Saturday, July 16, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Chastity!

This is part 6 of my series on the 7 virtues. Click here for part 5.

Chastity has been relegated to a bad word. It evokes images of a repressive and sexually frustrated fundamentalist who confuses Jesus for a Pharisee.

Unfortunately, as many things in our society, chastity has been heavily sexualized. Sure, we can practice chastity with our sexuality, but this is only a minor piece of what this virtue is about.

As we shall explore, chastity, when viewed holistically, becomes a beautiful and essential virtue.

The Virtue of Chastity
The virtue of chastity can be divided in three ways.

First, chastity is purity. Sexual purity is still an important aspect of the virtue of chastity, and while it should not be defined solely on sexual terms, we still can't ignore this important aspect. Sexual purity demands discretion of our sexual conduct according to our state of life. This looks different for all of us.

As a married man, for example, my sexual conduct should be different from that of a single man. It is no longer OK for me to seek the attention of another woman in a romantic way. We can see, then, that sexual chastity is for all of us, not just for the celibate.

One also practices purity from avoiding or limiting substances that are toxic to our bodies, and by maintaining cleanliness and basic hygiene.

Purity can also be achieved morally, by resisting temptation and corruption.

There are other, non-sexual ways to seek purity of course, as we shall see next.

Second, chastity is knowledge. Ignorance is dangerous. As it is obvious to many of us, ignorance creates countless suffering in our world. Knowledge, when undertaken with other virtues, but most importantly, with chastity, can be a way to create purity of thought. 

Knowledge without chastity, however, (without any sort of discretion or humility) will create snobbery, another type of ignorance. Snobbery is a delusion of the mind.

Third, chastity is honesty. The practice of chastity demands that we are honest with ourselves and others. By keeping our relationships pure, that is, without any hidden motives, we are creating honest relationships. The practice of honesty, then, it's inseparable from chastity.

Chastity is a mature form of the virtue of Temperance, because Temperance merely intents the controlling and the putting of boundaries. Chastity seeks much more than restrain. Chastity actively seeks the good and respect of others as well.

Chastity & The Holy Spirit
Chastity is connected to Love, the supreme fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, the opposite of Love is not hate, but lust. Love, by its nature, seeks to give to the other. Love is the consistent attitude and action that seeks what is best for the other.

Lust, on the other hand, seeks to take away from the other. Lust diminishes individuals to the mere realm of utilities. Lust seeks to fulfill itself. Love seeks to fulfill the other.

This is why Chastity and Love must be connected. Chastity and Love are the perfect antidotes for the merciless greed of lust.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we can practice Love without practicing Chastity.

The Virtue of Chastity for a Postmodern World
We live in an oversexualized society. We live in a world where deep knowledge and reflection is reduced to bite-sized, googleable answers and catchphrases. We live in a world of hidden motives and shameless advertisements that makes us suspicious of each other.

We can practice Chastity by taking notice in all the ways we overly sexualize others and ourselves. Our sexuality is something to be relished and celebrated. But when our sexuality is used to take away from others and ourselves, when it seeks to only satisfy a desire at the the expense of the other, then we have reached the limits of Chastity and descended into the realm of lust.

We can also practice Chastity by avoiding quick answers and devoting time to deep knowledge and reflection.

It is easy to pretend we know stuff, what with all the easy answers available at the tip of our fingers and with a click of a mouse. It is common now to like and share articles on social media without even reading them and reflecting on them.

This creates the illusion of knowledge, without the toils and hard work of true knowledge. It reduces knowledge to information. It reduces thought to entertainment.

Deep thought and reflection requires time and meticulous work. It requires exploring the issue from multiple angles. Purity of thought is not something we establish by superficial gathering of bits of information and one minute videos.

Finally, we can practice Chastity by being straightforward about our intents and motives. No one can claim purity of motives, and that's OK. But the worst we can do is to pretend purity of motives, and hide ourselves under a cloud of piety.

Let's be honest about our imperfections and our biases, as this will create clearer expectations and create the base for purer motives.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Patience!

This is part 5 of my series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues for the Postmodern World. Click here for part 4.

One weekday morning, I was trying to read on a bus on my way to work. Public transportation can be ideal for this, but at other times, it can be inconvenient.

The bus was almost empty, so I was expecting a quiet time before work. This had lasted for a few minutes, when two students boarded the bus. One of them, a guy, was pursuing this girl who seemed uninterested in his advances.

She sat behind me (of all the empty seats!) but sat in the outer seat so not to give space for the guy to seat beside her. He, not dissuaded by her subtle dissing, sat next me so he could be in front of her.

He turns around and tries to have a conversation with her. In doing so he was shifting constantly, and for some odd reason, beating the seat rhythmically as he spoke. Our seat was shaking, and by his constant movement he kept constantly bumping into me.

I was incredibly annoyed.

I have two options, I thought, I could tell him to stop moving and bumping into me and ask him to stop beating our seat OR I could practice patience and ask God to offer me the strength to do so. I have read this advice from many saints: you can take every difficult or inconvenient situation as an opportunity to practice virtues.

And so I prayed: God, please help me to practice patience. It seemed to me, unfortunately, that God heard my prayer.

They guy kept making beats through our seat and he kept shifting constantly. I was unable to read.

Thankfully, he got off the bus a few stops after that. Two other guys, however, got on the bus at the same stop. I thought they were fighting, as one of them was screaming. He didn't seem angry, however.

I soon realized he wasn't screaming, he just spoke incredibly loud, apparently gifted by God with an integrated mic and speakers. They decided to sit behind me. I started laughing. Be careful what you pray for, I thought. Throughout the whole ride, the lively gentleman kept having peaceful shouting matches with his bewildered companion.

I was, of course, unable to read my book.

The Virtue of Patience
The virtue of patience, or longsuffering, is the ability to go through seemingly unbearable or difficult situations with a sense of harmony and peace. It is also active waiting. There may be many reasons we would be asked to wait, and by doing so with peace and harmony we are practicing patience.

Patience is also showing mercy to people we think don't deserve mercy. Mercy and patience are two sides of the same coin.

I am an incredibly impatient individual. If my computer is not working, for example, I feel very tempted to throw it out of the window, go out with a hammer, and slam it into bits and pieces. I still have my computer so it doesn't happen that often.

I hate ordering things online because I hate waiting for them to arrive. I hate not having a microwave (for health reasons) because I'd prefer to have my food heated up in a few minutes instead of waiting 20 minutes to heat in the oven.

Because of this, God has put me in many situations where He has asked me to wait. He also provides me with many opportunities, like the ones mentioned above, to help me practice the virtue of patience. When I practice listening prayer, it seems to me half the time He's asking me to wait.

Patience & The Holy Spirit
Patience is also the sixth fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. It is only after practicing patience that we can better practice peace, joy, and ultimately, love.

Without patience we lack the solid foundation to practice peace in the middle of shifting circumstances, joy in the middle of suffering and difficulties, and love with mercy and compassion.

Patience is also connected with Peace, the seventh fruit of the Holy Spirit. Peace is not simply a lack of conflict. Peace is not lack, but an abundance of something. Peace comes from a rooted knowledge of our standing with God, and therefore, the world around us.

It is only with Peace that comes from God that we can withstand with longsuffering difficult situations with harmony, because our peace dwells from a deeper sense of our being with God, and not our being with  our circumstances around us.

The Virtue of Patience for a Postmodern World
The virtue of patience, in a world where we are accustomed to our computers and internet service being fast, our food heated in a few minutes, and where instant gratification (and instant connectedness) is a sought-after feature, is a challenging virtue to practice.

First, we can practice patience by utilizing most inconvenient, uncomfortable, or difficult situations as opportunities to grow and develop. This has to be a free choice, however. I am not advocating that you feel compelled to allow people to cross your boundaries or abuse you under the name of practicing virtues.

There are circumstances, however, when it is OK to use the opportunity to practice patience by practicing mercy and momentarily giving up your right to complain. (If you are in an abusive situation, however, this is not recommended, and assertive action would be necessary and healthy.)

There are many other times, however, where there is nothing that can be done in a situation to improve it, and the practice of patience is perfect for those situations. Being stuck in traffic comes to mind as a prime example.

By making a mental shift and seeing those difficult and annoying situations as opportunity to practice patience instead of simple inconveniences, your growth will be monumental. The obstacle becomes the way.

Second, if you are involved in a cause that is dear to your heart, you can practice patience not only with the people who are actively against said cause, but also at the slow progress that some movements have.

By practicing patience, you realize that your struggle will be for the long haul, and will probably outlive you. Healthy, non-violent social change requires a cultural shift in our population, and this will undoubtedly take many years, even decades, to fully realize.

There are no easy and quick tips to social change. There are small, incremental steps that keep adding up through the years. Violence can bring fast and temporal social change, but this will inevitably breed more social disparities, divisions, and wounds.

By practicing patience, we are acknowledging that our efforts, however small, will slowly bring the social change we so desire.

In what ways do you practice patience? How can more patience help you in your life? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The 7 Virtues for The Postmodern World - Kindness!


This is part 4 of the 7 heavenly virtues series. To start on part 1, click here.

Western culture often struck me as a "straight up" culture. Things were sometimes told directly, with no beating around the bush, so to speak.

This was presented as a good thing. Many times, however, it felt harsh to me. In encounters where things were spoken to me "straight up," I often felt hurt. This happened so many times that I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive, I thought.

While it is true that I am sensitive person, and that being direct with people is also a good thing, I do think that  in our culture we have forgotten the virtue of kindness and juxtaposed it with truth-telling.

The Virtue of Kindness
What is kindness?  Let us first define by what it is not. Kindness is not just being "nice" to each other. Kindness has little to do with being nice.

Nice is easy and even cowardly. Kindness is courageous and self-giving. Kindness exposes your being in an unselfish manner. Nice hides your being and real feelings and protects it with a mask.

Kindness is benevolence towards the other; it is loyalty, compassion, empathy, and trust.

Kindness is especially essential when it comes to truth-telling. Truth-telling without kindness can be misused to hurt the other. When we get angry at someone, and we feel compelled to make it clear to them, truth can take the form of a weapon used in vengeance against the offender.

Truth-telling combined with being "nice" compromises the truth. We may think that being nice is a way to protect others from hurt, but most often we are protecting ourselves from uncomfortable situations. If we dare to speak truth into somebody's life, we compromise the truth in order to make it less hurtful to us.

Truth-telling with kindness, however, seeks the well-being of the other. It takes into consideration the context. If we discern that the truth will not be heard then in kindness we abstain from telling it. With kindness we seek ways to tell the truth that are selfless and filled with compassion.

Truth is better received when it is sweetened by compassion and mercy.

Kindness & The Holy Spirit
The virtue of kindness is connected with goodness and kindness, the fourth and fifth fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5.

Goodness, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is good that is integral to our very being. It is concerned more with kindness than it is with righteousness. It is good in a self-giving way, not in a self-righteous way.

Kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit denotes more than just moral goodness and integrity, or just being kind. The word chrestotes, which we usually translate as kindness, can also be translated as 'usefulness.'

A person full of the virtue of kindness is also extremely useful. They go beyond kind words into the realm of actions for the good of others. Kindness demands selfless service of others. A useful person is also humble, willing to be pliable to the will of God and pliable in service of others.

The Virtue of Kindness for a Postmodern World
We live in a world where prophetic truth-telling is needed. We live in a world where we need to constantly speak truth to power.

In doing so, however, we must not forget the value of kindness, for it is with this virtue that the truth is most beneficial.

We can be very tempted, and even feel justified, to speak truth in an angry and hurtful way. It is true that there are moments that truth must be spoken with anger, depending on the context. The problem comes when we say the truth only when we are angry.

More often than not, the virtue of kindness should accompany and aid us whenever we speak truth, especially in situations where hurt and emotions are involved.

By telling truth with kindness we are giving witness to the power of truth as light. Light and truth are powerful enough and need no extra aid to be effective.

As prophetic witnesses against injustice, we should exercise the unaided power of light to shine away the darkness. There is no need to be forceful. Shine light and allow the light to do the rest. Nothing else is necessary.

Be kind to others, especially those opposed to your cause. By being kind you are demonstrating your concern for the other, remembering that the oppressor is no more free than the oppressed. Oppression is a prison that jails both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Practice kindness with all, even those who need some serious truth-telling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Diligence!


This is part 3 of my series on the 7 heavenly virtues. For part I, Temperance, click here. For part 2, Humility, click here.

Oh diligence! If there was ever a virtue that is hardest to work on!

Diligence brings to mind the notion of hard work. We have limited diligence to the realm of work, or that which we get paid to do. We may imagine someone who is diligent as a restless person, one who is so opposite of lazy that it is impossible for them to sit still without having something to do.

When diligence is so interconnected to work, however, we distort the virtue itself.

Diligence is much more than hard work, however, and has applications outside our professional lives, as we shall explore.

What is Diligence?
Diligence, simply speaking, is steadfast application. Someone who is steadfast is someone who is faithful, reliable and committed.

We see then, that diligence is much more than hard work. Diligence also calls us to be unwavering in what we do. You might be able to work hard, but that doesn't make you a diligent person. If you, however, work faithfully, then you are beginning to practice the virtue of diligence.

Diligence & The Holy Spirit
Diligence is connected with faithfulness, the third fruit of the Holy Spirit listed on Galatians 5. Once we have worked on self-control and gentleness, the first two, we have a solid foundation to work on faithfulness, and as a consequence, on diligence.

Diligence and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. When we do our part, we do so with faith that God will take care of the rest. We know that hard work alone doesn't bring immediate success. When hard work is combined with faithfulness, however, we trust that God is still in control even if our efforts don't end in success.

Like Mother Teresa famously said, God doesn't call us to be successful, but to be faithful.

If hard work is disconnected from faithfulness, hard work will be invariably connected to success. When success doesn't come, we lose the motivation for hard work.

If hard work is connected to faithfulness, however, our efforts will be nourished by the faith and reliance that God will work out even our failures for good. Success doesn't even come to the picture. A focus on success is ultimately reliance on men. A focus on faithfulness is ultimately reliance on God.

It is only with faithfulness that hard work can reach the dignity of the virtue of diligence.

Hard work alone is a counterfeit of diligence. Diligence is therefore, a deeply faithful enterprise.

The Virtue of Diligence for a Postmodern World
How can we practice diligence in our postmodern society?

We start by disconnecting the expectation of hard work from success and reconnecting it with faithfulness. We live in a world of instant gratifications and productivity. We do A and we expect B. If A doesn't produce B (B being success, of course) we then deem the whole enterprise a failure.

This can be true in certain situations, but it makes the value of effort A contingent on result B. In simpler terms, the end justifies the means. This is what is usually called teleological ethics, where the end (teleos) is the focus of any action or work.

Connecting hard work with faithfulness, however, is what transforms this virtue into a deontological ethic, that is, we do A because A is good. Loving our enemies can be an example of a deontological ethic: we love not because it may be effective, or to produce expected results. We simply love because, one, it is our calling, and two, because the "other", the enemy, is still an image bearer.

It is true that loving our enemies has the potential to transform our enemies, and someone may be able to pursue love of enemies teleologically. This, however, doesn't always happen, and we may find ourselves in situations where we love our enemies despite their lack of transformation.

It is also the case that many efforts don't bring the expected immediate results, but they might bring fruits many years down the line. This is where faith comes into the picture: we may not be able to always predict where a good work may lead, but we entrust our efforts to God that can use even our own failures.

The virtue of diligence can also be applied to many social issues: we work on social justice issues even if it is inconvenient and even if it demands sacrifices from us, simply because it is what we are called to do. We find that many social issues, like the welcoming of immigrants, a livable wage, and caring for the environment are issues that not only may have little to no return to us, since these are fights that will probably continue for many generations.

In a world that is inundated with pragmatism, the virtue of diligence can be transforming.

How do you define diligence? In what way do you practice diligence?

Friday, April 8, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Humility!

This post took me a little over two weeks to write. My excuse for this was going to be a convenient Spring break. Holy Week was very taxing, and I felt I needed a break from writing.

This is, however, just part of the story.

The other, less convenient part of the story is that I didn't want to write this post. Why not? Reflecting on this, I realized there were two main reasons. The first is that I felt wildly unqualified to write it. I have a small sense of my lack of humility, and that sense tells me there is a lot of unquestioned pride in my being. The second reason is that, sometimes, I don't want to think too much about virtues at all.

Like I wrote in my first post on this topic, virtues seem like some archaic, medieval, and legalistic way of seeing our faith. Of course, I mentally know this is not true, but being inundated in the post-modern culture that I am, it is hard not to feel that way from time to time.

My Lack of Humility
I recently took a class in hermeneutics at a small, local theological school. This school offers classes in Spanish with affordable tuition. This is a great alternative for those of us who can't afford the usual seminary tuition, or who haven't completed the academic requirements to be accepted into one.

Since many of my classmates have not gone to college like I had, there was a sense of superiority that I was, for the most part, unaware of. This gave me an overconfidence in this class, and I felt a special sense of giftedness that I revelled in.

In one of our assignments for the hermeneutics class, we had to present a written sermon, interpreting a passage. I did so, satisfied with my interpretation. I felt so sure and confident on my paper that I expected some good remarks from my professor.

What I got in response was more mixed: great interpretation, but I'm taking away points for not including a thesis statement.

In my great pride, I forgot to include something as basic as a thesis statement!

You can see why I feel unprepared to write this post.

What is Humility?
Humility is truth my spiritual director once told me. That phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Humility, as I understand it, is a truthful consideration of one's own gifts and abilities, along with an accurate understanding of one's flaws and limitations. In this sense, one can see that humility is indeed truth.

Humility is therefore not self-contempt or having low self-esteem. Humility is not shy to recognize one's skills and talents, but it is also not embarrassed to recognize limitations and weaknesses.

This adherence to a true assessment of who we are prevents us from indulging in narcissistic over-confidence that often stems from fear of not being sufficient. Humility is birthed from the knowledge that we are beautifully created out of love, and despite all of our flaws and past mistakes, we are overwhelmingly sufficient.

Humility recognizes that even though we may not be the best at this or that, we are still made for love, and as a consequence, we are inherently lovable.

Humility is also the virtue that gives way to the other virtues. It is the base where the edifice of a virtuous character is built.

Humility & The Holy Spirit
Humility is connected with gentleness, the second gift of the Holy Spirit that is listed in Galatians 5. As I mentioned in my last post, I believe these gifts are listed in a hierarchal order, and that one should start working on those gifts from the bottom up, starting from self-control.

The Greek word praotēs, usually translated as gentleness, can also be translated as meekness. Some Bibles even translate it to humility. The correct practice of temperance and self-control will naturally give birth to humility and gentleness.

When one practices temperance and self-control outwardly, in pharisaic fashion, without focusing on the inner life practice of the virtue, it will lead to harshness and pride, which are the opposite of gentleness and humility.

The Virtue of Humility in a Postmodern World
In this age of narcissism, the practice of humility is sorely needed.

First, make an active effort to recognize how dependant we really are on each other. If you are glad of your current condition in life, ponder on how other people helped you to get where you are, either directly or indirectly.

Our successes are usually a community effort. I'm sure if you think long enough of how you got to where you are, you will find many people to thank and recognize.

Second, whenever you find yourself in a position to volunteer, try to volunteer in the least desirable activity. Putting ourselves in a position we deem as 'unworthy' will help us fight that inner voice that insists on getting the best place in every situation. Practicing self-denial in a service of love toward others is a very effective way of practicing humility.

Third,  find an authentic authority that you are able to respect, and submit to it. In a society of self-made humans, this is probably the most controversial suggestion. To be under someone's authority seems oppressive and antiquated. It can bring to mind authoritarian nightmares.

But notice that I mention two criteria that must be met before submission to authority: one, an authority that is authentic, and not simply arbitrary. Two, an authority that inspires your respect.

If you are able to find an elder, spiritual director, or someone you respect and admire to take you under their wing, a person whom you trust and whom you know loves you, then being under their mentorship should be a great experience. Moreover, having this type of elder should help you grow in all areas, and more relevant to our topic, grow more humble.

This elder will not only help you grow in many virtues, including humility, but also help you in making obedience to God more a delight than a simple duty. This is perhaps the most important step, as I believe that the loss of eldership in the west has brought a lot of denigration to our culture.

What are other things that have helped you grow in humility?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The 7 Virtues for The Post-Modern World - Temperance!

Christ in the Wilderness by Stanley Spencer

Starting with this post, I will start a series on the 7 virtues! Exciting huh?

The seven virtues are hardly spoken of outside the walls of catechism. Perhaps they elicit in us horrid memories of old school nuns beating these virtues onto our bodies with human sized rulers. Perhaps they remind us of medieval, ascetical, and rigid spirituality.

But virtues matter. We shouldn't keep them in "medieval consciousness" boxes stored in our cultural attics. They should be unboxed, discovered, and be given a place in our 21st century homes.

As I will explore in these upcoming posts, these virtues are immensely necessary to our 21st century society. The postmodern world needs them more than ever. I will also offer practical ways to practice them in an urban context.

For today's post we will start with Temperance!

What is Temperance?
Temperance can be described as self-restraint or self control. It is connected with discipline. It evokes images of a moderate person who is not overrun by emotions and passions. Negatively, it can bring up images of a stoic individual who seems dry, joyless and lacking in emotional expressions.

True temperance, however, should bring joy. This negative aspect of the virtue is more connected with someone who practices temperance for temperance's sake, while forgetting the end goal of practicing virtues in general: theosis, or union with God.

Interestingly enough, temperance (and the practice of it) has a wide range of applications. We can practice temperance not only with material goods, but also with our emotions. We practice temperance, for example, when in anger we decide not to engage in violence but instead we practice non-violence and forgiveness.

With this example, we start seeing how temperance is hugely important in our modern world and its struggles towards social justice.

Temperance & The Holy Spirit
Temperance is also connected with the self-control, which is the last  fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:22-23.) I believe this list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is hierarchical, meaning that each fruit builds on top each other.

The apostle Paul lists self control at the bottom of the list, since it is not only the one we should start practicing with, but also the base where the Holy Spirit can build up the other gifts. It is for this reason that I wanted to start this series of the 7 virtues with Temperance.

The Virtue of Temperance for a Post-Modern World
There are many ways we can practice temperance in our urbanized world.

First, the practice of temperance encourages us to lead a simple life and to fight our senseless materialism that is sucking the precious resources of our earth. A study suggested that, if the rest of the world were to consume like Americans, we would need 4 planet earths!

Temperance, or self-control in materialism will help offset this senseless consumption of resources. It will teach us that we are not more entitled to these goods than people in other developing nations.

Secondly, temperance will help us in our struggle towards environmental justice. We practice self-control by making the sacrifices needed to reduce our carbon footprint. Like I've written in the past, the problem is not just the government, but we also bear a personal responsibility in destroying the environment.

Thirdly, temperance will also give us self-restrain in the things we do buy. We can practice it by paying attention to how our purchases affect the world around us and by showing self-restrain from buying goods that are probably cheaper, but they are built on maquilas or factories that are abusive to its workers, and even have child labor.

Since buying fair-trade goods is probably more expensive, this will require that we consume at a lower rate than we currently do. We will buy less things, but the ones we do will probably be of better quality. Sometimes less is more.

All of this, of course, require discipline. It is easier to go with the flow and simply buy what is convenient. It is easier to not think of what we are consuming instead of showing self-control by restraining our over-consumption.

In what other ways is temperance relevant in our post-modern world?

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Gift of Not Belonging

I know the feeling of not belonging.

As an immigrant from Nicaragua, I feel like I don't fully belong to this place I call home. Through the 13 years I've been in this country, however, I have adopted some of its values and cultures, while at the same time not abandoning fully my own Nicaraguan values and culture.

Because of this, I feel like I don't fully belong in Nicaragua anymore. My Spanish accent has changed and it is no longer fully Nicaraguan, for example. My newly adopted western values are sometimes in conflict with my Nicaraguan ones.

I am stuck in the middle of two cultures.

A Progressive, But Not A Liberal
But the feeling of not belonging doesn't stop there.

Politically, I feel I don't belong to any of the polarized political positions in this country. I don't feel fully comfortable belonging to either the Republican or Democratic party. I have strong disagreements with both.

In many ways I am a progressive. I feel my calling as a Christian is to see the perspective of the poor first, not because they are somehow more "deserving" (how can we talk of someone being deserving or not in a religion that stands on Grace?), but because the world puts them last.

Jesus hanged out with sinners and tax collectors. He hanged out with the poor. In my imitation of Christ, I want to do likewise. This is what makes me a progressive, even if I don't fully buy into the liberal agenda.

It is for this reason that I support raising the minimum wage to a livable minimum wage. This aligns with my conviction that people are more than what they do, and that in an economy that needs the janitor as much as they need the CEO, they should both be afforded a wage that can sustain them and their families with dignity.

It is for this reason that I want to call this nation to show more hospitality to immigrants. When Paul proclaims that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek (one of the racial and spiritual divisions of the time) he is leaving issues of nationalistic values as secondary to our call of seeing the other as our brother and sister.

The way the world mistreats the "other," the foreigner around the world, is heartbreaking. It seems to me that we value more our nationalistic identity than our call to love our neighbor. When Jesus responded to the Pharisees' question of, "who is my neighbor?" He responded with a parable that highlighted a Samaritan, the hated 'other' in that context.

Our neighbors are not only people of our own kind but the "other" our culture fears and despises. Even if we are disposed to not include the foreigner as our neighbor but more as our enemy, the command from Jesus to love our enemies still applies and calls us to love.

Love, for the Christian, is inescapable.

It is for this reason that I feel uncomfortable supporting most Republican candidates, because they (at the current choices) don't strike me as being welcoming to the immigrant. In fact, many of them want to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country whom they see as not belonging here.

Not Pro-Choice and yet Not Pro-Life
Let my clarify this. Ethically speaking, I am Pro-Life in the fullest sense of the word, but I can't join the Pro-Life movement as it currently is, with all the political entanglement of a particular party. This is what I mean by not being Pro-Life. I don't wish to be identified with the Pro-Life movement in the US.

I see being Pro-Life as a holistic call against a culture of death. For this reason, I can in no good conscience get behind pro-gun rights (I don't see an issue in using guns for hunting, but open carry? I have an issue with that).

I can't get behind a Pro-Life movement so entangled with a particular party that encourages cuts in the budget towards health and education but never speaks of cutting the budget towards the military and security.

If we are truly Pro-Life, then the fact that as a nation we engage in wars every 30 years or so should be disturbing. If we are truly Pro-Life, we should by definition abolish the death penalty. A political platform that condemns abortion but upholds other forms of 'righteous' killing may be more accurately described as Pro-Birth, but never Pro-Life.

This doesn't mean I am Pro-Choice. Better said, I am not Pro-Abortion. I can't deny that abortion deals with the ending of a life. This alone disturbs me. We can argue all we want whether a fetus is a human being or not, but it would be disingenuous to deny that the fetus is alive.

I know that as a man, my opinions on this subject necessarily take the backseat. I recognize that I will never have to go through the excruciating experience of deciding whether to have an abortion or not. I want to acknowledge that my perspective is severely limited because of this, and I truly don't know fully what I'm talking about, nor will I ever.

At the same time, one forms opinions on matters whether one wants to or not, and my value of life prevents me from fully supporting abortion. I understand it is not always a black-and-white issue. I understand that in many situations there are subtleties that deserve our attention. But at the end of the day, after an abortion is performed, a life is lost.

Any loss of life should always grieve us.

As you can see, for these and many other reasons, I cannot fit into any particular conservative or liberal box. I don't belong to any of them.

The Gift of Not Belonging
I can take these realities and declare "woe is me!" but I won't. I want to embrace this reality as a gift from God.

This gift of perspective allows me to see blind spots that are ubiquitous in any given culture. It allows me to see from two different cultural lenses, and acknowledge the pros and cons of each position while not fully fitting into those boxes myself.

Not only that, but maybe this sensation of not belonging is the call of the Christian. Jesus declares that we are in the world and yet not of the world. He also proclaims that His Kingdom is not of this world, and yet the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, present in this world.

I am disturbed, therefore, at seeing the Church in the US being so shaped by culture wars and ideologies of our society. I see a church that conforms more and more with the polarizing views of our national politics, whether they be conservative or liberal.

I see a Church that mirrors the political polarization of this nation, instead of the unity we are called to in Christ. If the Church is so divided not only theologically, but also culturally and politically, can we truly say that it is living fully in Christ?

When we choose a side and defend it against the other side, we enter into a cultural bubble. Ideas formed in these bubbles will slowly develop apart from the perspective of the other. As time passes in this polarized nature and ideas on both sides continue to develop independently from each other, we are driven further and further apart.

Divisions are so aggravated that when the two opposing groups get to share their ideas with each other they are both met with disgust and disbelief. Polarization is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. The two bubbles will grow in substantial size, and when they make contact with each other, they will burst into chaos.

Here is the thing: the Church is not called to be conservative or liberal. The Church is called to be Christ to the world. Christ did not belong to any particular party of His time. He was not a Pharisee. He was not a Sadducee. He was not a Zealot. He was not a Hellenistic Jew. Christ simply was and is.

I'm not saying that a Christian shouldn't belong to any particular party. What I am saying is that this belonging is only secondary to the call to belong to Christ. Belonging to a particular political party should never be seen as a prerequisite to belonging to Christ. To consider it otherwise would be pure idolatry. When we have denominations that identify first as either "traditional" or "affirming," and only secondly as Christ-centered, we have indeed allowed our faith to be shaped by our politics instead of the cross.

I believe that our root sin as a Church is nothing other than the idolatry of culture. Our call then, is not to be a conservative or a liberal Christ to the world. Our call is simply to be Christ to the world.

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