world – in the days of Christ, there were men who would find a way around the gravity of oaths. They would take people for a ride down some path of vision of a better world and swear by anything and everything up to the very name of God. But never actually the name. And then they would break the oath because it was not actually made by God. However, Jesus was not fooled by these charlatans. What he taught us is that our God is everywhere. And our word should only be given, our oath, when we mean it. With truth behind it. It should not matter if we are holding a bible or if God’s name is uttered. And with God’s name’s meaning, that is doubly true.

But before we talk about that, let us look at the second part of what is prohibited in abusing God’s name. Many of us think that this is a prohibition of cursing. On some level, we would love that, wouldn’t we? It would give us an excuse to be holier than thou when people say things that we think are inappropriate. Now, it is suggesting we beware of using God’s name flippantly in our everyday speech – which does mean that certain curse words might be not the best idea in most contexts.

However, what is it that I always teach about sin? Sins are those things that break our relationships – with God, with each other and with ourselves. They are rarely so simply defined as this is consistently a sin and this is not. And our utterances are no different.

For what is protected in the midst of this commandment is our prayer and praise of the Lord our God. When we invoke the name of the Lord. When we call upon God. And when we cry out in times of trouble.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there are moments in my life, when the name of God is the only thing that will do in my prayers when I receive devastating news. And it was my mother-in-law, one of the most faithful Christians I have ever known, who taught me that at times cursing is the only form of prayer that will do. Because there are moments when it hurts too much. When there is nothing else that can express our distress. And I am convinced that when we cry out in the agony of those times, our God will understand.

Which brings us back to the far more important part of our conversation this morning. Let’s talk about the actual name of God. For what is prohibited is that we not abuse the name of God, right? Perhaps we should consider what it is. So, go back to Exodus 3. God’s name is translated as “I am.” The root of the word is life. BeingExistence. One translation of the prohibition in this commandment is that we should not use God’s name for “unreality.” Which begs the question, what if in all our focusing on cursing we have missed the entire point? What if we dare not take God’s life, the life that God breathes into this world, in vain?

We hear the judgment coming at the end of the commandment – the only commandment with this statement. It brings to mind other moments in scripture when God sits in judgment over those who have not followed God’s commandments.

In my mind, I hear a very familiar story. When the Son of Man comes in glory to judge the living and the dead and separates them as sheep and goats. He tells them that he was hungry, and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. And in all these things, the people either cared for him or did not in the very least of the people around them. In those messy situations of life that require presence. That require courage. That require a willingness to live openly as those who are willing to give their lives in the service of their neighbors. For if God is life, and ours is a God of justice, then when we ignore places in life where life is in danger and justice is not present, we are taking God’s very name in vain.

Yesterday, on the newest of our national holidays, my house was filled with the smell of specially chosen cooking food and the sounds of movies and special children’s books. You see, though there are members of my family for whom Juneteenth was much more a cause for celebration, I very willingly acknowledge that it is not my holiday. Instead, it is an opportunity for a whole lot of learning and conversation. 

So my sons and I spent the day watching and listening to stories. Some of them easier and harder than others. They are four (five now), so they went in and out of paying attention, as I knew they would this year, which is a fine place to begin. 

At one point, when I had the movie Selma on, my son Lucien was paying attention right at the moment the little girls were killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He asked me what had just happened. And I explained that a bomb had killed those little girls. He asked, “who would do that?” Yes, who would do that to four little girls. Little children?

You see, we are having these conversations now. Yes, even with children as young as mine. For if young children of color their age are old enough to experience racism, then mine are old enough to learn about it. And from my family members and friends who have children that young, yes, that is still a thing. Their lives are still disrupted because of the color of their skin. Maybe not and usually as openly as they were 150 or even sixty years ago. But there is still injustice in our midst. There are still stories to be told and fights that must be fought if we are ever to see a world where all of our children can truly have the freedom, justice, and life that God created us for.

So, what do we do with this commandment, then? We remember that if God’s name means “life,” then life is sacred. Then we are meant to feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome the stranger, even the strange ones and the outcast ones. Clothe the naked. Care for the sick and make sure they have what they need to be well. Visit and ensure the care of those in prison. Loose the bonds of injustice. Let the oppressed go free. Bring the homeless poor into housing. To satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Then our light shall rise through the shadows, making any gloom like the noonday. For our word is not merely what we say or the oaths we give. It is the very testimony we give with our lives to the God who loves us. And the right use we make of God’s name, the ways we make it known through all the earth, the reality of the kingdom of God we make visible, is far more important than any prohibition we get twisted in our minds. That is how we live out the third commandment this day and always. It is just that simple. And it is just that hard.

God in a Box

We are to open our eyes and minds and hearts to who God truly is: something far more vast and wonderful than we can possibly imagine. A love more powerful than any force on this earth. And a creative force that chose to manifest that love in its own image in us. All of us…

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol.

At my home church in St. Louis, they install paintings of the senior pastors within the church after they have retired from ministry there. However, while I was in college, the senior pastor at the time insisted that his painting be commissioned during his final five years, so that it could be placed in the beautiful building renovation he was helping to accomplish. Well, one morning a little girl was walking with her mother to worship through the gathering space where the painting was displayed. She looked up at the visage and said, “mommy, is that God?” Dumbfounded, I do not think her mother was sure how to respond. I think some of us fellow pastors, knowing ourselves, probably might have said, no, but sometimes we might fall into a trap of thinking so.

The second commandment of the ten is in fact, a continuation of the first commandment – you will have no other “little-g” gods before God. In reality, there are two forms of idolatry that are prohibited here. The first is obvious: we are not meant to make images of anything or anyone else in all of creation in order that we might worship it.

The second is a bit more daunting: we are not meant to make any images of God. In ancient times, this meant that artwork was, rather obviously, forbidden for fear of how it might lead us into unhealthy ways of life. However, if we unpack what is at the heart of this commandment, I think we will find that what God is asking has far more to do with our hearts than any piece of artistry that adds beauty to God’s creation.

Let’s take these two forms of idolatry in reverse. Starting first with images of God. The problem with creating images of God, especially if we consider them authoritative in any way, is that we are putting God into a box. We limit God. We prevent God from self-defining who God is going to be. And God has said from the very beginning that God is who God is. “I am who I am” is God’s name. What is more, what the ancient people of Israel understood, is that it is God’s own Word that defines who God is. The Word spoken at creation. The Word that came to Moses to save the people. And we know, the Word that became flesh.

But who is the Word? You know. We know. Because we follow that Word. And no, I do not mean the Bible. The bible is merely a written witness to the true Word of God. The true Word of God is Jesus Christ – the Word that was in the beginning and was with God and was God. The Word that brought all creation into being. The Word that defines who God is and who gives definition to all things. We must never give into the idolatry of thinking that Jesus is not our guide and guard in all things. It is the Christ – Jesus’s life, words, actions – through which we check everything in our life. Including scripture. Anything less, at least for us as followers of the Christ, will mean that we are not following the God we claim to serve.

And what has Jesus taught us about the God of all creation? That our God is expansive. Our God is bigger. Our God is more creative. More imaginative. More wondrous. Simply more than all generations had previously understood. Most importantly, Jesus taught us that our God is love. A love that does miraculous things that boggle the human mind. A love that seeks justice in all of human relationships. A love that will move mountains to ensure that every single person is welcomed back into the fold of God’s family. That is who Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, has taught us our God is.

The idolatry we tend to run into with God these days is trying to keep God in a box that is far too small. In a place we can control. Looking the way we want God to look. Acting like us. Sometimes it is artwork that does this, but far more often it is our hearts and minds that we keep closed around images of God that are not who our God really is.

Let’s talk about the other form of idolatry. It is true we tend not to make too many physical “little-g” gods out of wood and stone or clay these days. Although we do still have an affinity for bronze cows somewhere in the back of our minds I think. But again, this form of idolatry has far less to do with a love of artistry and far more to do with our hearts holding on to material things.

Remember what we learned last week? These days, our “little-g” gods still exist. They just tend not to be anthropomorphic. However we are often still choosing things we shouldn’t. Our possessions, our labels, our security, our status, our power, our beauty, our control. It is not that having some amount of security, of having a house and a car, of having some clothes, of having food security, and safety are bad things. Yet, we often grasp and grasp until we begin to choose those material things over the people we are meant to serve. To care for. To help. When we do that, those things become idols. They take the place where God is meant to be ruling in our lives.

Another form of idol worship we have in this world? When we look to anyone living on this earth as our Lord and Savior. There is an old joke that pastor nominating committees sometimes need to be reminded that the people they are looking at are not Superman and they are not Jesus – because we cannot save the church. That’s God’s job. But this applies to a far bigger picture than just individual pulpits. Anytime we place our faith in a human figure, especially one that has laid aside all that our God stands for, we are worshipping an idol. And ours is a jealous God – we should be mindful of our actions.

So what is meant to happen when we stop worshipping the idols that so tantalizingly tempt our focus? Who keep our minds in boxes? Who limit our viewpoints and sometimes have us wondering if we are seeing God in all the wrong places? 

Then we will start seeing the world through heaven’s eyes. We will start seeing the image of God that God’s own hands have wrought that is walking all around us.

As God asked us not to make graven images, God had already placed the image of the Triune God everywhere in our midst. In us. God’s own self had made us. Breathed life into us. Made us to love and be loved.

But we tend to forget that. We lose sight of that image in ourselves and in everyone around us. As we shrink the vision of who God is, we also shrink who God can make us to be, let alone anyone else. And then, people can become commodities instead of God’s beautiful, living incarnations meant to create love and life here on earth. 

Far too often in this life we forget what is most essential. We forget what it is that God wants us to remember. We are to have nothing else in our lives before God. Not “little-g” gods. No idols of wood or stone or clay. No boxes that keep God contained. We are to open our eyes and minds and hearts to who God truly is: something far more vast and wonderful than we can possibly imagine. A love more powerful than any force on this earth. And a creative force that chose to manifest that love in its own image in us. All of us. Every single other human on this earth. You will never look into the eyes of someone who God does not love. And the way that we truly worship our God, this immense and profligate God is by living as God’s love dictates, every moment and every breath of our lives. It’s just that simple. And it’s just that hard.

No Other Gods

…it is our job, to work, with all that we have, to stop placing other gods where God should be in our lives. To start letting God’s Love rule.

As has been my tradition from years past, I am going to be posting my previous year’s #summersermonseries here. Slightly edited. Let’s see how it speaks to what is happening now…

I. You shall have no other gods before me.

My senior year of high school, I had the chance to travel to Europe with some of my schoolmates over spring break. We went several places, among them Heidelberg, the place where my great-grandfather, Lucien McElwee, my first son’s namesake, studied medicine in the nineteenth century. The big feature on that stop for us was the visit to Heidelberg castle. It was remarkable in many ways. But the thing I remember most was our visit to the basement. 

Traveling with us on that adventure were two young men named Ryan and in the basement of the castle they found something that changed their lives forever. After walking down a long hallway, we entered a room, about the size of the church parlor, that was filled, floor to ceiling with a wine barrel. And the Ryans had found their new god. Then we went through a door at the far end of the room and entered a bigger room, about the size of the chapel and the kitchen. Again, it was filled, floor to ceiling with an even larger wine barrel. And the Ryans had found another new god. That is, until, we went through the final door at the end of that room and entered an even larger room, about a third the size of our sanctuary. Again, filled with the biggest wine barrel of all. I am still amazed that the Ryans didn’t fall on the floor. 

Today we start a journey that will take us further into the depths of the covenant that our God made with the children of Israel all those millennia ago. A covenant written in stone, but also that was first etched out onto the hearts of those who had been drawn up out of slavery in Egypt. Saved from the oppression that had bound them. From the task masters that had bent their backs with impossible feats of work. It is that “I am” who delivered them and brought them out. Whatever other shared history God and these people may have together – with Noah, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even with Joseph the great – God is basing this covenant on this one mighty act.

Why? Because this is the moment that will define who they are. Their years in Egypt and their deliverance from them will shape and mold these people and their way of life forever after.

With only a few exceptions, it is not the lives or the stories of the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs that create the established practices of the people. For though they were of one blood, and marked themselves as such, it was still easy enough to forget the primordial stories. To forget who God was in the days gone by. Remember, even Pharaoh forgot who Joseph was when the people grew too numerous.

Yet, they knew that their God, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had acted before. Maybe God would act again.

And act God did. God brought the people out of bondage and led them to Horeb, the mountain of God. 

There, in spite of what the people did, God still chose to make covenant with them. And it is the first ten commandments, the foundation of the law that Moses is repeating again to the people here, before they enter into the promised land.

And the foundation of all ten is this: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Remember who I am. 

Then… you shall have no other gods before me.

In fact, the Hebrew here is a bit more complicated than it looks. Hebrew almost always is (which is part of the reason I usually preferred Greek, but I digress). The word translated as “before me,” could actually be translated one of four ways: “before me,” “beside me,” “besides me,” or “over against me.” In other words, there are a lot of places we can keep these other gods. And frankly, the scholars can’t quite decide which translation is best. Though for our understanding, the two that will help us most are either the one used in our translation or “besides me,” which really means that we would put another god in God’s place. Because quite honestly, that is what we are most in danger of doing, isn’t it?

Now, another key thing we need to remember when we look at this text: our God was not the only god on the block. We are talking about ancient times when gods were a dime a dozen and ours was simply the God of the Israelites. Monotheism was not really a concept on the horizon yet. And the Bible as we know it, even the first five books of it where this passage comes from, hadn’t been written down and wouldn’t be for hundreds, if not thousands of years. So God is quite serious when saying this. The people will be surrounded by a plethora of choices. God wants them to stay true.

Why? Because this is the God who saved them. Brought them up out of slavery. This is the God that loves them more than anything.

Times have certainly changed. We have come to know that ours is the God of the universe. The God of the people of Israel has revealed God’s self to be far bigger and far more loving than any could have possibly imagined in the very beginning. A God who would still have us have no other gods before God. And you might say, well, that’s easy. We don’t have other gods in this culture, right? Hmmm.

Let’s consider that for a minute. Of all the ancient gods available to the children of Israel, the two that would be most readily accessible when they came into the promised land were Baal and Mammon. You may have heard of them, but I bet that you probably do not know what they represent. The reason they were so dangerous is because of the lure they offered. Baal was the god of plentiful providence and fertility. Good crops, big family, prosperity in this life – you know who to thank. And Mammon, well, Mammon represented wealth, money, and possessions. But we do not have any kind of hang ups on prosperity, wealth or protecting our possessions in this life, right?

Here’s the thing, we may not think of them in anthropomorphic terms, human-like bodies, the way the ancients did, but we still have plenty of little-g gods we worship in our world. Wealth and prosperity are only two. Beauty. Power. Intoxication. Strength. Superiority. Fear. Lust. Hatred. And here’s the one we really don’t want to admit: ourselves. 

There are plenty of ways were put other gods before or in place of where God should be in our life. Most often and most insidiously our own selves and we forget that we are not meant to control almost anything. We forget whose we are and in whose image we are made. What we are made for. And that makes all the difference.

So here is the heart of the matter, the very beginning of the commandments that will center all of the work we will do together this summer: our God is one. Our God is the one who saves. Who seeks us always. Who brought us out of bondage – not only the bondage to an Egyptian king long ago, but even the bondage to our own fallen selves. The ways we break ourselves, each other and the world. Because God loves us, no matter what. So it is our job, to work, with all that we have, to stop placing other gods where God should be in our lives. To start letting God’s Love rule. It is just that simple. And it is just that hard. 

Wrapping them in T-P

There are a lot of questions everyone keeps asking. All good questions. Excellent ones, even. Here’s the one I will throw on the pile: what would Jesus say?

You know, I try to avoid directly addressing certain topics. I actively and intentionally do not go after individual politicians – even if Jesus and his cousin did. And I am always wary of certain subjects because I worry they might cross an arbitrary line somewhere. Maybe. Sure – I’m going to pretend that’s the excuse I was going with.

Both personally, as a mother, and vocationally, as a minister of Jesus Christ – I can no longer remain silent on this particular issue. The tipping point probably should have been hundreds of people ago. Yet somehow the second-deadliest school shooting on record, also being the third shooting in less than a week, finally did it. Oh, and it was at an elementary school. And the shooter was just eighteen, which means though the media keeps referring to him as an adult, which I get he legally was, he was also just a baby himself.

I have watched my newsfeed these last twenty-four hours in horror, like all of you. And I can feel myself in shock. Not surprise. But in the kind of shock that I feel when one of my close relatives dies. That numbness and calm that takes over so that you can function, while inside your body, mind, and soul are screaming and thrashing in utter agony at what is happening.

There are a lot of questions everyone keeps asking. All good questions. Excellent ones, even. Here’s the one I will throw on the pile: what would Jesus say?

That’s what my brain has been turning over and over these long hours. I mean after he caught the families and the wounded and those caring for others in the aftermath. I mean, once the smoke had cleared. What would Jesus say to offer any sort of balm in this circumstance?

They’re in a better place doesn’t even begin to cut it.

I will wipe away all your tears… eventually? Yeah, might be a helpful statement to make in like a decade.

Vengeance, not really a healthy thing. And it belongs to God, which is Jesus, too sure. But that wasn’t his M.O.

Does anyone remember what actually happened the night before he died? Well, little refresher course here: the armed guards come to arrest Jesus in the garden and one of his followers picked up a sword to defend him. In the midst of a fight, they cut off a guard’s ear. Rather than joining his followers, Jesus stops the fight, heals the guard, and says this: those who live by the sword will die by the sword. And then gives himself over to be killed in one of the worst ways imaginable without a fight.

On top of Jesus’s direct direction, throughout the scriptures, especially in the prophets, we hear God’s reaction to what happens when we put our own desires, our own possessions, our own wares above the needs of or just above people. God continues to detail how much our hands are covered in the blood of the innocent and how Rachel is weeping for her children.

So here is my take: Jesus would likely look at us with disappointment. That of all the “least of these” and “little ones” we could choose to ignore, our children are by far the most innocent and in need of our protection. Remind us that adding more weapons into this fight will help nothing, as God has been trying to tell us for a very long time. He would probably tell us that it is ours to do everything we can to safeguard and preserve their safety in an open and healthy environment. That should be our number one priority. They do not need more walls or gates. They need a world where they are not necessary. And last, he would likely ask us if his cross has really taught us nothing in two thousand years?

Our present situation requires concrete action. Supporting organizations working for change. Voting to make that change. Working to bring change where you personally can.

Because wrapping our children in thoughts and prayers is about as useful as wrapping them in toilet paper.