Confession of a Christian in the United States

Flickr photo: smokingloon

Originally posted on 01.24.13 on

As I scanned my newsfeed this morning, I had another one of those, “No duh, Bruce.” moments.

Yes, I am a Christian.

Yes, I am a citizen of the United States of America.

As a Christian — I believe that we must love and serve one another: the stranger, the enemy, the prisoner, the poor, the outcast, the hungry and the oppressed. And while often falling short, I strive to live this daily – even to the detriment of my own wealth, comfort and station.

As a US Citizen — I believe that each of us has been “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” – even if this belief gives people the right to make choices that are not always in their best interest.

Add this one in the “easy to say, hard to do” file.

Reading story after opinion after post, each tackling important questions around mental health, war, immigration, gun control, abortion, marriage equality or healthcare, I was again reminded that I must hold in tension the commitment to live my Christian faith with the responsibility of being a citizen of the United States of America.

Like I said, “No duh, Bruce.”

This is not a comfortable or simple tension to hold and it would be much much much easier to compartmentalize my world pretending as if the two are always in state of blissful alignment and never in direct conflict. But with our country’s ideologically discourse seemingly at a constant boil, as we debate such complex and passionate issues, it is never a bad idea to remind myself – Bruce, you are first a citizen of the Body of Christ and then a citizen of the United States of America.

When such difficult questions before us as a country, I must constantly commit to being a Christian who happens to be an American and not the other way around. For if I confuse the two, my independent American sensibilities and the pursuit of my own individual rights will too often result in just the opposite being inflicted up those whom my Christian faith calls me to love and serve. If my citizenship trumps my faith, the pursuit of my own life, liberty and happiness will lead directly and indirectly to the death, oppression and despair for the stranger, the enemy, the prisoner, the poor, the outcast, the hungry and the oppressed.

Does this mean that I want the United States to become a theocracy governed by a less than unanimous understanding of the Christian faith, of course not. And are there times when my faith and citizenship align, sure.  The big takeaway for this Christian, who cherishes the opportunities to dialogue about the politics and policies of our country, is that I must be open to solutions to complex issues that might indeed infringe upon my own independence and personal gain so others may thrive. For in the end, our life does not belong to the United States of America, in life and in death, we belong to God.

Woe to me if I confuse the two.

The Courage to Blog About Personal Struggles

[Photo By Ian Sane]

A few weeks ago, there was an a slight uproar in the football world. In response to the suicide of Junior Saeu and NFL concussion controversies some ex-NFL stars began sharing that they would prefer that their kids not play football. Now blogging is nowhere near as physically damaging to ones body as football, but I do know that there are emotional risks to putting oneself out there. There are blog trolls seeking their next target, others see it as their job to “keep and eye” on particular people and still others are just mean-spirited and abrasive.

I am not sure that I want my kids to blog . . . or keep blogging as the case may be.

Even knowing that 99% of interactions are positive, if you have ever been on the receiving end of caustic comments, they can sting and wear you down. After a while, you learn how to go with the flow, to not take comments personally, to reflect when necessary and to keep sharing your message. Now being able to hold this posture is one thing when blogging about politics, race or religion, but when one REALLY puts personal stuff out on display, that is quite another.

In comparison to some of my blogging friends, I share much more about myself that is personal. I share about my journey of call, the adventures of my family and my opinion about all things political, cultural and religious. I do this in the hopes that people get to know me, not as a one-dimensional characature, but as a complex person: a dad, a pastor, an Oakland A’s fan, a Philz Coffee addict and so on and so on and so on. But there are certainly things that I do not share. Sharing some parts of my life might compromise my family’s privacy, other experiences are not my stories to share and other things in life . . . I simply don’t have the courage to share with my larger reading community.

So when people share their struggles in life as part of their journey towards healing, I am always impressed. Some share out of a deep place of healing, others share as part of a process of moving towards healing and still others share as a cathartic release of emotions and thoughts. When people share their stories out of a place of genuine humanity, it is holy. It is also a privilege to be let into their lives in some small way.

This week I have been inspired by a few folks who have reminded me of the courage to publicly share struggles, not only for their own healing, but for the healing of others. Their words are powerful.

The first person was Erin Jerri Malonzo Pangilinan, who I have known via online interactions for a while. I am actually not sure if/when we have ever met in person, but we share some common passions around politics, race and justice. I stumbled upon her 8 Asians post, Breaking The Silence: Vagina Monologues and Domestic Violence.

Domestic violence is often portrayed only as physical violence, but violence comes in forms that aren’t always visible. I had emotional wounds after staying in emotionally abusive, unhealthy, unequal, and co-dependent relationship for years. When you constantly compromise yourself, it’s easy to stay stuck in a viscous cycle. [Read on…]

You should follow Erin on Twitter. Thanks Erin.

For a while know, my friend Deborah Matthews has been sharing with and leaning on her online community though sharing on her blog, Suddenly Bipolar: My Journey through Darkness to Wholeness. Deborah, a Presbyterian Pastor, has shared the impact of her bipolar disorder on all aspects of her life, she has leaned on her online community during times of struggle and has kept us aware of what is going on so folks can keep connected. She has invited us in as part of her healing and I, for one am grateful.

Recently she has begun giving away the books from her pastoral library and posted about the experience of giving away her last books:

For the rest of the day the grief consumed me, the emptiness opening into a deep crevasse, ice walls on each side spreading into my heart. I don’t have anything to replace what those books represented – 18 years of investment in one way of life, one life plan, one calling and vocation. I know something will show up eventually, yet day by day I search for something to rely upon just to make it through that day. One day at a time. [Read on…]

I would also encourage you to read her insightful post about why she blogs about bipolar disorder. And yes, you can follow Deborah on Twitter too. Thanks Deborah.

I was just introduced to the blog Mama Deak Speaks, written by Anne Deak. A new blogger, her reason for writing: “Inspired by my mother-in-law, father and sister and reeling from the loss of my husband to colon cancer I decided to jump in with both feet and start writing. Let’s see how this goes.” Not only does she write about the in-between celebrations of life, but she writes about some of the hardest parts of living after the loss of her husband.

In this post she reflects on the “So when are you having another?” question that comes so often as she raises her young son, Domani.

It’s a well meaning question and if my circumstances were different I would be more than happy to gush about how I would love to have another and how Domani would be a great big brother and how we are just waiting for the timing to be right. But there’s no ‘we’ and I’m in a very different place now than where I was just last year when I would have answered that way. Joe and I talked about having more kids. Even while he was sick we talked about it. Joe had stared amazed with me at that first ultrasound. He carefully picked our son’s name. His eyes filled up with tears when Domani was born. And every moment from then on we enjoyed our son, our hope for tomorrow. [Read on…]

Be sure to follow Anne on Twitter. Thanks Anne.

The final example that I will share with you is my baby sister, Lauren, as she shares about her recent struggles and bipolar diagnosis. Lauren is much like me, some think we over-share online, but it is and has been part of our personality to put ourselves out there, so I am not surprised that she has started sharing her story on her blog, Dearest Daughters.

Here is her post that shares the for the first time with extended family and friends about her diagnosis.

But, I knew I was crazy. I knew I wasn’t myself. That something else was in control, something that I couldn’t fight alone, something bigger than me, something caused by more than just a stressful vacation or baby blues or an intense five years of marriage and back-to-back child-bearing.

So, for now, I find comfort in my diagnosis. It’s like a doh!-hand-to-forehead-epiphany moment. So, that’s what you were doing all this time? You, Silly Brain, you! [Read on…]

When I asked Lauren if I could share her story more widely, her response was, “Yup. I put it on the Internet after all . . . I don’t mind, the point is transparency, honesty and support and de-stigmatization!” That’s my sister. While reading her post tears at my heart, I am also buoyed by the knowledge that things are getting better. And yes, you can follow Lauren on Twitter too. Thanks Lauren.

As I finish up this post, I am struck that all four that I have chosen are women. I am sure there is some reason for this that can be examined further, but for now, I end this post with a simple Thank You to Erin, Deborah, Anne and Lauren. Thank you for being willing to invite people into a part of your life that so many others experience in isolation. I hope we can offer you the same presence of hope and healing to you that you are so clearing offering to others. Thank you.