I Am Thankful for You

Every day I scroll my Facebook feed, seeing faces and memories of times past. I see people who altered the direction of my life, brightened the path when I could not see it, and reminded me why I traveled that path. I see people who made me laugh. I see the poor folks who I feel madly in unrequited love with (and probably have some who did the same with me).

I see you all, and I almost daily grow more thankful for your presence in my life.

  • Some of you have grown in different ways than me and we no longer see eye-to-eye.
  • Some of you I now see eye-to-eye with but our friendships faded away too long ago to reconcile that now.
  • Some of you crossed my path for a brief moment yet we knew each other deeply.
  • Some of you I grew up with and yet never really knew you (96% chance that’s my fault).
  • Some of our friendships ended because they caused me too much pain and I had to draw a boundary for my health, but they existed for a reason and I mourn their ending.
  • Some of you I miss every day and wonder why I could not keep connected to you (again, still awkward, nervous, and anxious).

I wish I had less anxiety to reach out to each one of you and tell you how you brightened my life, but somehow seminary, marriage, pastoral ministry, ordination, and time did not make me less awkward, nervous, and anxious.

I am thankful for you. Even if our friendship/relationship/whatever ended in anger and fury, I am thankful for you. I am who I am today — wounds, pains, strengths, direction — because of every person who has entered my life.

I am thankful for you.

Love,
– Robby

A Late Reflection for 9/11

Here’s my note: I’m tired, I should be getting ready for bed, and as of this moment I have no idea what is going to be written below.

Every year I struggle with this day of remembrance.

Every year I think about standing, waiting for the bus, not really knowing what happened and really not understanding what it meant. Every year I think about sitting in line at the gas station, filling our tanks with elevated priced gasoline because someone will always make a buck on a tragedy. Every year I remember visiting ground zero the week we declared war on Iraq — we listened to the announcement on the charter bus to New York — and just being struck by how it looked like an unremarkable pile of rubble.

Every year I remember, everything year I search for the words I can put into the universe to maybe add to the healing, but I always struggle to know what to say.

I have seen a post this year about “I missed 9/12” and how we all came together, and truly we did. Blood banks had an excess of blood, people prayed and gathered like they never had before, and we saw some of the best in each other.

But this year I have a reflection of my own: that day, and our collective response to that day, amplified my racism and made me so much more hateful than I had been before. It took well over a decade for my level of hatred of the other to return to its pre-9/11 level.

I remember learning all the lies about Muslim people and committing them to my heart and soul as moral truth. I remember celebrating war and death. I remember jokes about GI’s not having beautiful women to sleep with in this war like they did in other wars — and legal brothels offering to make up for it. I remember celebrating war, defending violence, and have no sympathy of the innocents who died in the ensuing conflicts.

I remember being given a pork sandwich to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death and eating it because I didn’t have the strength to say, “No, I am not celebrating death, even the death of an enemy.”

I remember all of it, and I mourn. I mourn for our nation, believing we have done more damage to ourselves and torn ourselves apart more than any terrorist attack ever could. I mourn for the person I was, so shamed of the hatred I spewed and deaths I celebrated. I mourn for the people I ostracized and judged — the relationships I never built — because I believed in my righteous hatred of another. I mourn for all who suffering violence born out of hatred and bigotry in this country.

That day we saw bravery we will hopefully never have the opportunity to see again.

Shortly after, more innocent people died in our attempt to gain justice and rout terrorism — and the results of our troop withdraw from Afghanistan has shown the futileness of most of the actions.

When I reflect on this day, I long for a world that heals its wounds, not causes more wounds. I long for a world that chooses love over hatred. I long for a world that values life and doesn’t dismiss the deaths of those out of sight and out of mind.

I long for a better world.

I will remember this day by praying for peace for all. I will remember this day by praying for the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4

God will judge between the nations,
    and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
    and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
    they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB)

Goodnight.
– Robby

Boring Truth Versus Charismatic Lies

I think having to treat deliberate misinformation and outright lies with the same weight and veracity of verifiable facts in discussions around protocols and safety – especially in our community and religious gatherings – ranks second in the most exhausting parts of the pandemic. Trying to lead a congregation through the difficult, painful, and heated discussions around safety protocols and protecting the least and the lowest while misinformation took an equal breath to – or greater breath than – truth simply amplified an already difficult and painful situation and made it unnecessarily worse.

Truth is cold, boring, flat, emotionless. It does not care about your desires or wants. It has no interest in your partisan leanings or political aspirations – only your acceptance and transmission of truth do. Truth does not care if you like it or not; in the wise words of Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Misinformation, deception, and lies, though, are anything but cold, boring, flat, or emotionless. It works by using the things that make you want to look away from truth – discomfort, sadness, weariness. The bad actors who create and spread misinformation, the deceivers, say truth and truthtellers take good and holy things away from you – like community, corporate worship, closeness in this season – and tell you believing and following their lies will give those things back.

Truth has no charisma, and truthtellers do not have the benefit of having something people want to hear; they have to make truth understandable, digestible, and attractive because truth provides none of those things. Deceivers, though, can create a product with inherent understandability, digestibility, and attractiveness to their intended targets, and they do not have any rules to follow but to make something people want to hear.

Truth also suffers from how humans understand truth. Truth is truth but our understanding of truth – especially in a rapidly developing health crisis like a pandemic – is somewhat of a moving target due to our learning and inability to just inherently know things. Truthtellers have to correct and adjust their telling of truth in response to changing understanding – even if our understanding conflicts with previous understanding – and do so in humility. Deceivers use this to make their message of lies more attractive, attacking the truth on the contradictions raised by changing understanding of truth despite regularly conflicting with previous lies and changing to make their deception more attractive.

Neither truth nor lies care about you; care can only come from people, not statements. Truthtellers care about you, knowing truth will set you free, protect you, and make this world better; deceivers care only about themselves, often personally acting in ways that betray the lies they tell because following their lies harms the follower. Truthtellers will act in your best interest and the best interest of all, especially if you dislike it; deceivers will tell you what you want to hear and convince you they act in your best interest despite always acting in their own self-interest.

How do you tell the difference? Truthtellers sacrifice their own safety, security, and comfort to tell the truth – and almost universally speak truth that will help the least and the lowest while asking much of the enriched and elevated; deceivers sacrifice nothing of themselves and benefit greatly from you believing their lies – economically, politically, and personally – while the least and the lowest often suffer for those benefits.

Masks work, the vaccine is safe and effective against serious illness, and lockdowns saved lives and prevented suffering; early reversals of mask mandates and lockdowns caused suffering and death, and vaccine refusal combined with not wearing masks and participation in congregate settings further causes unnecessary suffering and death. Your personal, anecdotal experiences do not negative or even conflict with those truths.

How long, O Lord, will you children accept deception and reject truth? How long will they choose temporary comfort leading to long-term suffering? How long, O Lord?

– Robby

Light Roast

I wonder if we get often miss opportunities when we trying to perform and meet a standard that someone else has placed before us.

Last year, in the week before Prime Day (don’t @ me with the evils of Amazon, please), they had the offer: buy $10+ from a small business and get $10 in credit for Prime Day. I chose a small bag of light roast coffee.

I used to pride myself in drinking only the darkest of dark roast coffee – and only drinking it “black.” I convinced myself real coffee drinkers only drank the super dark stuff and I, certainly, met the criteria of “real coffee drinker.” Before that bag of coffee, I had never intentionally had a cup of light roast in my life.

The coffee arrived and it proclaimed flavors of “chocolate, blueberry, honey.” My mind immediately said, “No, coffee. Coffee flavored coffee.” I brewed a cup and…

Blueberry. Obviously, it tasted like coffee, but I only noticed blueberry. It blew my mind that coffee – without any additional flavors added – could taste that beautiful. I still love dark roast, and nothing restores my soul like a large, black coffee, but that light roast just opened me up to something my performative coffee drinking had walled me off to.

We often worry more about the performative version of our actions – allyship, antiracism, ministry, marriage – and miss opportunities that fall outside of the acceptable performative versions.

Do we want people to see “real coffee drinkers” in us or do we want to taste blueberries?

Peace,
– Robby

Jesus Was the Divine’s Protest

Today we celebrate the first federally recognized Juneteenth Holiday, celebrating the day that the final slaves received word of their emancipation. We celebrate an event I…honestly, the first time I heard it, I leaned on my racist training and believed it was just a holiday black people made up.

Yes, I was that racist and well on my way to overtly white supremacist beliefs and making Jesus into a white power hero. If not for the love and care from people who wanted me to do better – and saw my desire to love more fully – I would not be the “far left” “political” pastor I am today.

I do not need to spend a lot of time on the specifics of what turned me away from racism to love, but the past 15 months has strengthened the turn in me and created a new understanding of Jesus:

Jesus – the second person of the divine walking on Earth as the completely human man Jesus – was a protest, inherently a protest against systems of oppression, systems of marginalization, systems of slavery and exploitation, systems of bigotry and hatred.

When the divine chose to walk on Earth with us, the divine chose to take a life…

  • born of an unwed mother.
  • stepson to a poor day laborer.
  • raised and often seen only as a child of the poor, backwards, uneducated part of ancient Israel.
  • being homeless and living only on the generosity of others.
  • living as a poor street preacher.
  • preaching political (read: admonishing the powers that be and prophesying the results of their greed and self-righteousness) sermons.
  • dining with the dirty, the sinful, the physically broken, the sick, and all others deemed unworthy to enter the temple – the temple God did not want yet humans built, anyway.
  • dining with the man who would betray him.
  • going to the garden despite knowing it would lead to his arrest.
  • letting church leaders successfully demand his murder.
  • letting his oppressors murder him.
  • dying from the likely most painful, drawn out, humiliating, and dehumanizing form of execution we have every devised.
  • calling his followers to follow the same path as him.

The divine chose this. If we believe Jesus could turn water into wine, heal the sick and wounded, and be resurrected after his execution, then none of that had to happen from a practical standpoint. Jesus could have chosen to increase his wealth, acquire power, and live a life of luxury and painlessness.

But for the toppling of systems to happen, for the unseating and redefinition of power and strength to happen, for the change of hearts and minds to happen, Jesus had to live this life radically and inexplicably different than the faith leaders of his time – and faith leaders of our time. He had to live contrary to the worldly values of his time – and our time. He had to stand up to the powers that be and demand change for the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the different – much the same way the faithful today must stand up to the powers that be today and demand change for the poor and working poor, the sick, the outsider with melanin levels that bring additional risk to their lives, and the different whose love causes no pain but makes some people uncomfortable and offends their restrictive theology of God’s love.

Jesus chose to sacrifice himself – the divine chose to sacrifice themself – as a protest against the evil and pain of the world. We, as believers in that divine, must choose lives of sacrifice and giving ourselves up.

Jesus was the divine’s protest against our systems of restricting and withholding love. Maybe we need to stop being offended by the protest and more offended by the pain being thrust upon the least and the lowest in the name of profit, comfort, and nostalgia.

Ending American chattel slavery did not occur because those benefiting from it had a spontaneous change of heart, nor did the Black community gain any rights denied them through spontaneous change of hearts from the white supremacists who benefited from their disenfranchisement. Everything came from hard fought battles – some literal, some metaphorical – that included protests and standing up when their oppressors demanded politeness and properness.

The first sermon our savior gave as an adult almost got him murdered. If Jesus, our messiah and the perfection of humanity, had to preach in that way to save us, maybe we all need to.

And we definitely need to listen to the message of the protest, not just recoil in the discomfort it causes the powerful and empowered.

Peace,
– Robby

PRIDE (I Love You)

I struggle with what do say during PRIDE Month (and other months recognizing and celebrating marginalized groups). I fail at “looking the part” as an ally, I really struggle with seeing the sharp uptick in “performative allyship” that does nothing to help but looks really good, and I really don’t know what to do, per se, as an ally.

I know what thought leaders and privileged progressives outside of the LGBTQ+ community tell me to do, but I don’t know what will actually bring healing, safety, repentance, and reconciliation.

But I can say this: I love you.

Your identity is a sacred reflection of God.
Your love is a sacred reflection of Christ’s love.
Your voice is sacredly empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God made you in God’s image, exactly as you most vulnerably and authentically are.

And I love your most authentic and vulnerable self.

I don’t understand the struggle of your identity being used to justify violence against you. I know my identity affords me certain privileges and safeties that an LGBTQ+ identity denies you. I see a struggle I will never have to fight for myself to simply love another people and be my most authentic self.

I don’t know your struggle, and, though I can empathize with rejection simply for being different, I never will.

But I love you, and I want to help end the pain, begin the healing, and envision a more beautiful world with nothing but authenticity and vulnerability – and safety.

I have never stated this publicly, but I will today:

I will joyfully marry you and show that God sanctifies your love.
I will welcome you into Christian community.
I will walk with you in every stage of life and learn more about you to love you more fully.
I will preach and teach about Christ’s love being for you as you are.
I will mourn – in public and private – how any church would declare you anything other than beloved and beautiful.

I love you, and I want you to safely be your authentic self. I pray I can find the way to make that more of a reality tomorrow than it is today.

Love,
– Robby

P.S.: This is not an invitation for anyone outside the LGBTQ+ community to school me on how to be an ally. Just…don’t.

A Year of Lent

A few days ago, we marked one year of all of this. Like many people – and many pastors – it feels like we never got the Easter release from Lent; we never found an empty tomb and never received the visit from the risen savior in the midst of the darkness and pain of the world.

We just experienced a year of Lent. No Easter, no Advent, no Christmas, no Epiphany, nothing but Lent. We absolutely went through the motions, singing the right hymns for the season and making sure the right paraments hung proudly for each liturgical movement, but the darkness of Lent never left us.

Or at least it never left me.

We did not just experience a pandemic. We saw 400 years of anti-Black racism come to a head – and just how much force the system will use to silence any sort of dissent. We saw anti-Asian racism used to distract from incompetent handling of a respiratory virus – and fanning anger and hatred to sow seeds of division to protect the ruling class. We saw a political system weaponize division and tear us apart by deifying an adversarial justice and political system.

And nothing got better. The world never got less dark.

We have some hope now. Well over 100 million Americans have receiving their first dose of the vaccine that will – hopefully – give us a path to being with each other without introducing risk of exposing each other to a deadly virus, but people still die every day and variants continue to prove their increased transmissibility and strength.

But still the virus of racism and White Supremacy ravage our nation. Just a couple days ago a man – taught to feel deep shame over his natural sexual desires and filled with racial hatred – killed multiple Asian women and had his actions absolved because he “had a bad day” by the very law enforcement officials we pay a lot of tax money to protect us.

All of us. Not just those who look right and/or have the correct amount of money.

The darkness of Lent never went away. At least not for me.

The holiday of Easter shines in the near distance. I find myself wondering if we will feel that relief of seeing the empty tomb this year or if Lent will continue to cover us.

Have we reached the Holy Saturday of our year long Lent? Have we finally reached the end of this liturgy of wailing and darkness? Will we experience the resurrection?

Will I see the empty tomb and have our savior enter the locked room?

It all makes me wonder: what differentiates between falling into despair and naming the reality of the darkness that surrounds us? Where do we delineate between hopelessness and the prophetic reality? Have I failed to see any hope or simply spoken the truth of God’s call in our lives and the state of what we have made God’s creation into?

I don’t know, but I have hope.

I have hope because Jesus died on the cross and so many more have sacrificed their comfort, their treasure, their livelihoods, and their lives to share the message of his sacrifice. I have hope because we can make those sacrifices, we can repent to bring about Earthly reconciliation, we can bring light into the world.

Easter did not end the story; Easter started the story. The cowards, the scoundrels, and the proud gave all of that up because they saw the risen Christ – and they gave themselves up to try to heal the world.

I have hope – reckless and idealistic hope – that our collective dark night of the soul will end, our year long Lent will get its Easter relief, and collective repentance will happen.

Darkness still covers our world, and I still long for light. My preaching and writing will speak to bringing light into the world, even if the comfortable and contented find its taste too bitter.

This is Holy Saturday; I don’t know what the empty tomb looks like, but I long for it.

Peace,
– Robby

Fearless Moral Inventory and Cancel Culture

I debated posting this because of how “hot” this issue is. I will touch a nerve that some will call political. I have selfishly avoided controversial public statements recently for a host of reasons, but I need to address a horrific trend I see happening in people I love and respected.

Real Talk: U.S. politics manufactured your outrage over the estate of Dr. Seuss stopping production and sales of six titles you have never heard of – or haven’t heard of in years, at least. The beloved classics the outraged keep bringing up and demanding be read until all of our dying breaths will still be available at every bookstore and library – with a few, radical exceptions of places the outraged would never patronize, anyway.

U.S. politics manufactures outrage to distract from bigger issues. I wish the estate had quietly just stopped selling the titles *PUTS ON CYNICAL HAT* instead of doing a press release to make the estate look more woke to sell more books to progressive millennials *TAKES CYNICAL HAT OFF* but they made their decision on how to do it and we played into the outrage game that decision gave to us.

No one got canceled and everyone got distracted from the bigger issues going on all around us. We played right into the game, and our politicians love that they can come out against “cancel culture” instead of addressing, again, all the big, life-and-death issues going on all around us.

But I cannot add anything to the direct conversation. If you want to get mad and read more Dr. Seuss, you will; if you want to stop reading Dr. Seuss – or did years ago – you will. The whole exercise wasted everyone’s time and only served to anger and divide us further.

I only even addressed it in specific as a conduit to the bigger issue this and other stories like it point to. I see something else happening here, something I have seen since everyone started screaming about “Cancel Culture” and wanting to just ignore past transgressions because they happened “in the past” and were perpetrated by our heroes and beloved creators of things we love.

After reading The Refuge and Kathy Escobar in Searching for Sunday, I have argued that Christianity and church needs to take a lesson from the recovery moment and start using the 12 Steps to guide our path of repentance.1 We, as individuals, as communities and congregations, as institution, and as the whole Body of Christ need to actively repent and do better – and give up our addiction to comfort.

(I encourage you to grab a copy of the 12 Steps a guide; you won’t need it to read this, but you might find it helpful for bits I didn’t write complete and useful later if you decide something I said resonated with you)

The first three steps you can easily mimic and declare just by sitting in the pew and saying the words. Cradle Christians have done this since their birth (adapted to fit a generic Christian repentance movement and not recovery from addition specifically):

  1. Admit we are powerless over sin and that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God (as we understand God).

Read the gospel, believe the gospel, believe the cross, and decide to put God in charge. Easy to say and easy to fake; only really requires showing up and saying the right words.

Also pretty easy to sniff out a liar, but naming that liar – even with proof – is problematic to say the least. Comfortable liars don’t take kindly to admonition, and their apologists really don’t take kindly to it.

But when you get to step four – and especially step five – just arriving at church and reading the words on the page stops fulfilling your visible obligation. We must look in the mirror and see our true selves, not the polished version we created for job interviews or the “selectively, perfectly imperfect” version we create hourly for social media. We must name our sin, name how we have wronged each other, wronged ourselves, and damaged our relationship with God.

We must name when we chose sin and its comforts over love and its sacrifices. We cannot just generically say, “I am sinful; forgive me, God,” at this point. We can no longer privately confess and only name those sins that don’t really make us look “that bad” as we have our personal, private conversation with the magic, vending-machine version of God that provides tickets out of Hell that only cost a silent confession once a week. We must name our sins, in detail to at least one other person.

We must bear our souls and say, “I am broken and sinful, and I must name the ways for facilitate healing.” Our healing and making this creation closer to what God intended requires it.

And then we ask God to take away our sin and make amends to those we have hurt.

On an individual basis this looks exactly as you would expect, and most people do not lose their mind and try to convince someone making amends they have nothing to apologize for and their feelings of sinfulness only come because culture and popular opinion have shifted.

We absolutely need to do this on an individual basis – and frankly, we need to not just encourage it in worship but give space and safety for it to happen (I don’t know what that looks like, exactly, but that’s also a different conversation). We need to acknowledge and name how we have damaged relationships and withheld love, and we need to do what we can to heal the relationship. 2

But this must go beyond our individual sins; we must confess the sins of the bodies and institutions we hold up and systems we benefit from. We must do this for God’s creation to get better and heal. We must do this much the same way Jesus did this (which got him killed).

Yet every time anyone sees something wrong in our history and says, “That’s a terrible thing that happened…” or, “That was wrong then and is wrong now…” and suggests trying rectify the situation and make amends to those hurt, sections of our society – and especially particular parts of the Body of Christ – start jumping up and own, hollering about how it’s silly and anyone offended by our harmful past actions – and present actions – are “snowflakes” who just follow popular culture.

Racism is real and depictions of non-White people – and who we consider White now but did not before – from periods of our past are incredibly racist and lift Western European and American White-ness as superior to all other races and cultures. Depictions rooted in sexism, homophobia, and any other -ism, do the same to the marginalized for the benefit and entertainment of the privileged. Continuing to publish those depictions does active and lasting harm to the groups depicted.

Ceasing publication and distribution of those images and depictions shows at least a small sign of fearless moral inventory and a step toward doing better.

I will never give Disney any room for moral authority – just, no – but I find part of the updated disclaimer they put on dated and problematic pieces they have available for viewing incredibly apt and approaching righteous (as much as I want to vomit saying anything Disney does is righteous):

“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

You don’t have to believe Disney truly believes this or says this for any reason other than financial gain to see the righteous truth and frank confession in that statement.

These things did not suddenly become wrong, and culture did not dictate our morality to us. We (royal we) do a fearless moral inventory of our society, systems, and culture, and, in doing so, learn that we did things that were wrong but acceptable when we did them. We look to both do better and make amends for our wrong actions.

As far as I read in the gospels, that sounds like what Jesus called the religiously comfortable and powerful to do.

We do all of this inadequately and constantly fall short3, but if we continue to take a fearless moral inventory – and act upon it – we can move the needle toward justice and God’s will. We can follow and embody Christ instead of fearfully and angrily holding on to what was because the fearless moral inventory might uncomfortably implicate us and taste bitter in our contentedness.

Do we refuse to participate in following God’s will for justice and sacrificial love because we might find ourselves implicated and needing to repent and take the bitter herbs, or do we follow Christ even to death – especially the death of our sinful and comfortable selves?

I think you know the right answer. I hope you choose it, and I pray for the strength to choose it myself.

Peace,
– Robby


1 I know the 12 Steps as written and published contains problematic language for a couple of reasons – gendered language for God, an implied necessity for Christian faith, etc. – but the steps themselves are a pretty spot on and incredibly challenging path to repentance. Unless you can stop sinning whenever you want, you have an addiction to selfishness and withholding love (and if you can stop any time you want, why don’t you)?

2 No one owes us forgiveness or absolution, by the way; you apologize to open the space for reconciliation and find peace yourself, not so you can receive Earthly absolution from the person you wronged. Any apology that ends with, “Are we good?” or any other request for absolution is a false apology.

3 Some (read: very few, but not zero) people do get wrongly “canceled” or have no opportunity make amends for small, past actions, but this is rare and exaggerated by those whose beloved heroes refuse to make amends for egregious past and present actions and fall victim to what some have started called “consequence culture.” I wouldn’t acknowledge this on principle, but if I don’t, it gives opportunity to discount the whole thing. I must say to those people, “Cancel Culture” for being kinda bad on social media but not awful isn’t nearly as prevalent as is being canceled standing up to the rich and powerful and not being rich and powerful yourself.

Fidget Spinners and Rejecting the Youth

I fidget, and I play with whatever object I can get my hands on to fidget. I have left an impressive trail of broken pen and mechanical pencil clips, springs from disassembled pen, and worn screw parts from being disassembled too many times. The battery compartment of almost every remote I have ever owned refuses to stay closed because I open it, spin the batteries, and close it multiple times a night.

I fidget. I never realized it until, of all people, a loan officer noticed us both playing with whatever object we happened to have in our hands during any lull – which we experienced a lot filling out the loan application. I sorta knew – again, many broken pen clips and ineffective battery doors throughout my life – but it never clicked with me until this complete stranger pointed it out.

I bought my car in 2015 – the loan officer for that car made the observation – and I now constantly notice myself doing it. Not in a bad way, mind you, but just an acknowledgement of, “Hey, that’s a thing I do.”

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary offered Transitional Ministry Week 1 online this year. To welcome us, they sent care packages with things to just make us feel better and set our learning spaces: colored pencils and mandala sheets, pipe cleaners, chocolates, a coffee mug, origami paper, Play-Doh, all sorts of things to help you focus no matter how it is you focus.

Including a fidget spinner.

It made me chuckle at first. I hadn’t seen one in a while – mine had gotten buried in the mess that became my home office when I stopped using it – and I never really used the one I had bought a lot. I also remember just how insanely popular they became – and how insanely judgmental and dismissive everyone became about them, writing them off as a distracting toy and fad. It became incredibly popular to hate on them, calling them a bad fidget solution and demanding people choose a different toy to fidget with.

(I will note that I always believed the light-up versions – and the Bluetooth speaker versions, because those existed – served no purpose and got designed to capitalized on the meme-like popularity of the object at one point. Please know I know things got out of hand, but also know money caused that, not the object nor their users.)

I chuckled remember all of this, then a thing happened: I stared using it during the first class session. A lot. I grabbed it out of my box and…just started fidgeting.

I have had a few meetings since – include a tense meeting or two. Every meeting since I first grabbed it has included me using the fidget spinner. It serves its purpose, and actually serves it very well; I even found myself using it while watching TV instead of constantly opening and closing the remote door on the new Google TV remote.

I find myself thinking about that fidget spinner more and more, but not the object itself or my use of it – though I mentioned the battery door thing to Nora and she gave me a knowing smile about all of our remotes.

No, I thought about how we just love to hate on anything the younger generations enjoy. We call their music, their cultural icons, and everything they like inferior. We call those who do not act like us immature – and those who do act like us mature – while ignoring both our own immaturity at that age and our own spiritual and moral immaturity now.

Like the fidget spinner, we condemn their idealism, their cultural influence, their learning about themselves and finding their identity, and their desire to move us toward a better and different world. We don’t understand it and, instead of trying to understand it, we just condemn it and write it off.

I can only speak so much for the secular world – it honestly never rejected me, but we never really got into a long-term relationship, either – but I can speak at length to the Church and its outright rejection of anything that questions the old guard and puts the onus for people leaving the church on those leading the church. I can speak to churches wanting youth but treating the youth like failed adults who would really love church and all it represents if they would just grow up. I can speak of the Church rejecting the teachings of Jesus – and acting like the disciples in Mark 10:13-16 – to make the Church serve their comfort and desires instead of serving the Body of Christ as demanded in Matthew 25:31-44.

I can speak to the Church being the Body of Christ in name only and not desiring to follow anything Jesus commanded that asks anything of them but a check or a couple of hours they will never miss.

Let me speak clearly: you do not have to enjoy the youth. You can dislike fidget spinners and have no desire to listen to BTS or…I have no idea; I didn’t even enjoy pop music in my youth. But condemning what the youth like as inferior and refusing to hear them when they speak, especially when they speak prophetically like Jeremiah, will do nothing but drive them away – and ultimately kill our Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ.

Some youth – and people – need things like a fidget spinner; because you do not doesn’t give you the right or privilege to call it pointless or bad.

Breathe in, breathe out, fidget.

Peace,
– Robby

Postscript: If you want something practical to take from this, I can actually use a previous thought to describe something you might take away. At the height of the “fidget spinner” craze, you could buy light-up fidget spinners, speaker fidget spinners, and all sorts of other pointlessly “improved” and “fancy” fidget spinners – including brass ones with high-dollar finishes and super intense bearings.

My fidget spinner is a 3D printed affair with a decent bearing – that did need a little bit of lubricant, but I had some spray silicone on hand – and weights on the points. Clean, made to do its job, and not distracting unless you find fidgeting distracting (which people do, but also…eh?). It does not need have things added to make it more attractive; its simplest and compete form does that already.

If you want to bring youth in and made them want to stay, making our faith into cotton candy and trying to make it more attractive by taking out the hard parts will not bring them in long-term – especially those from situations that actually afflict them instead of comforting them. No matter your age, you can only eat so much empty sugar before it makes you sick and you start rejecting it.

The youth know this, especially older youth. Adults had a year of their adult life shaken by the pandemic; kids and older youth had a formative year destroyed by the same pandemic. The youth see and hear the Church preaching love, kindness, sacrifice, and giving while its members – and often leaders – live vastly different lives. The youth read passages like Mark 10:13-16 while the church demands they be something other than what they are.

If you want youth to live in the Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ, you must listen to them, take them seriously, and treat them with the same respect and love Jesus treated with them. Because our culture no longer obligates them to the Church – and thank God for that – they have no reason to live with us if we do not follow the commands of our scriptures. In their maturation, they need spiritual food, not spiritual candy that adults so often demand of churches.

I truly believe using the unadorned calls of scripture – justice, love, and compassion lifted over proper worship – and addressing their faith and God’s call in their lives will bring youth into faith (even if it does not bring number to our Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ). Not cotton candy or “spiritual milk” but true expressions of faith without pretense or glitzing up.

And frankly, the youth see things we do not, and we must acknowledge their wisdom when they share it. If they call out our hypocrisy, we must confess to it and repent instead of getting defensive. If they see evil in the world, we must also see that evil instead of saying, “It’s always been that way.” If they mourn poverty and suffering, we must mourn with them, too, instead of callously misusing, “The poor you will always have with you.”

Jesus preached idealism, and I don’t hate that we decided realism plays better.

I cannot guarantee these attitudes and actions will increase your youth numbers – never had that motivation in my ministry – but I do know that not doing these things will drive away those who do not have obligation or built-in comfort in our congregations – it drove me away for many years. Do we desire to live as the holiest expression of the Body of Christ, or the church with the most Earthly success and hope that our programing will just make it happen?

Only you can answer that question, and only you can decide to change your heart and mind to the call of God. Know our youth see what you do and hear what you say, and they might have good and holy reasons to reject it.

How Long, O Lord?

I still have no words.

The beginning of Psalm 13 has rang in my ears since I first started watching the attack on our democracy yesterday:

“How long, O LORD?”

How long will we deny the problem?
How long will our leaders deny truth?
How long will the powerful sow seeds of hatred?
How long will can we bear the violence of weaponized discontent?

13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
– Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Lord, in your mercy…
…hear our prayers…
…hear our screams…
…hear our wails…
…hear the pain in our speechlessness…

I cannot give commentary, I cannot make more sense of it than anyone else has, I cannot even speak more truth to the powerful than has already been spoken.

I can only mourn. The America I believed in – the America promised to me by those who loved me – came under attack yesterday, or at least the illusion of and eventual hope for that America.

A misguided American – a misguided child of God – lost her life because she believed this was necessary; she was lied to and believed it, and she lost her life because of someone else’s lie.

I just…have no words anymore. I have said it all before, and today I can only mourn and pray for healing that has not come yet and does not appear on the horizon.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come, Lord Jesus, come…