Author Archives: Ronnie McBrayer

More Than a Change of Scenery

rv“Repent” is a religious word I’ve heard most of my life, and to this day, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand with fright. As a child, I heard the call to repent burst from the lips of many a revival preacher.

With the evangelist’s bulging carotids, burning eyes, and angry finger pointing, I could feel the fires of hell licking at my heels. With “turn or burn, get right or get left,” as a vital piece of my spirituality, I repented every chance I got (whether I needed it or not).

But for most, this kind of intensity is reserved for the sandwich-board-prophets of our time; those walking the streets with the declaration that “The End Is Near.” Or sometimes you find a wild-eyed television evangelist furiously condemning immorality.

Many proponents of organized religion are very angry, and sometimes ruthlessly so, taking real pleasure in pounding the pulpit, and they can hardly wait for God’s consuming wrath to fall on the ungodly. Repentance is thrown out there as a lifeline, but secretly, I don’t know if they really want anyone to actually escape. How could some religionists be happy for all eternity if they knew that all the sinners, heretics, and reprobates weren’t actually burning in hell somewhere?

Still, we should not let the fuming fundamentalists of the world rob us of a good word: Repent. Yes, we must repent. But what does that mean? It means we must change our minds or turn around. It means the direction we are heading is a dead end, so we start over.

It means the thoughts we are constructing are destructive. It means we recognize that the way we are living is not life at all. Sure, we preachers like to use the word in the context of lying, cheating, stealing, and such, but I don’t think it is that simplistic.

True repentance is to completely forsake one way of life and take up another. Repentance means our hardness of heart is replaced by compassion; vengeance is replaced by forgiveness; those we despised because of their race or color or gender are now accepted; and where there was greed, now is found generosity.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine decided he wanted to do more camping, to get out and experience the great outdoors. He went out and bought this huge, grotesque recreational vehicle that was a rolling luxury home. Satellite television; queen-sized bed; stainless steel appliances; Berber carpet; surround sound. This vehicle was a technological masterpiece, and I was scandalized.

If you’re going to go camping, go camping. Strap on a backpack. Hike a few hills and feel the burn in your thighs and in your lungs. Eat out of a can. Sit around a camp fire. Sleep in a tent with a stream lulling you to sleep. Swat bugs. Count the blisters on your feet every night. That’s camping.

RVs are great, but don’t roll around the countryside in such a limousine and call it “camping.” So I said to my friend, “Russ, you can go to the woods and never leave home!” He answered, “That’s the idea.”

We live our lives the same way. Yes, we need to change some things – our attitudes, our priorities, our biases – we need to repent. Instead, we often just rearrange the furniture, change our surroundings a bit, or adjust the landscape. But our way of life remains the same.

Do you have relationship troubles? Well, just change partners. Is your career in the toilet? Change jobs. Have you grown tired of the troubles at home? Change houses. You can do all of these things and succeed in only taking your dysfunction down the road with you, never experiencing anything that resembles transformation.

Repentance is not about saying a prayer or complying with the wishes of some wild-eyed preacher. It is about conversion. It is about a fundamental change in who you are, not just a change of scenery. Ultimately, it is about becoming who you were always made to be.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

 

Hatin’ the Haters

stopthehate_largeSeveral years ago, on the courthouse steps of the town in which I lived, there was a rally.  A gay couple in our community was seeking to become foster parents. You can imagine the kickback that erupted in a small Southern town. But it wasn’t just the members of our community who were most vocal in protest. Gathered on the courthouse steps of our fair city were representatives of a religious group from Washington D.C. and points beyond, to speak out in holy fury.

I strolled up the street to check it out, and what I found there was horrifying. Laced with scripture quotations and shaking the abysmally familiar “God Hates Fags” signs, speaker after speaker raged with some of the most vicious and hateful words I have ever heard. I could not believe how angry and poisonous it was.

One of the police officers watching over the proceedings walked up and asked me, “What do think about this, preacher?” I knew this officer. He was a good man but did not consider himself a Christian. So, I turned his question around and asked him what he thought about it. He answered, “This is why you all ought to keep your church and Bible to yourself.”

Dorothy Sayers was fond of saying that Jesus endured three great humiliations: The Incarnation, the cross, and the church. Jesus has subjected himself to a spastic, debilitated, malfunctioning body; a body called the church. And rather than communicating clearly the love and grace of God, we obscure and twist the message so that it cannot be heard correctly.

That is what I felt most strongly as I stood near the court house steps on that afternoon. These people, exercising their freedom of speech for which I am so very thankful and for which I would go to the wall, were attaching hateful words and spiteful talk to the name of Christ. Somehow, in the convulsive twisting of the body of Jesus, the message was twisted. I felt ashamed.

The following Sunday I fumed from my own church pulpit about how we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves – even the people we just positively know that God condemns. Love your neighbor with a love that goes beyond feeding their dog or keeping an eye on their home while they are out of town. No, to love your neighbor as you love yourself, I rightfully said that Sunday, is to love whoever you come across, whoever is in need, no matter who they are.

If they live across the street or on another continent; if they are black or white; if they are straight or gay; if they are Latino or Anglo; if they are of my political persuasion or not; if they are Christian or Muslim; if they are my buddy on the bar stool beside me or someone I would never shake hands with, they are my neighbor. As a follower of Christ my responsibility is to love them and not condemn.

Oh, it was a virtuous, unfettered, holy tirade; and I felt so very good after it was delivered. But over the course of the next few days all my good feelings ebbed away. These feelings were replaced by genuine conviction of heart.

I realized that what had made me feel so “good,” and what eventually disturbed me about myself was this: I hated the people who were hateful. I did not love them – as my neighbors – instead, I loved condemning them. My actions were nothing more than a variation of the words and behavior I found so repugnant.

Street preachers railed against and hated gays, abortionists, teenagers with tattoos and piercings, and the like. In my righteous indignation, I fumed against and condemned them. We were all wrong.

Opinions, conviction, beliefs: We all have them and we all have the freedom to express them. But the moment our beliefs are used as motivation and means to hate others, we have left the path of Christ who taught us that the greatest commandment is to love.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

“He Who Has Ears”

doctorOne autumn afternoon my twin sister and I were ripping up the soil in my grandmother’s fallow garden. We were only five-years-old, and my sister, in her clod-crushing zeal, miscalculated the distance at which I was standing from her. I was summarily whacked on top of the head with a garden hoe.

Two distinct memories fill my mind about that moment: First, the warm, oozing of blood running into my left ear; and second, the sight of my Medicare-receiving, apron-wearing grandmother running, yes, running, from the house to scoop me into her arms.

There were no ambulances in my hometown. There was no real emergency room. There was no 911 service. Even if these things had been readily available, it wouldn’t have mattered. My grandmother didn’t own a phone or drive a car.

My aunt, who lived next door, called my parents at work. They arrived in record time and whisked me away to the office of Dr. Jerry Barron, one of only three doctors in town. Dr. Barron, sadly, was a community acknowledged quack, but on this afternoon he was the only option. See, Dr. Thompson did not work on Wednesdays, and nobody really visited Doc Hill anymore, not unless it was a matter of life and death.

Young mothers had lost all confidence in Doc Hill after he allegedly reported to his clinic early one morning to deliver a new born baby boy, drunk as the proverbial skunk. The delivery was without complication, but the subsequent circumcision was a disaster.

So it was with great trepidation that I was passed with a gushing head wound into the hands of Dr. Barron, the silver-haired idiot. I was dragged to an examination room where Dr. Barron separated me from my parents, asking them to remain in his clinic lobby. He, his two nurses, and an office receptionist held me down to place a dozen stitches in my scalp.

I twisted and turned, convulsed and screamed, begging someone – anyone – to explain what was happening. They continued their work, never saying a word to me. Finally, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Will someone please talk to me!”

Apparently that was the magic phrase. Dr. Barron and his team of tormentors actually stopped what they were doing. He looked me in the eyes, finally explained what they were trying to do, how long it would take, and how much it would or would not hurt. I then lay perfectly still, the doctor only moving my head occasionally, until the procedure was complete. I only needed someone to listen to me.

Listening is largely a lost art. Medical professionals run us through their offices like cattle through a chute. Politicians stubbornly ignore our voices. Our children discount our counsel. Our spouses cannot recall the conversation we had just this morning. Trusted friends won’t lift a gaze from their glowing capacitive screens to look us in the eyes.

As I get older I understand more and more why Jesus often said, “He who has ears let him hear,” before uttering some mind-blowing instruction. Because for the most part, we do not use those two fleshy instruments attached to the sides of our heads.

At no time in human history has there been more opportunity or more tools to communicate; we’ve come a long way from beating drums and smoke signals. Still, most of our advances have been on the speaking side, rather than the listening side.

I wonder what would happen in our homes, office cubicles, classrooms, doctor’s offices, church sanctuaries, and houses of legislation if we who have ears took the time to actually use them. We just might begin to appreciate, rather than vilify, those on the other side of the aisle. We just might find that the world would grow a little quieter, a bit more peaceful.

We just might find that those we have long ignored actually have something worth saying. We just might discover the greatest advancement in the history of human communication – the ability to not say a single word.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

Round-A-Bout

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs a child I rode my bicycle without a helmet or elbow pads. I would leave home on that same bicycle on summer mornings and not return until dinner, never once checking in by cell phone. It was fun – and acceptable – to jump on a trampoline, talk to strangers, climb trees far too flimsy to support my weight, play in the street, light fire crackers without adult supervision, to go all day without using hand sanitizer, and yes, it was fun to run with a sharp stick in my hand.

But today, everything has to be safe. Safety scissors, safety vests, safety glass, safety cones, safety seats, safety ladders. It’s all about safe drinking water, safe food, safe toys, safe surfing, safe sex, and safe schools: Most of these extremely good things, I admit, but sometimes safety can go too far.

I took my sons to the park a few days ago to enjoy a new playground installed by the city fathers, apparently with the help of a team of safety experts and a host of litigation-preventing-attorneys. Everything is right about this new playground and everything is wrong. There is no dirt, mud, or gravel at this playground. These dangers have been replaced by synthetic, rubbery surfaces to cushion falls.

Gone is the sharp-edged chain link fence, traded in for a short polymer-slotted wall. Even the equipment has changed. There are no monkey bars from which to hang upside down; no metal slides that grow hot enough in the summer sun to strip the hide from the back of your legs; no rocket-shaped-climby-thing, not even a seesaw. There were a few swings but you guessed it – they have safety belts – so for the most part, the new playground is just an overgrown baby bed. And I hear those aren’t as safe as they should be.

There was one piece of missing playground equipment that, for all my safety-raging, I am glad was removed: The merry-go-round, or as some call them, the round-a-bout. I haven’t been on one of these things since I was ten-years-old and with good reason. It is basically a circular, metal whirling dervish of death.

The game we played was simple, and dangerously unsafe. About a thousand pounds of elementary-aged children would climb aboard while an adult (or someone’s older brother) started spinning the thing with the G-force of a fighter jet. This resulted in half the kids immediately flying off or getting sucked beneath the thing, breaking arms and noses.

Those who remained stuck to the handlebars usually began to spew their lunches like shaken cola cans, and the one who didn’t get sick, suffer a compound fracture, or could walk the straightest line when the spinning stopped was naturally the winner. I never won and I have the scars to prove it.

The truth is no one ever wins on the round-a-bout, and we all have the scars to prove it. The round-a-bout I am speaking of is the always spinning cycle of human anger. The eye-for-an-eye, tit-for-tat rotation that leaves everyone flattened on the ground, barely holding on, or staggering about, dazed and broken.

Is there a way to stay safe and “win” this dangerous game? Jesus says there is: Don’t play the game at all. Jesus said it like this in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you remember that someone has something against you, go settle your differences quickly.” The solution, according to Jesus, was not to assault your enemies with a preemptive strike or to dig in further by strengthening your grip on the rails. The solution is early intervention by defusing anger and retaliation before it even gets started.

You see, before the first blow is ever struck, before a trigger is ever pulled, or before the revenge scheme is ever hatched, emotions have already been weaponized and the round-a-bout is already on its not-so-merry-go-round way. Jesus understood that the only way to stop accelerating anger was to graciously neutralize it as soon as possible. That’s the only real way to stay in the game.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

Electricity in the Air

staticMy uncle Joe was a pastor. I would stay with him and my aunt from time to time, where they lived in a tiny church parsonage. Today, churches have gotten out of the parsonage business for the most part, and that’s a good thing. No one wants to live with the ghosts of all those dead preachers in an old house that notoriously lacks maintenance anyway.

Uncle Joe’s parsonage fit that bill perfectly. It had low ceilings, matted, yellow, shag carpet as deep as a wheat field, and in the center of the living area – the only heat for the entire house – an upright gas heater with the little blue flames dancing behind a ceramic grate. The combination of these things (the low ceiling, shag carpet, ghosts of former pastors, and dry gas heat) caused the house to be so sufficiently charged with static, it could set off an electroscope.

I would walk around the house in my tube socks, sliding like I was wearing snowshoes, building up an electrical charge. Then I would wait for my sister or brother to walk by. Unknown to them, not only was I ready for discharge, but I had a paperclip from my uncle’s study that I had unwound so that it was a long thin, metal conductor.

As they unwittingly walked by, if I was stealthy enough, I could just touch the bottom of their earlobe with my homemade electrical probe. It was like reaching out and taking hold of the hem of Jesus’ garment. The power surged through with three inches of blue flame.

This made for especially interesting gatherings at dinner time. Uncle Joe always had us stand around the table and say grace. Most of the time we held hands or even held on to one another, grabbing arms and shoulders, hugging the whole time; I remember once he even shed a tear because there was “so much love in the room.”

It wasn’t love. It was electricity. My siblings and I were constantly touching one another to ground ourselves, afraid of being shocked by the other and even more afraid of picking up a spoon with the static still attached to our sleeve.

I wish church was more like that. No, I’m not talking about the mischievousness of children, though some of the more stoic congregations I have encountered could stand a good dose of mischievousness. Nor am I talking about yellow shag carpet. A few congregations need to be told that “Harvest Gold” went out of style more than three decades ago.

I’m talking about the spark; the sense and knowledge that there is a power in the room, a power that animates, moves, and stirs us. It is something far more than emotionalism, histrionics, or religious sentiment. It is a desire for the living Presence that will not allow us to sit still or remain where we are.

It is no wonder why some people won’t go to church; it is because they have already been to church, and have found it to be as lifeless and dead as a dodo. There is no passion in the pew or in the pulpit; the liturgies and songs are without spirit; and it often appears as if the leaders and participants don’t believe – not remotely – in what they are saying or doing. Worshippers are left to snooze at their leisure with hardly a spark to wake them.

Annie Dillard, that exquisite wordsmith, recognized the same. She said of those of us who casually enter our church sanctuaries each week, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

“It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews…For the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” To this, I say “Amen,” and let the awaking begin.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me and listen to his talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

 

Let The Water Settle

waterA desperate executive sought the counsel of an old guru who lived in a mountain cave. The executive was living a harried and hurried life. He was frustrated, his prayers were powerless, and his soul was tired. The holy man listened to his guest for a while, then retreated deep into his cave, returning shortly with a basin.

He scooped water from the muddy little stream passing by the mouth of the cave and offered it to the executive to drink. Of course, the executive rejected it, even though he was very thirsty from his journey. The water was far too dirty.

After a while he offered the water again, but this time, all the silt had settled to the bottom of the basin and the water was clear and pristine. The man readily drank it. The wise man then asked, “What did you do to make the water clean?” The man answered, “I didn’t do anything.”

“Exactly!” said the old monk. “Your life is dark and troubled; it is disturbed and muddy because you are always allowing the water to become agitated. Only when it is calm will you have peace. So do nothing. Be still and let the water settle.”

Be still. That’s harder than it sounds, no doubt, but it is one of the best things for the health of our souls. Learn to turn down the noise (and stop contributing to the noise). Learn to cultivate some distance from this clamorous world, because distance is a good thing when it comes to things and people who are harmful. Learn, by healthy boundaries to keep the raucous environment that is contemporary society at arm and ear’s length, and you might begin to let the water of your own soul peacefully settle.

I don’t have to work very hard to convince you that this world is a noisy place, do I? Talking heads, radio and viewpoint shows, 24-hour news, analysis on every hand, opinions like armpits: Court is always being held, comments are always being made, and there is a constant eagerness to share the oh-so-correct perspective. There’s always someone babbling about something, and the air becomes so saturated with pandemonium, it seeps into our souls.

Jesus understood this. He once instructed his disciples, “When you pray, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen…do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” What a stark and necessary correction. Even in prayer, the “fewer the words the better,” it seems.

“Do not be like them,” Jesus says. That is, “Don’t be like this ear-splitting world that thinks loud opinions will actually be heard. Don’t put on a show with your yammering, bloviated prattle. Shut up. Be still. Get quiet.” It’s good for you, not to mention how everyone else will appreciate is as well.

It’s not unlike the familiar story from Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration as told by Skip Heitzig. Once, at a special dinner, Johnson was hosting a few members of his staff, and he called upon one of the men to say grace. The man, named Jim, began to pray and President Johnson, in his brash, demanding way interrupted. He said, “Speak up, Jim, I can’t hear you.” Jim answered, “With all due respect, Mr. President, I wasn’t talking to you.”

Oh, that’s exactly what Jesus is teaching his disciples. Too often, far too often, public prayer (much of religious instruction, actually) is not an invitation to stillness and humility before God. It is an invitation to commotion. It is “babble,” or “vain repetition” as the King James Version translates Jesus’ instructions. It is foolish rambling, tedious chattering, words that continue to stack up, but never really mean anything.

I have a friend who noted recently the the words “”listen” and “silent” are spelled with exactly the same letters and mean the same thing. And I think stillness is the quickest way to hear God, to “let the water settle,” and find true peace.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me. You can also watch his Sunday talks by clicking on his YouTube channel.

 

 

Like a Good Neighbor

goodneighborA man was going from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Louisville, Kentucky, when along the way he had a flat tire. Stranded on the side of the road, he was robbed, his car was stripped, he was shot, and left for dead. A Baptist pastor, on his way home from the annual meeting of his denomination, saw the man. But he had a report to deliver to his congregation about the virtuous resolutions passed at the meeting he had just attended and an important sermon to preach about our culture’s deteriorating family values. Besides that, his children were in the car, and he refused to traumatize them with this carnage. So he never took his foot off the accelerator.

A few minutes later, a Bishop of the Methodist church came driving by. A successful woman, she sat on the board of Focus on the Family, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Concerned Women for America. Considering the scene before her, she concluded that her work in these organizations must continue. It was the only way to stop such meaningless acts of violence; violence most likely perpetrated by dangerous gangs of teenagers who were the products of broken homes and without the proper Judeo-Christian guidance. She was a mile past the scene of the crime before she called 911.

Then a third traveler came upon the victim: A cocaine dealer and cartel member. A man who was in the country illegally, who had booze on his breath and marijuana in his bloodstream, and who hadn’t been to Mass since he was a child. He saw the shooting victim and somehow his heart was broken with compassion. He steered his car to the side of the road and jumped out with a first aid kit and a bottle of water. He triaged the wounded man the best he could, loaded him into the back seat of his car, and drove him to the hospital.

There, this good neighbor checked his rescued friend into the Emergency Room. He arranged for the transport of what was left of the victim’s car, and he then went to the hospital administrator with a pile of cash, saying “I don’t know if this man has health insurance, but I will stand good for the bill regardless.” Now I ask you, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Of course this question is not mine and neither is the story. It is a question and story that belongs to Jesus. It is a retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus framed as radical a possibility conceivable by the community of his day – far more drastic than anything I have said here. He took a known pariah, a well-established outcast and no-gooder, and turned him into a moral and spiritual hero – all at the expense of the upright church-goers.

Jesus told such a story, not to define the boundaries of neighborly behavior, but to define what it means to love. Graphically, he showed his listeners that those who do not fit into our religious boxes, our precise doctrinal categories of right and wrong, and our church systems are sometimes more capable of acting like God than we professionals who pride ourselves in saying we know who God is.

After all, to act like God is simply to love. And to love, it is not necessary to have perfect doctrinal integrity, to get the details of church “right,” or to be as religiously and moralistically pure as possible. No, to love like God is to dirty our hands by helping our neighbors – “to do to others what we would have done” for ourselves.

Clucking our tongues, shedding a few tears, and simply observing the pain of our world while keeping a religious and respectable distance from the suffering is no substitute for binding wounds, wiping tears, and embracing those in need. We might just need such an embrace ourselves one day – even if that embrace comes from the most unlikely of neighbors.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.  His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” If you’d like to have a look, visit Ronnie’s page at Amazon.
 

Simplify, Simplify

thoreauLast summer an unfortunate woman was found dead in the basement of her Connecticut home, found eventually, that is. It took rescuers several days to retrieve her body as the first floor of her house had collapsed on her, apparently under the weight of all the stuff she had accumulated over the years.

Her possessions, stacked to the ceiling with only a narrow, labyrinth-like pathway through it all, quite literally smothered her. Her death certificate said so officially with the cause of death declared as “Accidental Traumatic Asphyxia.” This is a dramatic example, of course, but accumulating those things that fall outside the realm of the necessary, will take your life just as certainly.

Jesus said it like this: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. But store your treasures in heaven. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else.” These words are directed at every packrat, collector, hoarder, attic squirrel, and garage-gatherer among us. If you aren’t using it – you don’t need it. Hang on to it, and it will take your life from you.

I’ve often said that the most deeply spiritual thing that some of us could do is have a garage sale; or sell a property, or dump a portfolio, or write a big check to the homeless shelter down the street. Because our spiritual lethargy has nothing to do with a poor prayer life, the lack of reading the Scriptures, or any failure with other disciplines: We are carrying too much baggage, trying to manage too much stuff. We have too many possessions, too many obligations, and it’s a recipe for misery.

The path to contentment is by way of less, not more. When we simplify, we are doing much more than getting rid of the weight of physical possessions. We are making space to breathe, to thrive, to live. By giving up some of the things we carry or hoard, we aren’t losing, we are gaining; gaining freedom to pursue life.

This was Henry David Thoreau’s motivation when he left his teaching career and retreated to the woods of Walden Pond. He lived there for two years in simpleness, wrestling with the question, “How much is enough?” and more importantly, “How much does it actually cost a person to obtain his or her possessions?”

His theory of personal economics came down to this: The cost of a thing is not the financial price tag attached to it. It is the amount of one’s life it takes to get it. For example, if one wants a particular house, the sale price is not as important as the years it takes to pay for it. If one wants a car, a computer, a new iPhone, or designer label clothing; then the calculation involves more than the payments.

Calculate how much time and life it will cost to acquire these things. That’s the real price tag. Quoting Thoreau directly, he said, “If your trade is with the Celestial Empire” (which apparently is his description for what Jesus called the Kingdom of God), “then very little is actually needed to live well and to be free.

“A modest home should be enough…plain clothes will do…instead of a hundred dishes, why not five; and reduce other things in proportion…Keep your accounts on your thumbnail…simplify, simplify…and once you have secured the necessaries of life, then you can confront the true problems of life with freedom.”

And there Thoreau brings us to the universal human ambition: We all just want to be free and happy. It’s all a search for satisfaction. Is a “spirituality of satisfaction” too shallow, too frivolous? No, not if one is seeking genuine, soul-sustaining fulfillment with one’s self and life.

But getting more won’t get it done, because more and more of what is not good for you will only smother you. As Thoreau concluded, “There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

Redemption?

cableDaryl showed up at my friend’s home carrying about thirty extra pounds and the weight of the world on his shoulders. Daryl was there to fix the malfunctioning cable. As he huff-and-puffed his way through the crooks and crannies of attics and crawl spaces, the mid-life tire roll he was wearing was obvious. The other weight – the real weight – took a bit longer to recognize.

When Daryl finished his work he said to my friend, “I noticed the Christian books in your office. Are you a minister?” And barely waiting for the answer, Daryl began unloading his weight pound by pound. My friend listened as Daryl spoke of his father’s death, his financial struggles, and the eviction notice nailed to his apartment door.

Daryl finally unloaded his real baggage with the admission that he too was a pastor; at least that was what he used to be. An extramarital affair had ended that career posthaste, and he had been recently expelled from the church and lost his marriage. When Daryl finished, he gathered his burdens and moved on to the next service call.

My friend shared that story with me a few days ago, and when our conversation ended I flipped on my own cable box, Daryl’s heaviness still hanging in the air. Greeting me on my flickering screen was a politician, explaining his most recent legalities and apologizing profusely for a laundry list of well-publicized immoralities.

Daryl the Cable Guy and the politician had a lot in common, and it was more than a bit ironic that I heard their stories within seconds of each other. Both fouled up in a very public way. Both violated the trust that good people had placed in them. Both weaved their webs of deceit, harming those closest to them. And both stand in need of redemption.

That’s a remarkable word, redemption. The Christian books on my own shelves tell me that redemption means “to buy.” The word carries the idea of freeing a person who has been enslaved; cutting the chains that bind; lifting away the weights that one carries. Thus, anything – or anyone – worthy of redemption is exactly that: Worthy and worth the price.

All human beings, even those with abysmal moral records of failure, have worth. To God. To the greater community. To those they will come to love and love them. They can (and should) be redeemed because they have intrinsic value.

The objections at this point are obvious. Philandering preachers? Vile and despicable acts by national politicians? Redemption? You can’t be serious! Well, people exactly like this seem to have been Jesus’ best pals. Let it never be forgotten that the accusation the religious community always hurled against Jesus was that he “was a friend to sinners.”

Prostitutes, tax collectors (easily substituted today with words like mafia or extortionists), Zealots (political radicals), lepers (the untouchables), oddballs, weirdoes, outsiders, and all manner of “notorious sinners” found a home in the presence of Christ. Can this same sordid bunch find a home in the congregations that carry Christ’s name? After all, if these can’t come to Jesus’ house of love and grace, where else are they going to go?

I concede that redemption doesn’t necessarily mean putting Daryl the Cable Guy back in a pulpit. The intoxicating authority found in such a position may be no good for him. The apologizing politician will likely never hold public office again – and that’s probably a good thing for him – such offices are often more poisonous than profitable anyway. But this does not change the fact that all of us sinners need safe, accessible communities of faith that will challenge our selfishness, point us to a hope-filled contrition, teach us what it means to love others and be loved by God, and yes, redeem us.

It is impossible to know the hearts of others, but Jesus thought that those considered the worst transgressors were worth having an open heart toward. Maybe his church will think so as well.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

Good All The Time

revolver1A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I can hardly disagree. For people of faith, those who believe in God as the pervading force and presence of the universe, and who base their moral and spiritual lives on this belief, Tozer must be correct. And if Tozer is correct, our perception of God shapes our character and actions like little else.

So it’s no wonder that some faithful people are the way they are: Loving, helpful, sacrificial, kind, and giving. They think of God this way. But on the other hand, some religious people are angry, suspicious, unforgiving, and even murderous. These folks, in turn, think of God in these terms as well, and it shows.

Personally, this is why Christ is so important to my faith. He offered a revolutionary vision of God, a new way to think about who God is, and how God relates to creation. Jesus showed us a God best described as an affectionate parent. This God really does love, accept, treasure, and cherish us – as a “Father has compassion on his children.” This was the driving force behind all Jesus said and did.

It becomes clear, when diving into the words of Christ, that he came not to change God’s thinking about us – that is absolutely preposterous – he came to change our thinking about God. In light of Jesus, we must let go of all understandings of God that are less than loving or less than gracious. This will reorient our entire lives and correct so many of the misguided and misrepresented divine images that have been put before us.

By way of example, I have a friend whose theology – that is, her understanding of God – is a bit, frankly, sadistic. God, for her, is Father, but he wins no “Parent of the Year” awards, for he is always lurking as an unpredictable bogeyman who must be continually appeased. He is enraged, vicious, and eager to rub out a groveling sinner (or an entire city) if it befits him.

Thus, she lives in abject terror of God and inflicts this terror on others; her theological angst splatters on all who get close to her. Recently, however, I connected the dots between her thinking about God and the relationship she had with her own father, when in an unguarded moment she told a forbidding story from her childhood.

She was twelve years old or so and her father had come home drunk, as usual. In his stupor he pulled a revolver from his chair-side table and called his daughter, my friend, over to his lap. He cuddled her in his arms for a few moments and then placed the cold steel of the revolver against the back of her head.

“Did you know I could blow your brains out right now?” he asked her in a menacing whisper. Then he put the gun aside and held her close again, only to return to the gun and repeat the question again and again over the space of the evening. One moment he was tender and loving, and the next he had a gun barrel pushed against her skull with the hammer pulled back.

This is a horrible story. More so, it is a horrible experience for anyone to live through, and it has caused her all types of emotional disturbances over her lifetime, not the least of which is her thinking about God. For her, and I understand why she feels this way, God is just like her drunken father.

The moral and spiritual authority for her life is an erratic, cold-hearted bastard whose words of love are nothing more than an invitation to terror. Her God calls out for his children, takes them into his arms, and then threatens them with violence. Such a God is unworthy of worship, incapable of being trusted, and impossible to love. Thankfully, such a God doesn’t exist, for Jesus has shown us that God is good, and he’s good all the time.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.