Many Waters, One God

Baptism of Christ, 1481-1483 - Pietro Perugino

Baptism of Christ, 1481-1483 – Pietro Perugino

Today’s readings:
Psalms 5; 145, Isaiah 40:12-24, Ephesians 1:1-14, Mark 1:1-13

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is present in all four Gospels as the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Scriptures don’t tell us conclusively whether Jesus himself baptized anyone, but his disciples certainly did. Baptism in water – and later in the Spirit – is an essential element of the Christian tradition.

Yet somehow it’s one more thing Christians can’t agree on. Many denominations practice infant baptism. Others practice a believer’s baptism only for people who are of age and confess to salvation in Christ. Both find Biblical support for their position. Some others, particularly among Evangelical and non-denominational churches, don’t require it. Methods vary from sprinkling to total immersion. Beliefs about baptism range from an absolute necessity for salvation to a symbolic act of publicly acknowledging one’s faith. Beliefs about re-baptism are all over the map.

This devotional isn’t about convincing anyone about the meaning of baptism … but perhaps we can use it as a model to examine how we might reframe contentious conversations. Some people try to convince us their understanding of baptism is correct because they just have to be right, but many – particularly on the side of baptism as an absolute necessity – are actually adamant about their position because of love. If you believed you could save someone from death or suffering by pointing out the speeding train, wouldn’t you? And if you believed the train someone pointed out was a false alarm, would you be angry at them for being wrong or would you appreciate their concern?

No one wants someone else’s beliefs forced on them, but is it possible we can become so eager to take offense and to assume intent that we perceive every expression of a different opinion as a point to be argued?

Whether we choose to hear “your soul is important to me” or “you’re going to hell” is often a decision (sometimes unconscious) that makes a difference in how we respond. We can say “I disagree” instead of “you’re wrong!” We can listen. And if we believe it’s a matter of life or death, our most convincing evidence may be how we love.

Comfort: Disagreement without disrespect can be real…

Challenge: … but we might have to be less defensive for it to happen.

Prayer: God of Love, where this is discord, may I sow peace. Amen.

Discussion: When has changing your attitude changed a conversation?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Why I Stopped Posting Political Memes


Meme by William Loring. Used with permission and encouragement.

Of course I have opinions on politics. They are many and they are strong. And like the opinions of most people, they are not in point-by-point synchronization with some monolithic party platform. They do not neatly fall to one side or the other of what is fast becoming a high and impenetrable wall on the border between Liberalstan and Conservatica. Partly because a) not every idea is at its core a partisan one no matter how hard we try to make it so, and b) thinking people realize the framework of any “-ism” gets increasingly bent and banged and in need of modification the more it is applied to actual living persons and events.

As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering backing away from any use of “liberal” or “conservative” to describe human beings as individuals or groups. Maybe ideas can be classified so, but the person who observes no exception to an ideology is hopefully as rare as I would like to believe. Tempted as I am to paint an entire population of voters with a broad red or blue brush, people I actually know don’t fit into those categories. Yet sadly, many of the same people who complain about being painted with that broad brush don’t see the hypocrisy in using it to paint “the opposition” with the enthusiasm of a majority shareholder in Sherwin Williams.

And that’s where the political memes come in. Once upon a time, in the heat of the last presidential election and slightly afterward, I found a certain satisfaction in sharing ones that seemed clever. Things changed. Maybe it was me; maybe it was the political conversation. I’m not naïve enough to think politics hasn’t always been ugly (and historically speaking even uglier than it is now). Until recently, however, bad ideas took a lot longer to travel. We couldn’t correspond instantly with everyone whose ideas we found offensive. Serious disagreement required effort and forethought. For that matter, so did agreement. I imagine Lincoln and Douglas could find a lot of common ground in being mutually horrified that days-long debate had been reduced to a couple hours of sound bites further reduced by commercial breaks. Twitter would have seemed like the apocalypse.


Political memes as we understand them aren’t actually meant to communicate. We may think they are because the original concept of a meme was an idea that spread like a virus, but that kind of meme wasn’t intentionally created. Just as viruses spontaneously occurring in nature have been engineered and weaponized, so has the meme. Political memes are meant to whip up the base, not to inform the uninformed. Sure they often pretend to address the snowflakes or the fascists, but that’s so the sharer of the meme can get a little thrill out of feeling like he or she is sticking it to the (largely stereotyped if not outright imagined) opposition. If you were actually out to persuade someone, would you start by insulting their intelligence?

And for those who aren’t bright enough to understand why, the correct answer is “no.”

See how that made you feel?


The virus comparison doesn’t stop with the rapid spread of memes. When we use our powers for good, viruses can be the source of life-saving vaccines. The political meme also inoculates us … but unfortunately the “disease” it protects us from is reason. See, to achieve reasonableness, we can’t just double-down on the ideas we already like. We have to weigh them against the ones that challenge us. Enough doses of the bad logic of political memes (we’ll get into that shortly) eventually trains us to think badly and call it smart. The (often poorly executed) “cleverness” of the political meme also reinforces the idea that sarcasm and irony are tools to be used by everyone. They’re not. Very few people can use them effectively as rhetorical devices.

Instead what we get most of the time is someone listening to a point of view not to fairly consider it, but to refute it in a way that gets in a zing. Doesn’t matter if said refutation actually makes sense, because it makes us feel briefly superior. And that’s what the memes are for: replacing reconciliation with the satisfaction of a cheap shot. Common ground is merely an obstacle.


To me, one of the most troubling aspects of political memes is how easily they encourage people to forego critical thinking. We don’t want to fact-check anything that reinforces our existing opinions. And even if the facts are correct, how often are they used logically?

One popular style of meme is posting photos or quotes side-by-side to illustrate an implied contrast. For example, showing one politician reacting charitably to a disaster while another is one the golf course at allegedly the same time. Or maybe one person’s best words against another person’s worst. Photos and quotes have context, and in the digital age they are in infinite supply. Anyone can look bad or good for the split-second it takes to be exposed to a camera. Unrelated images and quotes tell us exactly nothing, but we’re willing to project a lot onto them.

Closely related is the meme that forgets we can do two things at the same time. Support good police officers and check bad ones?  Both things can – and should! – happen. Yet any critique of unnecessary police violence must mean you hate law enforcement, and any expression of support for law enforcement must make you a racist. At least according to the poor logic of political memes. Neither stance should be a partisan issue, but too often we express one as reaction and negation to the other because we equate challenging viewpoints with censorship and react disproportionately. Kids, we improve when we think critically about our own positions, not when we start shouting about who’s rubber and who’s glue.

Then there’s good old Double Standard, and its second cousin Whatabout. Notice how people’s definition of “too much time on the golf course” tends to change with the party of the president? Or for what the first lady wears? Or moral lapses? And when people criticize us for letting Double Standard sidle up to the table, we invite Whatabout for reinforcement. He’s really distracting, constantly yelling about how your guy (or gal) did the same or something worse. We don’t let our kids get away with two wrongs making a right, but we let our politicians slide if they’re on our team. How about this idea: both of them can be wrong, or maybe the offense wasn’t really an offense at all. Hypocrisy is the oxygen feeding the flames of illogic.

Finally we have the presumed offense. In politics, for every action there seems to be an equal and opposite preaction. What’s that mean? Think about school shootings. Anymore after one happens, the memes start flying about what we presume the other side is saying. We don’t even wait for them to actually say it. Fortunately for us, this puts them into the position of either confirming our preconceptions (if one is right mustn’t they all be right?) or defending their position. We win either way without ever having to actually engage people of different viewpoints. Almost anything that looks like policy debate on television is merely the preaction reaction. And what happens on Facebook should stay in Vegas.

Only when we return to logical thinking, instead of defensive memery and one-upsmanship, can we hope to actually communicate instead of shouting over each other. The danger of memes isn’t just the momentary reaction as we scroll by them on our timeline, it’s how they retrain us to see each other as opponents instead of companions.


At this point some readers will undoubtedly think I’m telling them to stop posting political memes. Nope. I’m telling you why I did. If you assume expressing my opinion means I’m telling you what to do, please re-read the previous section. That’s part of the big problem: the breakdown of logic has taught us to hear an argument or an opinion as a threat to our own freedom. “Snowflakes” come in red, white and blue. I am darkly amused when someone who posts about how people are too easily offended by mere words … then get offended by different words. Everyone is offended by something. The trick is not to justify your offense while minimizing someone else’s. Do that enough, and you’ll handle offense like an adult.


So why write about all this on a Christian blog anyway?

Nobody keeps their politics and their faith (or at least their moral beliefs) separate. If we think we do … Surprise! We’ve put faith second.

But if we put faith first, specifically faith in Christ, we are committed to being humble voices of reconciliation and justice. Humble voices often don’t feel like they’re accomplishing much. One at a time, maybe they aren’t.  So we need to stick together and see Christ in each other and be Christ to each other. That means offering dignity and peace even when – especially when – it costs us. Peacemaking is a slow, relentless business. It requires listening more than speaking. Giving more than defending.

Humility isn’t fun. Tribalism and smugness are fun. Terrible, but fun.

Love your enemy. Don’t mock them. Don’t belittle them. Don’t make sport of their feelings and well-being. Love them.

If you can do that in a meme, let’s hope it goes viral.

Peace to you.

The Sword and the Word


Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Jeremiah 38:1-13, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Matthew 10:34-42

Some Biblical passages are challenging to understand. Not because of difficult language, but because of difficult ideas. And which ideas seem difficult vary from person to person. For me, today’s passage from Matthew has always been tough:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

How do we reconcile the blessed peacemakers of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 with the sword and household strife in Matthew 10?

Is it a literal sword? That depends on who you ask. This passage has been used to justify taking up arms. But if we look at the physical use of swords by Christ and his disciples in the gospels, including the time he tells them to sell their cloaks to buy swords, he never encourages using them and chastises the disciple who strikes with one to defend him.

This divisive sword, this render of home and family, seems more akin to the metaphorical eyes we are to pluck out to avoid sin. But what does it represent?

I believe that, under the right circumstances, love and forgiveness can be perceived as a threat and, yes, even a weapon. Not everyone is willing to get on board with the radical call to sacrifice – both material and spiritual – that is part of discipleship. Not everyone wants to forgive. Maybe they simply don’t agree with the whole philosophy behind it. Maybe they don’t like having a mirror held up to their lives. Maybe they’ve been so abused by twisted religion that they can no longer associate Christ with anything good.  Whatever the reason, standing firm in our beliefs has the potential to alienate even the closest family members – to sever bonds, however regretfully, like a sword. And like any true swordsman, once we’ve unsheathed it, we must be prepared to follow through.

And there’s the Christian paradox. Christ asks us to wield a metaphorical sword which creates real-world enemies … even as he commands us to love those enemies and do good to those who persecute us. We don’t seek to create strife, but it will happen. And we are to respond to it with a love and humility that seemingly gives our foes all the advantages. For if we abandon love, we have surrendered everything.

Christ’s teachings divided his people against themselves and against him, and he forgave while he looked down on his foes from the cross. Surely we can make peace across a dinner table.

Comfort: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Challenge: Just because someone rejects you doesn’t mean you must reject them.

Prayer: Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. (Psalm 27:9-10)

Discussion: Have you ever been at odds with friends or family over your faith?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Who gives the growth?


The Sermon on the Mount, Sebastiano Ricci

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, 1 Kings 22:29-45, 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15, Matthew 5:1-10

One of the challenges of resolving petty disagreements is we disagree on what’s petty. What seems like a harmless, off-the-cuff remark to me may feel like a biting comment to you. What seems like a minor annoyance to you may legitimately irritate me to tears. If we come from different parts of the world, something as simple as ordering five hot dogs with a palm facing outward instead of inward might be the insult that sets the lifelong tone of our relationship.

Paul knew petty squabbles could tear apart the early church. When the faithful in Corinth began to divide along lines of who had been converted by Paul and who by Apollos, he knew he needed to push them back together. He told the church that he had planted the seed of faith and Apollos had watered it, but both were only servants of God – the source of the seed and the actual growth.

After a couple thousand years of growth, we are still responsible for tending it, and sometimes we still need to be reminded we are not its source. The nature of the God we serve is deeper and more vast than we can possibly comprehend individually or collectively. Paul describes his role as the builder of a solid foundation upon which many others will build. Everything that people add to that foundation will eventually be tested, and what is not worthy will burn away.

Are we focused on adding things that will endure?

The church has outlasted bad doctrine, power struggles waged on a global scale and in the choir loft, corruption, and schism. What endures? The peacemaking. The mercy. The meek and poor in spirit. Those things, as Jesus preached in the Beatitudes, which are not about leaving our own bold though impermanent mark like graffiti across the face of the foundation, but about serving God by serving others.

We will, accidentally and intentionally, hurt each other. It is in the extending and accepting of olive branches – specifically when we would rather not – that we water and tend the growth. Better to set one small stone of mercy wisely and firmly in place than a great boulder which crumbles because we’ve carved our name too deeply into it.

Comfort: Even if only in a small way, you are adding to the foundation.

Challenge: Think about what you are adding and whether it serves you or God.

Prayer: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3)

Discussion: Has God ever used you or someone you know to turn a petty squabble into a moment of grace?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Killing Blows


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, 1 Samuel 24:1-22, Acts 13:44-52, Mark 4:1-20

David and his men were hiding in a cave when Saul, taking a break from his murderous pursuit to relieve himself, entered the cave and left himself vulnerable to attack. Despite the urging of his men and the weight of prophecy (“I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you”), David spared Saul’s life and instead cut off a corner of his cloak. Then David used the corner as evidence that he could have killed Saul, but meant him no harm. Saul repented (for a while).

If we want to be peacemakers, we have to resist the temptation of using a killing blow just because the opportunity has presented itself. We may not be pursued by a mad king, but many people who view us as enemies – whether it’s in politics, religion, social circles, or business – do so because they misunderstand us. And we do the same. Some enemies are unavoidable, but many are created in our own minds. In many situations, such misunderstanding is more assumption than fact. When that’s the case, our best chance of de-escalating hostilities may be laying down our arms.

Have you ever had an argument with someone you loved, or maybe a co-worker, and said something you wish you hadn’t? An emotional killing blow that hurt them in ways you couldn’t fix? We do that because in the heat of the moment it promises to help us win … though the resulting prize is a damaged – sometimes broken – relationship. We do that because in our anger or fear we assume they seek to emotionally destroy us, and we want to get there first. It is a feedback loop of regret.

Like Saul, we can ruin our reputation, relationships, and legacy overreacting to mostly imaginary enemies. Better to be like David who, in the face of actual danger, sought understanding more than victory, and offered humility rather than defensiveness. Even when we are in the right, we should ask ourselves whether our goal is to annihilate our enemies or to make peace with them.

Additional Reading:
Read more about today’s passage from Acts in Shaking the Dust.
For additional thoughts on Mark, see Fertile Ground and Seeds of Faith.

Comfort: Misunderstandings can be cleared up.

Challenge: Sometimes you have to be the first to offer an olive branch, even if you’re not in the wrong.

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to recognize my enemies, and to love them. Amen.

Discussion: Are you someone who has to have the last word?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!