I don’t understand

I don’t understand much of life anymore.

I don’t understand our politics anymore and what passes for acceptable language and behavior. We trade in decency and care for those around us and the planet we reside on, for what? We hold dearly to a political party loyalty as if it is our very identity and life. We cling to policies that idolize selfishness, scapegoat the poor, destroy the earth that we have been entrusted to steward. Why? Will a party or loyalty to the leadership of a party be there for us when it most counts? Is it worth it?

I don’t understand our Christian religion anymore and what passes for discipleship. We love the label of Christian, but reject most everything Jesus taught. We make excuses for bad theology and the idols we create and worship. And for what? Will the idols we worship save us when it matters?

In both of these cases, I’m not saying everyone falls into this. I am very grateful for those that touch my life who offer encouragement and to walk with me when I don’t understand.

But the fact remains, I don’t understand and I’m not sure I want to.

As Election Day approaches, I feel the anxiety, fear, and anger around me. It is like swimming in the ocean with a hurricane approaching. How does one not be consumed by it? Prepare yourself for the spin of Election Night, regardless of the results. The losers will find someone to blame and tell viewers how they didn’t really lose. The winners will gloat.

And then Wednesday morning will happen. And people will think that it is over, only to find that the 2020 campaign has begun in full steam. And their anxiety level, fear, and anger will rise to higher levels than they thought possible.

And the question will be — where is the bottom? Where does the anxiety, fear, and anger end? When does the roller coaster stop?

It doesn’t. We won’t reach the bottom, because there is no bottom. Humanity has tested the depths of the bottom over and over again and we aren’t anywhere close to where we thought the bottom was up until now.

You want to know where we thought the bottom was and why we aren’t even close to those bottoms? Read history. Read about exterminations of whole people. We thought that was a bottom. It wasn’t because humanity keeps digging deeper on this.

Read about leaders who literally implement policies with tyrannical rule over millions of people — causing the death of many of their own people. We thought these tyrants were the bottom. They weren’t — humanity keeps testing the limits of where the bottom is.

Read about people who wiped out civilizations in the name of God. We thought these people were the bottom. They weren’t — humanity doesn’t seem to know the boundary when we use and abuse God, the giver of life and the creator, as an excuse of our thirst for death and destruction.

Read about the countless wars we convinced ourselves were necessary because we created enemies that had to be destroyed. Wars that destroy lives. Wars that cause poverty and destruction.

We don’t know the bottom. And we aren’t anywhere close to it.

In our society we have abused children and women and men — all done while society turns a blind eye. Not only children, but animals — why would we expect animals to be treated any better? We have lynched people, beaten countless people, had LGBTQ+ killed, locked up and removed “others” we don’t want around. This is what humanity does.

We don’t know what the bottom is, but we sure as hell keep trying to find it.

This coming Sunday, we’ll be hearing the Gospel lesson assigned for Reformation Sunday:

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

(John 8:31–36, NRSV)

The bottom and our descent towards it has become an addiction for humanity. We are in bondage to it.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot break free. We cannot break free from the bondage of power, sin, fear, anger, anxiety — no matter what we do. These are chains around us. And the key has been thrown away.

There is only way out. And it not by us doing anything, struggling, digging deeper.

The answer isn’t us at all.

It is Jesus. He is the truth that sets us free from bondage. Nothing else can. Everything and everyone else is just more weight dragging us down.

Jesus says that you shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Jesus is the word of truth. We are called to listen to him, to hear the truth, to follow the truth, to live the truth.

I don’t understand why people reject this. I don’t understand why people would choose to remain in bondage. I don’t understand why Christians, especially, would not do what Jesus tells us to — instead making excuses and rationalizing away policies, behaviors, and language that are in direct opposition to Christ and his teachings.

I don’t understand.

Or maybe I’m lying to myself and not being truthful.

Maybe I understand all too well. And the truth of this is just too painful to bear. But, really, it is freeing. The truth sets us free. Free to weep and mourn. Free to speak uncomfortable words. The truth opens our eyes so we aren’t shocked by humanity’s descent towards the bottom. The truth opens our hearts to know the pain and suffering that humanity has caused on itself. The truth opens our eyes to see what happens in an almost predictable fashion. It frees us from the bondage of believing it is our job to save the world. That job is already taken. We are called to follow the Savior, the listen to what he tell us to do and how to live.

Lord, the world is in your hands. Free us from the things that hold us captive, from the things that hold us in bondage. Send your truth to us to set us free. Move us to let go of the labels and loyalties, identities and desires of this world and to instead grasp your truth. Let it flow through us to live it out as best we can. Pick us up when we fall towards the bottom. Set us on the path. Give us the courage to speak your truth. Amen.

Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on October 23, 2018.



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Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.