The Good Samaritan and “Wokeness”

Photo by Matheus Viana on

Let’s talk about “wokeness” and the bible. When the teacher of the law asks Jesus “who is (εστιν) my neighbor?” in the well known parable of the Good Samartian (Luke 10: 25-37), we could talk at length about the social/power dynamics, or religious and ethnic discrimination, but before we get to that, let’s look at the end. Jesus changes the question in typical Midrash style and asks the teacher, “Who became the neighbor?” He doesn’t use the same verb as the teacher (εστιν), but uses the much more active verb of being (γινομαι) (here in the perfect γεγονεναι).

This changes the understanding of the command to “love thy neighbor” away from the neighborliness of obligation that is either individualistic (Kantian/Lockean) or even one with the clear demarcation of society as in Hegel’s Sittlichkeit–which focuses ethics to be in primarily in a societal realm. By changing the question of “who is my neighbor,” which implies reciprocity and societal rules/order, to “who became the neighbor” Jesus is subverting societal expectation and the very concept of individual/personal “rights.”

Now going back to Jesus’s decision to make a Samaritan his primary hero, we can see that this no mere tokenism. It is integral to the broader point that Jesus is making to the Jewish teacher of the law that the one who becomes the neighbor be a Samaritan. I’m sure you are aware of the racial implications of the “good Samaritan.” The Cottonpatch version did a good job communicating this to white Southerners in the 1960s by changing the story to the parable of the “Good Negro” (not so subtly calling out their racism). What is less well known, is the religious minority status Samaritans held among Jews. Samaritans were descendants of Northern tribes of Israel who were left by the Assyrians as too old/weak/poor to bother with and who married/had children with others from the Assryian empire.

They had already changed the worship of YHWH (see John 4) and altered it further by blending together their ancient Yahwehism with other Ancient Near East cultures. Thus Samaritan religion had some similarities with Jewish religion, but was not “pure.” They used similar terminology, claimed to worship the same God, but most Jewish people did not think that was true. A near contemporary parallel to the Jewish relationship religiously with the Samaritans for the Modern American/Western European would be a Christian in relation to a practitioner of Islam (a Muslim).

So, going back to the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable, before Jesus tells the teacher to emulate the ethnic and religious minority, how do we set that in our contemporary context? There is a subtle draw to adopt a modernist ethics pervasive in the Church today. While we are told to beware the dangers of “postmodernism,” ethically, philosophically, and theologically, the real danger to the Christian message as presented in the bible and throughout most of its history is found in modernism.

Modernist Ethics seeks to ground the authority for ethics in reason alone. It acts in terms of clear cut rules for what is and is not acceptable and believes these are arrived at through universal reason. It may vest that authority in something else, like the bible. It justifies doing so because that authoritative text is proven trustworthy. So a modernist Christian will accept the bible is the source for ethics because it is true. It is true because it is verified as such from the experiences of many, coherence to historical fact, scientific truths, etc.

This is behind the obsession with proving a Young Earth Creationist view of the world, insisting that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, not a whale, or that the Mustard seed is in fact the smallest seed. These types of concerns are modernist ones that fail to grasp history or differences of language in translation (especially of ancient texts). The bible, for its part, is not concerned with these modernist notions. That’s not to say modernism is always bad, just foreign to the world and concerns of the Bible. So we should not necessarily be surprised when the biblical worldview is conflict with the modernist one. Nor should we try quite to hard to conform the Bible to our Modernist sensibilities.

The fear of “woke-ism,” too, is a modernist one. It is a fear that we cannot readily identify the boundaries of which group is where. Critical Theories (CT) like Critical Race Theory (CRT) are extensions out of modernism, but are not bound within modernism. Integral to CT and cRT work is challenging the prevailing narrative as (for instance with CRT) too white-centric or too male dominant, etc. CRT challenges the modern categories of race as artificial, and demands we listen to the story of others and take them at face value, at least initially, prior to making judgment.

CTs are not completely anti-modern, though, as they tend to back up claims with a methodology that incorporates hard data and statistics, often focused on economic realities, but other metrics as well. Still, they challenge the idea that everyone fits into neat boxes.This is especially true when one begins to discuss Intersectionality or “Identity politics.” It subverts the clear cut narratives. On the one hand, the fear is understandable. If I can’t clearly define exactly what the rules are, I might unintentionally break them.

The reality is much more complicated, though. There are no rules, at least not ones with clear cut boundaries as in modernist ethics (like you get with Kant and Hegel). This is uncomfortable. Returning to the parable of the good Samaritan, then, we see this play out. Jesus asks the teacher of the law “who became the neighbor?” This implies first, that while each act and incidence might be self-contained, “neighbor-ness” is not a permanent status, but a goal to be striven after, over and over again.

Second, the boundary for who this includes is beyond the scope of what we would normally consider. By all accounts, the Levite, the priest, the other characters were the neighbor, but they did not *become* the neighbor. Only the Samaritan did. So the question this poses to us, then, is not “what are my (ethical) obligations?” But rather, “how can I demonstrate love, kindness, neighborliness today?” By making the conversation about maintaining the societal order and status quo, questioning the notion of “wokeness” as valid, opponents to CRT in the Church excuse themselves from asking the second and more difficult question. They excuse themselves from hearing, listening, or seeing the “other,” from seeing the one who “fell among bandits,” from understanding their own relationship to a society that creates bandits in the first place, or allows others to fall victim.

An obsession with dismissing “wokeness” makes for an easy life that is not concerned with loving the down-trodden, but instead with excusing one’s actions and justifying oneself. The dismissal of the work as “wokeness” accepts the goodness of the kingdoms “of this world” to the neglect of the Kingdom not “of this world” (εκ του κοσμου).


How We Got Here

Yesterday, January 6, 2021, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in a horrific attempt to install Donald Trump as a de facto fascist despot of America. Clearly it failed, but it did not do so comically. It went further than most thought possible, and the repercussions will be felt for years. It also isn’t over. It likely won’t be over for some time, if ever. These actions weren’t “unAmerican;” they are, tragically, exactly what America has always been. She hid away this side, but, emboldened by the rhetoric of Trump, this side of America, one that is much bigger than many of us would care to admit, felt empowered to come out. Yet, how we got here precedes Donald Trump. He is merely the latest step in what logically could have (and should have) been predicted by America’s unholy union of Church and State.


The seed for what happened in America dates back at least to the end of the nineteenth century. John Nelson Darby re-introduced the concept of “Premillennial” theology as part of his sweeping framework for biblical interpretation known as Dispensationalism. While Premillennial interpretations of the return of Christ date back to at least the second century Church (that Christ would come back visibly and then establish his 1000-year or millennial reign on earth), Darby’s interpretation was a little different. In addition to the “second coming,” Dispensationalist though also began to speak of a “secret coming” that was not as visible. The effects would be visible.

The “secret coming” that predates Christ’s second coming is loosely based on a passage in 1 Thessalonians describing how Jesus will come “like a thief in the night” and “we will be caught up in an instant.” This text, coupled with Darby’s particular reading of Revelation, led not only to the idea of a rapture and a great tribulation, but also to reading all of Revelation, after the letters to the churches, as a text exclusively describing future events.

The “beast” and the “anti-Christ” thus became synonymous with some individual who would trick non-believers (and possibly some believers) into following after him (usually a man) often with economic implications tied to the “mark” of the beast. This interpretation also started the obsession with supporting Zionism and many other tropes now prevalent in evangelical Christianity.

Suddenly, the world was a much more terrifying place. We are living at the cusp of the end times and must be ever vigilant for the “beast” and “anti-Christ” and careful we don’t accidentally accept his mark. Politics were no longer just politics, they were an extension of an unseen spiritual warfare that would culminate in the very real battle of Armageddon and very soon.

Americans did not rush immediately to Darby’s interpretation, but, at the beginning of the 20th century, Cyrus Scofield published a version of the King James Bible with his notes and headings added, making it one of the first study bibles. Since the format was relatively new, and Scofield had a matter of fact style of writing, many of those who purchased or received these early editions, read them unquestioningly. It was especially the premillennial dispensationalism, or apocalyptic prophecy, that held the attention of what comprised the fundamentalist movement in American churches in the early 20th century.


It is difficult to overstate how influential Fundamentalism was in the early days of the twentieth century. The doctrine that distinguished Fundamentalism in those early days was premillenial dispensationalism, but most Americans who were not part of the Church, especially those who were not part of the churches in the American South, first encountered Fundamentalism through the now famous “Scopes-Monkey Trial.”

While the teacher who taught evolution was found guilty, the radio broadcast of the trial made William Jennings Bryan, and with him the Fundamentalist movement, look like fools in the eyes of most Americans. However, because he claimed to stand for historic and unblemished biblical Christianity, many, especially in the South, lifted Jennings Bryan up as a hero. Clarence Darrow became the embodiment of the villain: well educated, well spoken, northern liberal.

William Jennings Bryan (Seated) and Clarence Darrow

The knock-on effect of this trial was a guarded mistrust of most scientific investigation and a sudden unease at any form of higher education because it had birthed the villain of Darrow. Scientists weren’t just presenting findings in a neat paradigm when they discussed evolutionary theory. To the contrary, in the minds of many, they are agents of Satan, part of the same spiritual warfare mentioned above, conspiring against Christianity and her city on a hill: America. Academics are perceived to be working a nefarious agenda to subvert Christian life through outright deceit. The Fundamentalist ideology of the mid-twentieth century has morphed into the core belief system for nearly all evangelicals. Today, this is the root of much of the anti-science and anti-vaccine rhetoric in many churches (couple the anti-science the fear of the mark of the beast and there is an even stronger anti-vaccine group).

Jesus Freak

In the 1990s, evangelicalism had created a full blown sub-culture complete with their own bookstores, TV shows/stations, movies, music and concerts, complete with kitschy clothing lines. This was created with the intent of sheltering children from the ugliness of the “secular” forces that sought to upend Christianity. At the heart of much of this, were the Christian “super-groups”: Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, and, in particular DC Talk.

One of the best selling Christian Albums of this era was “Jesus Freak.” It. Was. Everywhere. The album was so popular, not only did it make DC Talk known outside of the evangelical Christian subculture, it spawned books, other music groups, and a nationwide tour before sold-out crowds. The tour took over both churches and major concert venues alike. It was huge.

One of the more popular off-shoots was a republication of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, rebranded as “Jesus Freaks.” Christian radio stations frequently played clips of a DC Talk band member reading an historic martyr’s account, rebranding him a “real life Jesus Freak.” The message to the “youth” (church word for teenagers) of evangelical churches was clear: they, too, should seek after martrydom. The only problem was, it’s really hard to be a Christian martyr in an overwhelmingly Christian culture.

So the message was massaged just a little: to be a Christian, a real Christian, meant you must be persecuted. It was too hard or scary (or maybe their parents stopped them) for a teenager to leave and venture into an actually dangerous territory. Plus, even if you did, you were unlikely to be literally executed for your faith. So the response was that Christians need to find another way to signal to others that they were being persecuted.

Couple this with the now pervasive belief that the “secular” culture was trying to attack Christianity and the next logical leap is that Christians were being persecuted. Right here in America.

Persecution Complex

The result of romanticizing persecution was that evangelical Christians began to look for persecutions everywhere. The universities and their professors were out to get Christians and make them renounce faith. Politicians sought to marginalize the Christian voice. In response evangelicals sought out politicians on their side, accounting for the two terms of George W Bush. They saw persecution everywhere:

There was a “War on Christmas.” The sight of “X-mas” was meant to remove Christ from Christmas (ignoring the historic roots of the Chi Ro). Secular forces wanted to remove prayer in schools. Country Music began to play up the “traditional” values of God and Country in response. After 9/11 it was easy to see the religious warfare. The attackers hate me because I’m Christian and American. If you don’t fall over yourself for the flag, you hate America and thus hate Christ. America, as a whole, became the city on a hill. At the same time, secular centers within it, LA and New York, became the Babylon to fight against.

American evangelical Christians had found their persecution. The longer they bore that styrofoam cross, the more they craved its false splinters. The prophetic readings of Revelation weren’t enough. They went to other apocalyptic books: the book of Daniel and the exact future telling in Isaiah, where Isaiah declares Cyrus the Lord’s annointed. This was God’s political people, Israel, against the wicked nations. Into this milieu entered Donald Trump. Trump definitely played to this side that felt persecuted and marginalized. Evangelicals found in him the new Cyrus. He clearly wasn’t morally upright enough to be the righteous prophet. They looked to the theme of the old testament where God used ungodly kings to bring about his will.

They looked for those evil forces who would stand against him. Trump was America. If you disliked Trump you were unamerican. If you disliked Trump, you were working against God.

For many, if not most, of those who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, this was the beginning of Armageddon. They were engaged in a spiritual war, but one they could see. Trump had supported Israel, working to restore it to their Zionist vision. Trump had given voice to their deepest uncertainties. He was endorsed by their religious leaders. Voting for Trump was a religious act. Coming to the Capitol was a pilgrimage some took at great cost. Most of those who marched were not the wealthy (the wealthy need stability to keep their wealth and power), they were the everyday Joes. They had been given a taste of power by Trump; he had been their voice and he was in the Presidency and that was being taken away. This was a fight for the soul of the nation.

What happened on January 6 is the result of a long history. It should not be surprising. Horrifying, yes. Disheartening, absolutely. Terrifying, sure. Even shocking (because we are often shocked by things we nevertheless expect). But it was not surprising. It has been building to this point for well over a hundred years. What’s worse, this is the work of religious zealots. It’s not over, not by a long shot. The center of this group is emboldened, more than anything. They will try again. They are not afraid of death. This is a battle for their eternal soul, and the souls of the nation.

George Floyd

“They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods,
shedding innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters,
sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.”

Psalm 106: 37-39

On May 25, 2020, at 8:08pm, Minneapolis Police Officers J Alexendar Kueng and Thomas Lane receive a call about someone using a counterfeit $20 bill. Please note this is a non-violent crime, and it is difficult to know if Floyd was using the bills knowing they were counterfeit. The Officers find George Floyd in a car with two passengers. Upon George-Floyd-Wallpaperapproaching the car, Lane immediately points his gun at Floyd who puts his hands on the steering wheel. He is asked to get out of the car and he complies and, after being handcuffed behind his back, at their direction, sits on the ground. He is described, and seen in video, as calm.

At 8:14, the officers attempt to move Floyd to the back of a squad car. Floyd says he is very claustraphobic and wants to comply, but is having difficulty. He says he’s trying not resist, but can’t get into the back seat. At some point in the next few minutes, Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrive on the scene and force Floyd into the back of the squad car.

At 8:19, Chauvin forceably pulls Floyd out of the car, whereupon he falls, face first, into the pavement (because his hands are behind his back). While Keung holds onto Floyd’s back, Lane restrains Floyd’s legs. They consider using a “hobble restraint” but opt not to use it. Instead, Chauvin forces his left knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd begins to be more distressed, screaming “I can’t breathe” calling out “Mama please” and eventually says, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to die.”

By this point onlookers have gathered, and video is being taken. Chauvin’s response to Floyd’s pleas are “You are talking fine.” This indicating the (mistaken) belief that if someone can talk they get enough oxygen. Shortly after, Lane asks Chauvin if they should roll Floyd onto his side, to which Chauvin responds that he’s “staying put where we got him.”

At 8:24 Floyd’s “slight movements” slow and then stop altogether.

At 8:25, it becomes clear that Floyd is no longer breathing at all. Lane again asks for Floyd to be rolled onto his side, Chauvin does not respond. Keung checks for a pulse and https _cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_200604092316-02-george-floyd-police-mugshotscannot find one.

At 8:27, TWO MINUTES AFTER it was known he had no pulse, an ambulance arrives and then Chauvin removes his knee.

All four officers were fired. All four have since been charged. The Police union is actively opposing these actions and attempting to paint Floyd as a violent criminal of whom these officers were to be scared.

Breonna Taylor

“Do not shed innocent blood in the land which YHWH, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, lest the blood guilt be upon all of you”

Deuteronomy 19:10

On March 12, 2020, Breonna Taylor, an ER Tech and former EMT, went sleep in her bed next to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, in Louisville, Kentucky. In a different part of town, police secure two separate “no-knock” warrants. One for a somewhat well known location where drugs are passed around, and one for Taylor’s apartment, naming Taylor specifically. It is now clear that the second warrant was entirely a mistake.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Taylor and Walker were awakened by loud banging on their door. Both called out into the darkness, trying to ascertain what had happened, only to be met with silence. While the police dispute what happened next, the neighbors in the apartments surrounding Taylor’s seem to corroborate Kenneth Walker’s account. The13louisville-1-superJumbo-v2 police use a battering ram to break open the door, at which point Walker, who is a registered and licensed gun owner, and who had awakened to unidentified intruder’s breaking into the apartment after midnight, grabs his registered weapon and fires a single shot, that hits an one police officer in the thigh. Police return fire in what is described as “a hail of bullets” leaving Breonna Taylor dead, having been shot multiple times (“at least 8 times”), despite being completely unarmed and not even affiliated with the drug ring police were attempting to find. The apartment next door, where a pregnant mother with her 5 year old were, had multiple bullet fragments as did the upstairs apartment.

This happened on March 13, 2020. Originally, police claimed Walker had killed Breonna. When that did not match any of the evidence, they charged Walker with attempted murder of a police officer. The three officers who entered Taylor’s apartment have been placed on (paid) administrative leave. No charges have been filed. No state or local investigations have begun. One FBI investigation was recently announced, but expectations are low that anything will be done. No drugs were ever recovered from her apartment.

Ahmaud Arbery

“Their feet run to evil,
They are quick to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are thoughts of sin
Their highways are devastation and destruction.”

Isaiah 59:7

On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery put on some workout clothes, and went for a run in Glynn County Georgia. According to those close to him, this was not unusual in the least. As someone who runs with frequency, I get it. Most, but perhaps not all, runners are creatures of habit. You have to have strong habits in order to train for anything. Whether it is preparing for a race, trying to lose weight, or just trying to be fit, you get up multiple times a week and run. You need that.

merlin_171704250_9351ea8c-9a44-4ed2-8057-50cbee202fcd-superJumboProbably because the aforementioned consistency can be so boring, runners on the whole tend to be curious. Most of us don’t like to run the same loop 20 times, every day, without change. So we will explore new routes. We’ll run through somewhat familiar territory, make little changes along the way. If we see something new or different, that curiosity takes over and we’ll often go an examine it.

This is why, as a runner, it was not at all surprising that Arbery would go to a home under construction, when no crews were there, to take a quick look around. A lot of it is human nature.

At some point later, at least two white men, one of whom was a former police officer and current (at the time) investigator for the police, George McMichael, along with his son, Travis, found out that a black man was running near their street. The McMichaels had their truck broken into not too long before this incident, but had no lead on who had committed the break-in. They grabbed their guns, jumped into a truck, and sought to find this black man, Ahmaud Arbery. At some point William “Roddie” Bryan was enlisted by the McMichaels to assist in detaining Arbery. It is unclear what their relationship was, or what let Bryan to assist them. The McMichaels’ original story was that they were attempting to detain Arbery because they believe he was responsible for a “string of burglaries” in the area. The only reported burglary had been the breaking into the McMichaels truck. They did not know (despite current claims) that Arbery had entered a construction site, nor were any of these individuals police.

The McMichaels and Bryan caught up to Arbery and these three men, two of them armed, in their vehicles, demanded that Arbery stop. Again, as a runner, it is terrifying enough running down a road when a car tries to pass you a little bit too closely (there’s so much extra road over there), that I can only begin to imagine what a black man, in Georgia, being chased by multiple vehicles, one with two armed white men demand I stop, would have thought. I’m sure he knew he was probably going to die the moment they told him to stop.

After unsuccessfully trying to get away, and being pinned by two vehicles (that were not afraid to drive off the street toward him), Arbery changed from flight to fight. As Travis McMichael ran out of his truck, gun pointed at him, Arbery fought back. It was likely his best (if incredibly slim) chance of survival. Travis McMichael shot him multiple times (not just once), then stood over his lifeless body and delcared “F****ng n****r.” It’s important to note that Michael’s lawyers do not dispute that he said that. They merely try to excuse it as part of the culture in the region (akin to saying “he can’t be racist if the whole culture is racist.”).

That happened on February 23. Multiple DAs refused to look into the case. For months, nothing happened. The crime could be seen on video. No one did anything. It was not until April that anything began to happen. Since then, and most especially since the George Bureau of Investigation took over, all three men have been arrested.

Why is this different?

“But your eyes and your heart are intent solely upon your own dishonest gain and on the shedding of innocent blood and on oppressing and extortion.”

-Jeremiah 22:17

To start, we need to see why this time at least feels different. It’s still too early to see if the current protests will result in any lasting change, but it could start something, and begin to move it forward. The protests at least feel different. So the first question many will ask is “why?”

This is not the first time a black man or woman has been killed. This is not the first time the person committing murder was a white police officer. This is not even the first time it has been caught on video. The death of Eric Garner was so eerily similar to that of George Floyd. He was approached by police for a non-violent crime and killed by asphyxiation (Garner’s and Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe” even became a battle cry both times). This is not even the first time such events have happened in such rapid succession. So what makes this different?

Part of it has to do with our news cycle. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, where everyone has ready access to instant video making and watching, together with the need for a 24 hour news cycle tailored to your particular interests, there has been an overflowing amount of news over the past few years. It is impossible to take it all in. Then, in March, the Coronavirus began to dominate the news. So much so that it drowned everything else out.

Further, as the world collectively began to shut down, it seemed to many that very little of note was occurring outside of the pandemic. The only thing that broke through all of that, it seems, were the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. While similar stories had happened in the past, and had even happened in rapid succession, this was the first time that, it seemed, there was little else to drown it out.

Beyond that, the ubiquity of mobile phone video, and how people have become more adapt at shooting live video with them, meant that responses to protests (which in many cases mirrored the same brutality the protesters had organized against) were widely

protesters holding signs

visible, fueling the protests rather than quashing them.

All of these factors coalesced to make this, at least for the moment, feel substantively different. God’s indictment against Israel for its oppression and extortion of the vulnerable seemed to suddenly be more applicable in America to so many people for the first time, while being a familiar refrain to others whose protest the first group joined.


Blood on our hands

An earlier version of this pay was mistakenly published early

Then YHWH said to Cain “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know” answered Cain, “Does my brother, the keeper of sheep, need a keeper?”

YHWH replied, “What have you done? Can’t you hear it? Your brother’s blood is screaming out to me from the ground!”

–Genesis 4:9-10

I’ve struggled to write this post. On the one hand, I’ve felt so inadequately placed to even begin to address the issues surrounding the most recent series of murders of Black men and women at the hands of current or former police officers: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I had originally planned to write about Ahmaud Arbery, and then the news of Breonna Taylor came out. I thought to write about what happened there and the challenge it presents the Church. Then the video of George Floyd being murdered before us by an officer of the state was posted.

I will not be posting that video here. It is shocking, it is uneasy, it is also far too common. A High School classmate of mine, who now teaches rhetoric, has spoken about the uneasy tension such videos have. On the one hand, people want to be informed, and they should know what’s happening. On the other, the history of public lynching in the US gives the viewing of the video an even darker tone than it had before. Make no mistake, when you saw the video, you saw a man being murdered. So what do we say to that?

I am not a black. I am an almost middle-aged, white man who grew up in the American Southwest. My college education was primarily in the American Southwest and South. As a result, I recognize I am ill-equipped to approach this topic. So I’ve been listening.

person s hands covered with blood

I’ve pointed people to other resources, to black authors, especially those in the Black Theology and Womanist Theology traditions. I’ll continue to do so (James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree should be required reading for whites in churches and Delores S Williams’s Sisters in the Wilderness for all men). Before I get too far into this, I want to be clear: this is the perspective of one white man. I can only lisp where others, due to their education and experience, are better equipped to speak.

Despite this, I recognize that while it is tantamount that priority and preference be given to black voices above white voices like mine, it is also extremely important that I not be completely silent in these conversations. With that in mind, I will not be entirely silent. This is partly so people of color might know they are not standing alone. Whatever privilege I inherited by virtue of my birth and history, I hope to use in order to lift up black voices.

Also, I am still learning. I will never not be learning. I may falter and fall. But I won’t let fear of failure keep me from adding my voice to the voices of many others.

Above all else, I would hope my white friends would hear this: it is not enough to simply not be a racist.

You must move toward being anti-racist. That journey starts with listening, recognition and educating yourself. I hope to contribute to that process. I hope that, together, we might learn to listen.

As God declared to Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me”. The implication is that Cain should be able to hear the blood cry out too, if only he tried to listen. By not listening, Cain continues to do violence to Abel. In the same way, even though we may not have performed an explicitly racist act, even though you were not the cop with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, by not listening, by not letting the blood of the black saints cry out to you from the ground, you perpetuate the violence against them. All of those unjustly slain as part of system set up to keep them down. So I hope to acknowledge, on the one hand, the blood on my own hands, and to give voice, on the other, to the blood that cries out.

For those of you still with me, I’m going to start next time by examining these most recent cases.

Love and COVID-19

“You do whatever you need to do to protect your family”

“If you need to protect yourself, that’s fine, just don’t try to force me to do anything”

“If I’m willing to take that risk what’s the big deal? I’m not asking you to do so”

“Everyone just has to do what they think is right for themselves.”

Last week, I shared about the fear that is driving a lot of responses to the current Coronavirus situation. The quotes above are not made up, but ones written or spoken to me or someone I know very closely. I want to make clear that I am not living out of fear, but I will (again) be addressing the thought processes behind these types of statements. At the end of last week’s post, I noted the biblical mandate to love one another is the exact solution to fear. That’s what I’m hoping to explore in this post. Besides sounding like a twentieth century Spanish novel, I firmly believe that love is the appropriate response during this pandemic time. So what does that look like.

Not me, but you

The first thing I would like to note is that, for many of us living in free and open societies, we have a view of individual rights as supreme. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the idea of how important individual liberty from government is. This is, no doubt, behind the strong reactions against government orders to wear face masks or to stay home.

But that’s not the way of Jesus.

The Jesus way is one of putting yourself second. “Don’t do anything for your own desires or wishes” writes Paul to the Philippians,

“Instead, humbly put others ahead of yourselves, for you are no longer meant to look at your interests, as individuals, but to the interests of others. In these relationships, one to the other, unite your mind with Jesus Christ, who, though he was fully God, didn’t think this was something to grab onto for his sake. Instead, he emptied himself completely, becoming fully a servant, by taking on the image of man. Being fully man to any who would examine him, he humbled himself still further, obeying authority to death–yes even a death upon a cross.

It is for this reason that God raised him to the highest place, giving his name a high place also, that at Jesus’s name, every knee would [humbly] bow, in heaven, on earth, and even under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, [solely] for the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:3-11

I do not mean, by pointing to this passage, that one should blindly follow the state as though such allegiance is what it means to love your neighbor. Instead, I urge you look to the above passage and consider how we might best love our neighbor during this time. It is possible that what the state asks of us, and what God asks of us, happen to coincide. The bible clearly lays out the division between state and the Kingdom of God, while still acknowledging the authority of the former. But that’s not the point.

The point is that your own personal rights, no matter how valid or justified they are, are always placed behind the rights of others. So I ask the question again, how do we love one another? How do we drive out fear? By putting our rights behind those of others. We consider their values first.

The Whole and the Individual

A lot of reactions are going around about different aspects of the government response to the present pandemic (I will state again that it is real, it is not part of a conspiracy, and it is serious). One strain of argument I have heard countless times is “Why can’t I decide to take the risk for myself to…go back to work/go to the store/not wear a mask/not socially distance?” This is usually backed up by some declaration of “you do what’s right for you.”

Except, that’s not how life together works. If you live within a society, you are automatically bound to other members of that society. In the same way that within a

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family one person’s actions affect everyone else, so it is within a broader society.

The reason that fire departments exist as a municipal entity is because one neighbor’s home on fire is a threat to every neighbor’s home. There was a time, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, where private fire departments would only hose down houses whose members had paid their fees. The results were disastrous, including, among many other issues, the Great Fire of London.

We should think of public health in much the same way. Your decision not to socially distance, doesn’t just affect you; particularly so when there is a long incubation period and asymptomatic transmission as is the case in the current situation. It affects the whole.

The same issue goes for masks. Cloth masks do very little to protect the wearer from getting a disease. They do something, but not much. To protect the wearer you need a properly fitted N95 mask (and most people don’t know how to properly wear one). That’s not their point. The reason that masks are common in many cultures is not because the wearer is worried about getting a disease, it’s because the wearer is concerned with not spreading the disease.

A cloth mask doesn’t mitigate all spread of disease. It does effectively remove a lot of water droplets (part of normal speech and breathing) that can hang in the air and carry the disease (but because it does not prevent all such spread, it only works in conjunction with distancing). However, masks do almost nothing to protect the wearer; and they only work when a significant portion of the population wears them, washes hands frequently, and maintains distance from those with whom they do not live.

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I do not wear a mask because I fear for myself. I do not wear one to look out for my own family. I wear one for you. Even if you refuse to wear one out of some sense of freedom, thus putting my family I risk, I will continue to wear one. Because it is the loving thing to do.

A PR Problem

My wife, who has asthma among other health factors and is thus at increased risk of death from COVID-19, pointed out, amidst her frustration, that the politicization of mask wearing seems largely due to a PR problem.

In Houston, where I live, local authorities mandated that masks be worn, but offered no reasoning as to why it should be done. These local authorities are mostly from the Democratic party. The (mostly Republican) state authorities saw this, and immediately issued an order superseding the one of local authorities to not require face masks. The result was that the order in place to wear masks lasted only a couple of days, ones where the police openly acknowledged they would not enforce it.

The result is that many are actively refusing to wear masks or socially distance for the sake of making a political statement. They want to make it clear that “the government doesn’t tell me what to do.” Such persons are correct that they have every right to do so. But that is not love.

Nor are they correct in giving an individualistic account of things where “you do what you need to do and I’ll do what I need to do.” What you do affects me and what I do affects you. It is unavoidable. Perhaps the appeal should have been made on the basis, then, of love.

As my wife continued, she noted,

“It’s frustrating because the same people who are actively pushing back on these rules are the same people who would give you the shirt off their backs. The ones who would not only lend you their truck, but help you load and unload it and not ask for anything in return. A lot of these people are the exact ones who would be willing to make sacrifices for others if they were only asked in the right way.

“They need new PR. The message should have been

‘We’re Texans. Texans care for people. Texans help people. Right now there’s this virus and it is putting your grandma at risk. Not just your grandma, but everybody’s grandma. Wearing a mask is one of many things that can help our grandmas and lots of other people too. It may be uncomfortable, but we’re Texans and we can do this. We’re Texans and Texans help people’

There would have been open carry protesters, with masks on, handing out masks to everybody without one as they walked into Kroger and HEB.”

So I’m asking you, as a Christian, to show love for one another. You show love by staying home, by wearing a mask and staying distant when you have to go out, and by taking this seriously.

I absolutely understand the desire for many to get back to work. I have many close to me whom I know are struggling financially and unable to work. There are understandable fears and worries related to that. At the same time, though, is it worth the risk not just to that person, but to countless others? The failure of our society to care for the financial well-being of its citizens does not mitigate the responsibility to care for one another’s physical well-being. That is a false choice, and a dangerous one at that. Should something be done? Of course. How we do that, though, must be considered from a position of love, not financial well-being.

We show love by putting others ahead of our own rights, thoughts and desires. We defer to others.

A Collect for Father’s Day

For our earthly fathers today we thank you God. For the ways in which they point us to you, direct and indirect, intentional and incidental, we thank you.

For those who are fathers, we ask that you guide us as we ask to be a small glimpse, an incomplete picture of you. Remind us that we are not perfect, but that even in the act of choosing to be a father we reflect the beauty of You who is our Father from before the foundations of the world. For those who have biological children and chose to be a father to those who chose a could whether by adoption, foster care or step fatherhood. We thank You. We ask for strength even as we are being made more into your likeness, giving an imperfect glimpse of true fatherhood.

For those who seek to be fathers, we ask for your comfort. Whether you are preparing them for fatherhood or not, we ask that you reveal to them all of the opportunities to show the love of a father to children even now as they seek a more permanent role as father on earth. We thank you for the ways in which they reveal your loving heart to us.

For those who have an unease with their father, we ask that you show us the way you are a perfect father. For those so hurt by their earthly father, we ask that you meet them as mother first, who covers them with her pinions or gathers them unto yourself as a mother hen and then drawing them toward knowing you as a good father. For those disconnected with parents we ask that you approach them as brother or friend. For those so disconnected from human relationship they cannot even see this, we ask that you come as rescuer and Redeemer. And so, over time, you draw them into relationship with you as a true, good, and better father.

Above all else, we thank you for being a good father. For taking our being, changing our identity into the better and adopting is as your children.

Easter 2019: Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8


He is Risen!

In Mark’s account, we have only the women going to the tomb. They bore witness to his death, they alone bore witness to his burial, so it stands to reason that they alone go to attend to the body and act as first witnesses to his resurrection. As they were walking along they wondered how they will possibly be able to get into the tomb. Perhaps a Roman soldier would help them. Perhaps a disciple would be there to greet them. Perhaps they could work together to move the large stone. Perhaps they could find someone else there to render aid. And so they went on their journey, walking and wondering.

The sight that greeted them was not one they had expected. “Jesus…has risen!” the messenger’s of God declared! He is not here.

Mark concludes his gospel with the words “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Textual Criticism

If you are reading the King James Version, the text continues on without note. If you are reading any other modern translation, you will encounter a note about what follows. Let’s talk about that a minute (the remainder of this paragraph will discuss textual criticism). First things, first. Jesus did not speak in King James English. Nor did he speak in Greek. Jesus spoke in either Aramaic or Hebrew or (more likely) a combination of the two. The gospels are written in Greek in large part because that was the most widely read and spoken language (moreso than Latin) in present day Palestine and Northern Africa at the time. The other thing to note is that we do not possess the original writing of any part of the bible. This does not mean you cannot have confidence in the bible. In fact you can have a high degree of confidence in it. Higher than any other ancient text. Instead, a series of copies happened. The gospel message was so wonderful that, early on, several people decided to make copies of it so that others could read it. In fact we have more copies of the gospel than any other text from antiquity. Over time, individuals may have felt the need to insert explanatory bits. Sometimes these were notes, other times they may have been traditions, at times they may have even been imagined pieces that were missing or confusion brought on by awareness of other gospel accounts. Whatever the case, eventually extra bits made their way (often by mistake) into some of these copies. Once they entered a copy, they were likely to be copied by others again and again. So when you have a copy of a copy of a copy, all done by hand, this is the result. This is why textual criticism tends to heavily favor earlier copies over later ones. This is also why the integrity of a source (because some copies were clearly made more carefully than others) also matters. That is what lies behind the note in most modern translations. It also means, that with almost certainty, the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8. Abruptly. So why?

The Markan Secret

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is constantly telling people not to say anything. Don’t tell anyone who I am, he seems to say to people, to demons, to everyone. He’s holding it in secret. This ending is a continuation of that. The women, the only witnesses Mark records, said nothing. So what’s really going on here. Well Mark himself was not a direct witness to these events. He’s telling them because someone told him. That’s kind of the point. Clearly, at some point, someone said something to someone else. The women didn’t keep the secret forever. The angels absolve anyone of ever keeping their secret with their command to “go and tell.” So someone said something. And that’s kind of the point.

By demonstrating the opposite, the author is calling us to engage more actively with the text. Clearly it can’t be the case that the secret was kept, that the women never spoke again. I’ve heard this story. Here I am reading it. Exactly! You can’t leave it up to someone else. The word must get out. He is alive! Go tell someone.

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