The Battle for Privilege

I was tempted to write something about the dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was relieved of his duties as my hometown’s top fire fighter due to (ironically) incendiary comments he made in a self-published book. Here in the South, religion and politics make for combustible bedfellows, and it’s easy to rattle off a knee-jerk reaction to stories similar to this one.

Many Christians are up in arms over Cochran’s firing. They’re calling it persecution, a violation of the First Amendment, a violation of his civil rights (which, here in the home of the Civil Rights movement, is a big deal).

Other folks are up in arms over Cochran’s statements. They’re saying his words created a hostile work environment, were effectively creating a religious power structure, were diminishing to the homosexual community (which, here in the “excellent epicenter of the LGBT South, is a big deal).

I can see both sides of the issue. And what’s at stake is neither free speech nor religious liberty nor LGBT rights nor a safe work place.

What’s at stake is privilege. Namely, who gets it.

Christians want to be able to say what they want without fear of reprisal, even when how they say things invites angry response.

The community of tolerance wants to be accepted without demonization, though they often caricature people who don’t buy into their view of tolerance.

Both groups are fighting for the same thing, and it’s not just principle: it’s the privilege to exercise their principle with relative impunity. Our society loves underdogs, but it gives power to the overlords. Right now it’s an all-out battle to decide just which group gets to hold power.

It’s sad, really. Both sides are screaming at one another to be accepted, to be heard, to be understood. Both sides say they want to live at peace. But neither side is willing to give up the press for privilege, because it delivers too many benefits, too much power, too much ease. To live at peace with one another would require struggle, sacrifice, a persistent willingness to work through issues as they arise. It requires walking with one another.

But too many folks want to walk over one another.

So the Battle for Privilege rages on…

Independence Everyday


This made me laugh.

Today is the Fourth of July, the annual day when America stops to celebrate itself. And we’ve much to celebrate – one of the youngest and yet most influential nations on the planet, we are pretty much the geopolitical equivalent of the Millennials: we came into the game early, believed we belonged, proved ourselves despite some mistakes, and now we’re sitting in the catbird seat wondering, “What next?”

It’s been a rollicking ride, to say the least. I’m no historian, but we’ve undergone quite the transformation. Once a backwater repository for people who didn’t want to be picked on anymore, we’re now the Ritz-Carlton of refugees. For nearly three centuries we’ve been the rewrite of Shangri-La; our national anthem might as well be New York, New York  because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And yet we find ourselves at a crossroads. Things have changed. We still believe certain things are true about our country, but we are also increasingly aware that the nation we live in isn’t built entirely on sunshine and big brass ones.

If America were a shiny Jeep Liberty (cause, really – what else would we be?), then we’d have to admit there’s a good bit of dirt on the undercarriage. The same is true of almost any nation.

But we feel it more than most, I think. Our mythology has always been that we were the nation that wasn’t a carbon-copy of the despotic and tyrannical days of yore; we were the nation that gave rise to the voice of the people, the nation that proved that power was not best when concentrated in the hands of a few. We stop and celebrate our independence every July 4th, we sing the song for the people, by the people, of the people, but the reality is that we have drifted far, far away from that narrative.

And it bugs us.

Some folks break out the tea bags and stockpile the ammo, waiting for the day that history repeats itself. Others push for reforms that will never come. Some just embrace it as the manifest destiny of all nations – that at some point the safety and security of all we’ve become is paramount over the rights and liberties that made us what we are. Others adopt that most modern American of attitudes: “Dude, as long as I still get wifi, who cares?”

Two hundred and thirty seven years after we told the British Empire to step off, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to be American.

And maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe the most daring of political experiments should never come to a tidy conclusion, where certain ideas and beliefs become ruts that trap us. Maybe it’s right that we continue wrestling with the soul of our nation in order not to fall into the trap of other former powers who lost their souls and then lost themselves. Maybe our greatest gift to ourselves is the permanence of uncertainty, that we rise and fall on our ability as a nation to never settle on a “right way”.

It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if our stability as a nation rested on our instability as a culture?

I’m not a fan of everything that’s changed about our country. I look back on previous generations and lament the loss of certain of their characteristics in this day and age. But I’m also quite pleased that we now have a country where you can’t own another person legally, you can’t get away with abuse in private, and you can’t claim superiority to another person simply because you were born into privilege. Yeah, we’ve lost a lot of who we used to be, but you know what? A bunch of it needed to be lost.

That’s what makes us America – we’re constantly examining who we are in order to become who we want to be.

There will always be people who deny this, of course. They’ll insist that what makes us great is what made us great in the past, those values and behaviors that gave rise to power and prestige on the world stage. But if you look at the thread weaving our history together, if you look at the central characteristic of the American story, you see that it’s always been our propensity for change that’s made us great. We are a nation built on thrown off ideals.

Our independence is what defines us, for better or worse. Usually for the better.

So today as Americans, wherever you may be, celebrate the country that gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Celebrate the nation that believes at its core to be human is to change. Light a firework or fifty in honor of our independence, not just from Britain, but from the shackles of history; not just 237 years ago, but everyday.

Happy Fourth of July, America. Hope it’s a good one.

Pray for Mark Allen

Some of y’all who read this blog know who Mark Allen is. Some of you have no idea. This should get you caught up to speed.

Mark has been hospitalized recently, and though he’s doing better, he could still use your prayers. This weekend, his wife Shannon had planned a retirement party for him – he is officially retired from service in the Army – but those plans are on hold until he can get well.

If you lift up the occasional line to God, mention Mark and Shannon and Journey and Cody as you do. They are good folks who’ve given much for our freedom. With July 4th just around the corner, we can give them at least a few prayers in return.

The Lure of Small Gods

“When your god is small, you can still be the biggest thing in your world.”

I heard that on Sunday. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Small god. Small God. It’s a fascinating thought.

I can’t get it out of my head.

See, I know people who worship the small God, the God that is more concerned about rules and uniformity than about redemption and transformation. The small God doesn’t change you; he gives you rules and demands that you change. The small God doesn’t disciple you; he disciplines you for committing errors you didn’t know you’d committed. The small God doesn’t love you; he demands you love him.

The small God is not the true God.

Even now, there are people who are reading this and going ballistic. They hear words like love, redemption, transformation, rules, discipline, and they hear something very different from me. I am teetering on the edge of heresy by suggesting that God is not concerned primarily with rules and discipline and order and obedience. I’m leading people down a wrong path, a path of easy-believism.

The reality is the opposite. Easy-believism is when you tell people that if they’ll live their lives a certain way, according to to certain code, then God will make everything work out, and if it doesn’t, then it’s their fault for not living right. Easy-believism says that everyone else is wrong and you’re right, so there’s no need to have a conversation. Easy-believism says that only people who live by certain rules truly get God.

True belief is hard. It’s challenging. There are black and white areas to be sure, but there’s also a lot of gray. And it’s in that gray that a person is forced to lean into God, to dig into the word, to search Him out for answers. It’s in that gray that a person finds themselves being transformed. It’s in that gray that a person discovers that the small God is pathetic and mean and not to much different than a petty human being; that if God exists, He must by definition be something more than we can create on our own.

And that’s why the quote above resonated with me so much: people who worship the small God want to be bigger themselves. They want to be able to say that they are special, they are unique, they are gifted or holy or any other adjective that places emphasis on them and their ability to be blessed by the small God.

Maybe that’s the tell: if your God exalts you for following him, you’re worshiping the small God.

Because the big God, the real God, the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, isn’t concerned about you being exalted through Him. He wants to be exalted through you. And He does that not by piling the rules on you to the point of suffocation, but by freeing you up to be who He created you to be. He is exalted most when you live a life fully free in Him.

I get scared writing stuff like this. I get scared pushing against the small Gods out there, the gods of abusers and bullies who use religion as a weapon to secure their own power. I get scared because I know those types of people don’t like being called out, don’t abide people who stand up to their scare tactics. I get scared because I know people who live that way, and I don’t wish them any harm or want to hurt them. I get scared because I don’t want to become like that myself.

More and more, though, I find that this is something I want to write. That I feel driven to write on. More and more I feel like I need to say something that presses back against the small Gods so the people who wonder if there’s something more can know the truth: there is.

And He’s so much more than you’ve been lead to believe. Or dared to dream.

Don’t settle for a small God. Don’t settle for a world where, by simply following rules you become the biggest thing. Don’t settle for anything other than the one true God.


Certain topics wind there way into your brain and have a way of camping out there. I was able to preach this past Sunday at my church, and given that the Fourth is this week, our theme for the day was freedom. I sat down to study freedom in both a biblical and cultural context, and came away with a some new perspective on the idea.

I want to share those thoughts with you today. To some this will be a screed, a pointed opinion piece that skews one direction or another. That’s true. But I hope, as always, that those who read it will consider not just the presentation, but the points. Thus, to make the blog a manageable read, I’ve focused solely on my comments as they apply to our cultural context.

Just last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling affirming the PPACA, otherwise known as the Healthcare Reform act. Though the issued ruled ran 183 pages in length, the over-simplification is this: the Healthcare Reform that has caused no small amount of angst and discussion is legal.

Predictably, the ruling lead to immediate backlash. Posts on Facebook and Twitter were especially indignant, with many people comparing the ruling to a sudden shift towards communism. Or as one of my friends put it, “The U S of A is now the USSR.” Other folks were more pragmatic in their responses – “Let’s get out and vote and restore this country!” – while others were simply angry for anger’s sake.

Such is the state of the nation. But beneath all the rhetoric, beneath the hyperbole and anger and fear, lies something primeval. In fact, it’s so basic to human nature that it predates the rise of civilization. And it’s something that we have granted divine right here in the States, elevating it to the one thing we cherish above all others.


In a world where the mention of the word evokes images of a blue-faced Mel Gibson screaming in a Scottish accent, what does freedom really mean? Here in the US, we understand it to be an inalienable right, an ideal that is preserved and protected for every individual at all costs. We see it as the ability to live without restrictions, to achieve the unlimited potential of our imaginations. It gets expression in everything from the size of our bank account to the gender of the person we want to marry, and the current ethos of the culture says that no one, not God, not government, has the authority to curtail it.

That attitude is patently – and painfully – false.

Freedom has its limitations. There are boundaries that are not to be crossed in order for a free society to exist. Here in the United States we call it the Constitution, and while the intention and interpretation of that document may be the source of endless debate, what cannot be argued is that establishes a framework for the freedom we so cherish.

It establishes limits. To personal actions. To governmental actions. The Constitution of the United States of America says, in effect, these are the mutually agreed upon conditions of our society, intended to give the maximum number of people the maximum amount of freedom as a whole. It does not allow us carte blanche; it does not grant each individual the right to do as his or her heart may desire; it says that certain actions will be declared unlawful so the majority may be otherwise free.

Once upon a time, this was the ethos of our country. That we would willingly curtail the extent of our personal freedoms in order to secure freedom for the many. But that has changed. In a post-9/11 world, more and more people are resentful of the idea that any personal liberty should be sacrificed for the greater good. And our government has often stepped far beyond the historical boundaries of their power and done things that have been, at best, intrusive, all in the name of freedom.

But the cultural shift preceeded even that.

In fact, the shift away from acceptable limitations on freedom is reflected in a shift away from responsibility for freedom. The limits that our forefathers framed within the founding document were built upon the citizenry accepting their responsibility for maintaining those freedoms. Whether you read the Constitution narrow or wide, the language of mutual responsibility for the existence of our country is inescapable. And yet, we have a great many who would seek to shirk those responsibilities in the name of freedom.

Part of it comes back to the American dream; my entire life I was taught that the first third of my existence was intended for the accumulation of knowledge and experience; my second third was intended for applying that knowledge and experience in some sort of venture that would secure my financial future; and that the final third of my existence was intended for me to do whatever the heck I wanted to do.

No limits. No responsibilities. No one to tell me otherwise.

So if our life is meant to culminate with the ability to transcend rules or expectations or responsibilities, why wait? If the system is so broken, if politics and government and citizenship is so pointless, why participate? Why vote? Why care?

But the problem is that freedom requires someone to care, to work, to tend to the responsibilities that make the very notion of our country possible. Freedom requires that someone bear the cost; and we need to come face to face with the reality that while we are fighting for our right to do as we please, somewhere on this rock we call home a man or woman is standing guard in full-body armor and a 70-pound pack, carrying a AR-15 fighting for our right to exist as a nation.

Freedom has its consequences. It has its costs. Some are higher than others.

It’s a price that history has shown us is worth it.

I won’t make a grand pronouncement about our nation being at a crossroads, but we do find ourselves in a unique place where our understanding of what freedom really is will define how that freedom works. As we come to the 4th and celebrate our nation’s birth, let us reflect on its past and consider its future – and may we do so with all seriousness.