Barbecue on Good Friday

The Day of Preparation for Passover, late 20s AD
A Jewish man from the “other side of the tracks” town of Nazareth is beaten, paraded out of town, and lifted up on a crucifix to die between two dangerous men. Unable to control him, the ruling elite of Jerusalem executed him as what they knew him to be: a threat to their religious, economic, and political power. Every swing of the hammer was another punctuation mark on their demands that the history books would say their name and not His.

March 25, 1540.
Hernando de Soto and his men march to present-day North Carolina in hopes of finding a rumored Native American civilization to exploit. De Soto’s conquest of the Incas had only served to enhance his desire for the riches to be found in the New World. After crossing the Ocmulgee River in Georgia, the army finds a small village on an island and quickly puts it to the sword. Apparently genocide works up the appetite, so they stopped for lunch before pressing on. Among the ruin and death the Spanish found a barbacoa, a wooden platform used for slowly cooking over a smoky wood fire, laden with hens and venison. The Spanish ate their way into history at the first recorded barbecue in the Deep South.

March 25, 2016
The two leading candidates for president of the United States both hold unfavorability ratings over fifty percent. Candidates claim to be the best choice for Christians despite laundry lists of ethical questions. Even Holy Week isn’t safe, as the final days of the culmination of the Christian calendar are filled with fights between the top two GOP campaigns over whose wife is sleazy and whose wife is attractive. The man to “save Christianity” indeed.

Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s the time off school, but all these stories are swirling together in my mind. Across the millennia I see powers with swords and crosses and microphones rushing, always rushing to fill their bottomless darkness with more wealth, more titles, more power. Those that don’t fall in line do so at their own peril.  Good and beautiful things feel the roughness of murderous hands.

But they don’t get the final say. Jesus couldn’t be controlled, he couldn’t be bought, so he

Ribs, chicken, and corn spending quality time in my smoker

had to be killed. But Sunday is coming. The first recorded barbecue in my beloved Deep South is only recorded because it was stolen from the dead hands of slaughtered Native Americans. But countless throngs, myself included, find freedom, joy, and a way to provide Christlike hospitality around the slow fire of a barbecue. They couldn’t keep Jesus in the ground, so they neuter His teachings into a warm marshmallow puff of spirituality that would never dare disturb their political machinations and their greed. We are taught to let the world burn while we throw our souls into false salvation found in campaign promises and Fox News hysterics. Paul calls the authentic message “solid food”. Like good barbecue it takes time. A long time. It is unmistakable. It summons the neighbors. It sits heavy in your gut and lingers in the air.The powers would have us instead run to them to lap up empty calories. But the scandal of Good Friday is real, the dark stillness of Holy Saturday is real, and the rich, rebellious joy of Sunday is real. Have the barbecue instead.

Barbecue on Good Friday

Why not voting for Trump isn’t enough

As I updated the election results on my whiteboard, I overheard a student ask his tablemate if he would leave the country as a result of a Trump presidency, along with this disturbingly nonchalant response from the Hispanic student sitting across from him.

Just let that sit for a second. That’s our reality.

How did we get here? A long list of talented people have already taken up this question, but it’s worth asking again, especially with an eye toward the church. In short, Trump the phenomenon appears to have been a near inevitability, born of decades of compounding bile (why Trump turned out to be the man in the role is its own darkly fascinating question).Trump is what happens after decades of allowing the GOP to tear the church loose from her one true foundation and one true spouse in order to fit her under the “big tent” of Republicans. Trump is what happens when we succumb to the temptation of Egypt’s gold and Rome’s power in exchange for our witness and our vote.

But most importantly, Trump is what happens when fear and rage become our religion and 804715_10103851106274225_1228851026_nstability our idol. For decades, we’ve allowed ourselves the luxurious lie that this is a Christian nation. Folks, there’s a world of difference between the loving, redeeming, assuring faith of Jesus and the hating, guilting, fearing slavery of the malformed Americanistic Yahwism that has so long held up structures of lazy comfort for ourselves and diabolical oppression for others. Now we see the facade crumbling and feel our seat at the table sliding out from under us, triggering convulsions of fear in pulpits, voting booths, and internet memes. When facing such a perceived threat, some cling to any authority figure who promises to safeguard our position and defeat our enemies. Rather than rest in God, conservatives have grown desperate for the secular salvation to which we feel entitled. And in our desperation, we have forsaken our most core values to embrace a malicious strongman who cannot be predicted nor constrained. Like the old mob bosses of The Dark Knight Rises, fear has unleashed a murderous clown who cares only for his own horrifying goals. Political scientists call that authoritarianism; Christians should call that idolatry and adultery against God.

How should Christians view Trump? We should see him for what he is, unclouded by our hopes to balance out other politicians or the sudden cries of “we’re not electing a pastor” conspicuously absent during Obama’s campaigns. Trump has:
-openly mocked and defamed the disabled, women, and minorities, the very same populations in which Jesus seemed especially interested
-consistently lied about a host of issues
specifically called for violence against dissenters and promised to defend those who participated
called for the wholesale killing of civilians in the Arab world
-defended torture based on the notion of retaliation
-said he would order US military and intelligence personnel to defy the law and intentionally their consciences in committing acts of torture
made fun of prisoners, when Jesus said visiting prisoners is a sign of the Kingdom
belittled the Eucharist, an act of worship uniting all Christians throughout history with the Christ Himself
-claimed to be a Christian despite saying he hasn’t asked for forgiveness and doesn’t “bring God into that picture.
-deceived an alarmingly number of Christian leaders (Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell, Jr., etc.) and laypeople into joining his parade of death.
If we consider all these things, including the utter lack of the Kingdom of God’s telltale love anywhere near his campaign and the consistent appearance of hubris, I’m afraid we must come to an alarming conclusion. After a great deal of consideration, I believe Trump falls into the category of what John’s Epistles would call an antichrist (yes, emphasis on the lowercase). I’m not referring to the apocalyptic notion espoused by Left Behind books; rather I’m pointing out the plain truth that Trump in no way witnesses to the resurrection of the Christ, specifically touts and finds pride in things that run contrary to Christ, and beguiles Christians into following unmistakably antichristian positions. In light of this we have no choice but to look at him as one of the greatest current threats to the American church. Other candidates threaten our entitlements and status; Trump embodies a threat to our witness and our soul.

What should the church doA now nearly inescapable (and increasingly long) shadow like Trump’s demands a response from the church not simply as a politician but as the face of one of the great moral and ecclesiastic problems of our time. We no longer have the luxury of relegating him as a solely political concern, not when his name is seemingly on every tongue. The world has seen him, heard him, been threatened by him, and desperately needs to see us sticking to the dissenting distinctiveness of the Kingdom of God.Those Christians who feel called specifically to engage politically should of course engage this threat accordingly. But those outside politics are not excused. “Dear world, this is not my Jesus,” should be our unmistakable cry. No matter who wins the presidency, what Trump represents must be opposed. No matter who wins the presidency, the primacy of our King should be clear to the world, and we cannot follow both Trump and Christ. Brothers and sisters, Christ has already promised to be with us, always. Our hope and trust are in the Lord. There is nothing more that we need in this world. Turn away from the hellish beliefs of Donald Trump, and let the world see your faith as you do it. Do we want to be known as a country that makes schoolchildren think they will have to move, or known as a Kingdom pointed at the welcoming Christ?

Why not voting for Trump isn’t enough