Did you hear? I am going to be Court Marshaled.

8 05 2013

Well, that is what some news sources said.  As is often the case, reality is far less exciting.  For those who missed it, the report stated the military would court martial Christians who shared their faith.  That is not going to happen.  The truth is the military supports religious freedom.  The only thing that is prohibited is for someone to use their position to force others to follow their beliefs or use methods considered coercive or disrespectful and disruptive.

When we deploy we live in confined spaces and spend 24 hours a day for months with each other.  We will spend long hours on watch or patrol.  A wide range of conversations happen including many on faith.  99% of the time they are good conversations and help pass the time.  When lines are crossed, appropriate actions are taken.  Bottom line, as a Navy Chaplain, I have felt free to express my faith and hold firm to my beliefs.  I also have a responsibility to ensure everyone has religious freedom.  The moment I say another group cannot practice their faith is the moment others can tell me I cannot practice my faith.

In the United States we are struggling with how to talk about faith.  There are those who would like to see us become a completely secular society in which faith is strictly personal and not allowed in the public square.

This is understandable.  The world is more complex today.  We have access to information like never before.  We can experience a wide range of cultures and world travel is easier than ever.  We often find ourselves with people who have very different beliefs.  The easy answer is to ignore those different beliefs and play it safe by only talking about “secular” items to avoid offending anyone.  That thinking over simplifies the world and actually robs the quality of the relationships we could have and the culture we could experience if we acknowledged our differences.

Additionally, to say faith is simply a personal matter is to ignore the role faith plays in a religious person’s life.  My faith impacts my morality and my understanding of how to treat people.  It is impossible to make it personal.  It is who I am and I am not unique.  The average person of faith understands that our faith shapes us and naturally spills out into our public lives.

Another danger I see is to make everything a result of biology.  Whether it is love or ethics, we try to explain everything down to how we evolved instead of looking at the complexity of life.  Does biology play a role?  Of course but it plays one role of many.  I will take some of the things I have heard and take them to their extreme.  This Sunday for Mother’s Day, children tell your moms that you have genetically evolved to care about the person who was your primary care giver in infancy and moms feel free to tell your children the reason you love them is due to your biological composition and with evolution you may or may not maintain your love for them in the future.  I think it is safe to say that would not be the way to make Sunday a special day.

What makes the Untied States great is freedom.  Whether that is freedom of speech or freedom of religion, we flourish when we are free to believe and bring those beliefs to the market place of ideas.  Ideas that are poorly thought out or are not founded on solid ground naturally a marginalized and minimized.  Ideas that are well thought out or are built on a solid foundation have to be engaged.  Will we agree?  I hope not.  I become stronger and sharper when my beliefs are challenged.  I am forced to truly look at what I believe and why I believe it.

I have great confidence that Christianity has deep roots.  We have a rich tradition built on the foundation which is Jesus Christ.  We add richness and beauty to the mosaic of our country.

For those who want only a secular world, I encourage you to be careful that you do not simplify this complex and wonderful world.  There is more than meets the eye.  Maybe instead of trying to court marital me, we could get some coffee.

It is easier to be a slave than to be free

26 01 2012

I hope my title caught your interest.  How could it be easier to be a slave than to be free?  I have to offer a disclaimer.  Thankfully, it is safe to say that those able to read this are not physically in slavery.  So my focus is on slavery that we slip into.  I heard a speaker say one of the harshest forms of slavery is to be a slave to our own passions.  When we are controlled by things such as lust, greed or anger, they become fierce task masters.  They control and dominate us.  We become their slave.  I know you are thinking, “But I thought you said slavery was easier!”  Yes, I did.  So, let’s look at this together.

The idea came as I was praying and reading during my own devotional time.  I am currently reading through Exodus.  It is amazing to see how the people continued to look fondly at slavery and wish they could go back to being slaves each time they experienced a hardship.  This was in spite of seeing God do one amazing act after another.  While it would be great to pick on them, I see the same tendency in my own life when things get hard.  I want to go back to being a slave.

I think I see why.  What struck me was slavery removes two huge words from my vocabulary: ownership and responsibility.  If I am free then I can take ownership of the situation or circumstances.  Let’s take the example of anger.  If I am a slave to my anger then it was outside of my control and the circumstance or the other person is to blame.  They should have known better.  If I am free then I own my response to my circumstance.  I own the actions I took in responding to the other person.  This naturally leads to responsibility.  I have to take responsibility for my actions and I have figure out how to manage my anger instead of simply being a slave to it.  Taking responsibility means that I both acknowledge the need for change and, because I am free, I take the steps to change.

Imagine if the Israelites embraced their freedom.  They would have realized they needed to be part of the solution as each challenge came up.  They would have taken responsibility for their part and wanted to work with Moses and God to find a solution.  They would have come to God as free people looking for God’s guidance and direction ready to take ownership as they needed.  They would have become partners with God and Moses.

Galatians 5:1 Paul says:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul wrote this because people had slipped into another form of slavery, legalism.  We have to be honest.  It is nice not to have to take ownership and responsibility for our lives and the things that go on around us.

My hope is that if something has you in slavery, it is eating at the back of your mind.  You know you have to take ownership and responsibility but you are honest that it would be easier to stay a slave.  What do we do?  I think the secret is with God and Moses.

First, we have to look to God and trust God.  We have to really believe that God is a better master than what we are slaves to.  God invites us to freely submit to him.  God wants us to live free and rely on him.  This means finding out what God’s standard and expectations are.  Second, we need each other.  Moses continued to point people in the right direction.  We need people we trust who will point us in the right direction and hold us accountable.  A sign a person is being like Moses is that they are looking to God and they have our best interest at heart.  I will boldly say we need both.  God works through people.  God used people to write the Bible and God continues to use people to be a part of his work in our lives.  When we trust both God and others the result is freedom.  Is it hard? Yes.  Is it worth it?  You better believe it!

I invite you to look at your life and see if you find yourself in slavery.  It may be an attitude, a bad habit, or even an unhealthy relationship.  Honestly evaluate what ownership and responsibility would look like.  Look to God and others who can help you become free.  It will be hard and there will be struggles.  Depending on how big the issue is, there may even be times when you will want to go back to being a slave.  Stick it out and work through it.  In the end you will experience freedom.  It will be truly worth it.