A “Letter” to Mr. Joseph Epstein

The uproar in recent days over Jill Biden’s use of the honorific “Dr.” in front of her name is surprisingly distracting from much more important issues in the world. The following “open letter” (a designation I typically despise) asks a crucial question: Who cares?

Dear Mr. Joseph Epstein,

As an ordained minister, I was regularly listed in the bulletin or on the church sign as “Rev. Tom LeGrand.” I never insisted on being called this and I certainly did not correct those who did not use the formal title. In fact, the youth group got a kick out of calling me “PREACHER Tom,” a not uncommon title in a country church. 

But everyone in the church and the town knew that I was an ordained minister. They knew I was called to the purpose of ministry

My denomination could pretty much ordain a ham sandwich if some church chose to do it (although my particular church required a Master of Divinity). The process is not an excruciating academic endeavor, as it is for other denominations.

Yet, it mattered to the church to add the title “Reverend” to my name. It designates that the congregation believes I am called to a special and particular purpose, as a minister of the Gospel.

As I read with interest your op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal concerning the soon-to-be First Lady, I wondered how I would have felt if the church said my ordination did not matter. How would I take it if they were offended to recognize that calling to pastor their church, preside over the Ordinances, or baptize their children?

I do not really know how demanding Jill Biden is that others put “Dr.” in front of her name. But the essential question really is: who cares? More to the point, why do you care?

bert

Why does it bother you if people refer to her as “Doctor” or if she asks them to do so?

Could this be more of a “you” problem than a “her” problem?

Listen, we all get it, okay? WSJ is a publication that is in the business to make a profit. They look for articles that are great click-bait, and you did your job well—so well that your degrading, demeaning, and insulting approach demands a response.

You referred to the future First Lady as “Kiddo.” I am only thankful that you restrained from something more demeaning or sexist. Not only did you insult Jill Biden, but you diminished everyone who invested the time, talent, and treasure to accomplish what you did not—an earned doctorate.

We are all sorry that certain institutions, selected fields, and dissertation titles are considered “unpromising” by you. Then again, you are not really qualified to make that judgment, are you? Because you do not have the credentials to do so.

Maybe that is the true problem here. Maybe it bothers you that a woman has rightfully earned a title that you do not have. Or maybe it bothers you that, after all those years as a lecturer at a world-renowned university, you still did not get to call yourself what everyone else did.

Maybe you are not at all so threatened or insecure, but your op-ed certainly made it sound as if you are.

Why would you feel that way? You spent 30 years lecturing at Northwestern University, in spite of a surprising lack of academic credentials. You were apparently so gifted that the institution did not insist on such credentials. To assail someone who DID get those credentials is, quite frankly, beneath you.

You chose, for whatever reason, not to pursue a higher degree. It was your call not to make the tremendous sacrifice that many others do to earn a doctorate (and it is indeed a sacrifice). Do not waste your time—or ours—by slinging mud at someone because they invested in a path that you did not.

Jill Biden has stated that she knew she was “home” when she went to work at the community college level. She chose to pursue an EdD because it was a calling, a belief that this was her designated place to make a difference. She then pursued a degree at a public institution of higher education that likely fit her calling more than Harvard or Princeton would. 

She deserves to be praised for following this passion. She certainly does not deserve to be demeaned for it, especially from someone who clearly has not read her dissertation or witnessed her work.

I agree that the standards for an earned doctorate are not what they once were. Universities have figured out that they can make money from people pursuing these degrees and are creating more pathways to fill their coffers. These are not the same as the PhD, but they are still personally demanding and academically rigorous.

I also agree that it seems a bit silly and arrogant for anyone to insist on being called “Doctor,” particularly in non-professional settings. However, it is no less silly or arrogant than your approach to the First Lady-to-Be, or others who have similar degrees.

In case you have not figured it out, I too have an EdD that would likely not meet your self-proclaimed “standards.” Then again, it really does not matter. My concern is proving myself to students, colleagues, editors, and those who task me with work inside of my field. Beyond that, I really do not understand why my title or how I choose to use it matters to anyone.

For me personally, I do not demand to be called “Doctor” or correct those who fail to use the honorific. I do ask my students to call me Dr. LeGrand because it matters, both in the classroom and in my profession. You of all people know that it matters.

I suspect it matters in Dr. Biden’s profession as well. I just cannot fathom why it matters so much to you or anyone else. If you are so outraged that she utilizes this honorific, maybe you need to take a deeper look at what this says about you.

Sincerely,

Tom LeGrand

The Dolly We Never Knew

It is great that Dolly Parton is being appreciated for all of her charitable contributions. But the best thing about her is that she never needed that appreciation in the first place.

Am I a fan of Dolly Parton the musician? No, I most unequivocally am not. (Yeah, I said it).

Never could get behind “Islands in the Stream” or “Here You Come Again.” But let’s give credit where credit is absolutely due: “Jolene” and “9 to 5” are as close to classic as Dolly is likely to get.

Dolly
This is the Dolly Parton I remember growing up.

Truth be told, I do not even like Dollywood. (Yeah, I said that too).

Dolly is suddenly everyone’s darling. People are swooning over her $1 million contribution to COVID-19 vaccine research, and her unapologetic declaration that “And of course black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”

Naturally that last line did not get rave reviews from everyone. But it is part of a confluence of events that have garnered the nation’s attention for her ongoing contributions. You can read a partial list here because I frankly do not have time to write a 10-page blog.

She simply makes the world a better place.

Dolly periodically receives attention for her work, particularly in children’s literacy. But she has never received the widespread accolades and appreciation that seem to be coming her way right now. The vaccine contribution has opened a rare door into the broad actions of a celebrity who seems to act on an overwhelming love for community, country, and humanity.

Yet, maybe we are missing the most appealing aspect of her contributions as we pour praise on her.

She never wanted our praise in the first place.

The breadth and depth of her initiatives have fully come to new light in the last few weeks. That is not to say Dolly did not promote her work, raise money for causes, or accept recognition along the way. From where the rest of us sit with our limited view, far from her fame, it does seem her primary motive was the good of humanity rather than personal recognition.

There are two unique and amazing components of her work. Let us begin with her recognition of a legitimate need and responding to it rather than acting on a personal whim. She did not decide what she wanted to do for her charitable work. She let the identified need guide her contributions to education and literacy in her home community–and around the world.

Then there is her lack of desire to seek the spotlight for her work. Again, I do not personally know Dolly Parton, so I can only draw conclusions from a distance. She comes across as having a humility that drives her desire to empower people out of genuine concern and love.

This is the Dolly that many of us never knew. She is a millionaire who likely could be a billionaire—except she chose to give it away. Her initiatives demonstrate a thoughtful, responsive heart that remembers a father who never learned to read and write. And a desire to help the children in her hometown avoid those same circumstances.

It is not that she is afraid to speak out, as her BLM comment shows. She raises her voice when and where it is most needed, which makes her voice that much more powerful.

This, in fact, is truly the heart of the matter. Evangelical heroes climb to the mountain top or fall off of it every week—all with the cameras rolling and the press corps typing.

What could prove more refreshing than a proclaimed born-again Christian celebrity using fame and fortune for good, without seeking to rack up news headlines, retweets, or viral TikToks?

Let us make it even more appealing by recognizing Dolly’s biblical approach towards empowering others. It should never be about our publicity photos on social media or fundraising opportunities while we pat ourselves on the back in our “holiness.” It is about offering—and perhaps sacrificing—for the good of others without expecting anything in return.

We live in the era of market-driven Christianity, partnered with high priced, highly publicized “missional” activities. We somehow miss that the Scriptures guide us to do exactly the opposite in our interactions with other people, particularly those who are deeply in need.

Jesus says in Matthew 6, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” We are not supposed to use our service as a great photo op or Facebook post to illustrate how bold and great and brave we are. Serving others in silence ensures that we are being the hands and feet of Christ rather than serving our own self-righteous egos.

Occasionally, people may take this in the opposite direction. One could easily use it as an excuse for judging others. “See, I do ALL of my good deeds in secret, while all those people are looking for recognition!” Is this not just a different expression of the same problem?

Here’s the thing: Doing for others is always about the “other.” Anything that brings it back to you, in any way, drifts towards spiritual bankruptcy.

Matthew 25:31-46 is eternally one of my favorite passages in the Bible. To sum it up, the “sheep” are those who give to the needy and help the poor or imprisoned, without seeking any personal reward.

Beyond that, they do not even realize they are doing something special! They are just going where the Spirit is leading, doing what is needed without the least expectation of any return on their investment. In the passage, they are genuinely shocked that God even recognizes the value of their deeds.

No one “owes” us for the kindness we show towards others, or the gifts that we offer to others, even those who are recipients of those gifts. If we are looking for gratitude or thank you notes or a simple pat on the back, then we are still looking for more than we deserve.

Rather than giving with caution and expectation, may we give offerings in the truest sense of the word. Let us do for others and be present for others without any pretense towards getting something for ourselves.

In other words, maybe we could all be more like Dolly Parton, seeing the need and responding to it—even then the cameras are turned off.

I may not be a huge fan of her music. But I am absolutely a fan of Dolly’s humanity, where she shows a biblical and Christ-like example for how we are called to empower the lives of others.

May we go forth and do likewise.

Crushing Defeats, Great Challenges, and New Beginnings (Again): A 2020 Story

Yes, everyone is tired of the hot mess that is 2020. Our family feels like we have been living here since 2018, and the rest of you are just catching up to us!

If you think 2020 is awful, think about this. What if you started it two years earlier than everyone else?

Our family entered this nightmarish scene more than two years ago. At the end of 2018, we said, “Well, 2019 HAS to be better.” Apparently, it doesn’t.

At the end of 2019, we said, “Well, we made it through that. 2020 HAS to be better.” Apparently, it doesn’t. Honestly, what could be more 2020 than thinking this year would make things better?

Lost loved ones. Lost jobs. Lost friendships. Lost relationships with family. Lost churches and church family. Not to mention lockdowns, concussions, unemployment, and the general challenge of trying to figure out where the Spirit is leading next.

And oh yeah, COVID-19.

We have seen all of these play out in our family in a variety of ways over the last 2+ years, and we are more than ready for an end. As my wife Tracy says, “I’m ready for some precedented and unchallenging times!” (We’re semi-optimistic, but not holding our breath).

Everything since January 2018 is kind of like that roller coaster ride at the amusement part—the big, old, wooden style. You look at it and think, “That looks like fun. And of course it has to be safe, right?”

About two-thirds of the way down the first hill, with your rear end flying off the seat, you start thinking, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” In turn #3, as the old metal security bar with duct tape on it (always a reassuring sign) smashes into your hip while the G-force hurls the unknown person beside you flush up against your body, you start looking for the end of this fresh hell that you chose to begin.

But you cannot find the ending. Surely these small hills in front of you won’t be so bad, right? Except they maul your already-queasy intestines and shake you around like you’re in the spin cycle of an old washing machine.

Finally, the end does come. And an hour or so later, after your innards start to reconnect and settle back into place, you suddenly think, “Hey, can we ride that again?”

Not this time. I am no longer choosing to get back on the roller coaster. I will gladly stay on the nice, slow train that rides around the gut-wrenching rides.

Back to School

Yesterday, I started a new job as Director of the Christian Education & Leadership Program (CELP) at Limestone University. I will also serve as University Chaplain. Working with students. Teaching classes. Preaching in local churches (as the opportunities arise). I am ecstatic to be back on campus again.

The Curtis Building is a piece of Limestone history.

It was always a dream to teach and work in a University setting. I had that opportunity once but had to step away to answer a different calling. That move was not even a roller coaster. It was the old school Tilt-a-Whirl ride at the county fair, run by a guy who enjoyed watching everyone get sick.

(And yes, I have literally experienced that one as well).

Being back on a campus leads me to be exceptionally grateful for a second chance to answer a call that I have felt since I was in college myself. It is hard to imagine that I will get a third chance, so we want to make this one count–for a very long time.

Can we make that happen? Who knows? Life itself is a crazy ride. It is impossible to see the next hill, curve, or spin that is coming, much less know for sure the direction of the Spirit of God. Quite often, we discern God’s direction in the middle of the ride—which is part of why it is exciting to get on in the first place.

For now, we are simply grateful. It sounds cliched and trite, but it is real nonetheless.

Living without a Livelihood

I took my first job at 13 years old and never faced unemployment. I have now been unemployed twice within the last 18 months. It is disheartening and debilitating, particularly considering the way it happened and the work that I was doing.

Even now, I remain amazed and disappointed at the tendency of ethically sourced organizations with elaborate mission statements about acting graciously to act so unethically and ungraciously towards their employees.

Through it all, I have yet to go without a paycheck or unemployment. And I have landed in jobs better suited for my skills and calling to serve as a minister of the Gospel. I have no idea why this is, which is part of the reason that I am humbled by it. It is certainly unearned and undeserved.

I also hope, against all odds, that our legislators and current President will come to their senses and discover some level of empathy towards those who are not so fortunate. Too many people are hurting to spend time quibbling and nominating while we ignore the downward spiral of people left out in the cold by this pandemic. And it is going to get much colder much sooner without definitive action.

What Now?

As for our family, we seek to show our humility and gratitude by reaching out to those still struggling. I have also learned to appreciate the opportunity at hand while I have it. I am thrilled to be working with students once again, in a faith-based setting. It is my ongoing belief that we do for others and serve others because of the Gospel, not despite it.

No matter where the ride takes us next, I fully intend to appreciate the one we are on right now, whether it is thrilling or boring or bumpy or even a little bit nauseating.

But we are hoping for just a little bit of calm amid the storm of 2020, at least from a vocational standpoint.

I must also express my love and appreciation to so many of you who have lifted my heart and my spirit in the last two years. No one stands out above my wife Tracy, whose patience and faithfulness are difficult to fathom–a blessing that defies description.

This further extends to all of you—former church members, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, mentors, and pastors. Christ has worked through you to lift me up from some of the lowest points of my life.

Lessons Learned

-Appreciate the present rather than looking so hard to an unknown future.

-Make Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” your theme song. “I get knocked down, but I get up again, and they’re never gonna keep me down…”

-A lot of other people have it way tougher than I do—and way tougher than I ever have. Be grateful, be gracious, and be giving.

-Ask “Why me?” about everything you receive—both good and bad.

-Struggling and persevering in faith do not always give you the result you want. But sometimes they get you what you need.

-Life may lead you to many callings, not just one. Appreciate all of them.

Christ has lifted me once again to this new opportunity at Limestone. It is my intention to take full advantage of this, and to enjoy the ride—no matter how large the hills and valleys might be.

This time, I hope to stay in one place for a long, long time. But whatever happens, we will roll with it. Up and down and back up the hill again.

Clemson Football and the Hypocrisy of “Shut Up and Dribble”

We all love our football teams, basketball teams, favorite athletes. But do we “love” them enough to listen to them on issues that don’t involve winning games?

Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes knows how I feel about Clemson. Particularly Clemson football.

I was raised to love one team: Furman. And I was raised to despise one team: Clemson.

The reasons that I was raised this way are largely irrelevant. I have rarely, if ever, pulled for Clemson in any sport on any level. The exception is Clemson basketball, where I have always hoped for them to beat UNC in Chapel Hill. Now that this task is complete, I will return to the status quo of my feelings for (or should I say against?) the Tigers.

(Actually, I am much less anti-Clemson than I once was. But I’m not happy about it).

Now that my explicit bias is out, I confess that I am now torn. I find myself in a place where I am slightly inclined to pull for the Clemson football players while still being against some of their fans. The reason goes beyond the common parlance of fan bases who lob accusations against one another.

In their game against Virginia on October 3, a handful of Clemson players put messages on their jerseys that some fans deemed too “political” in nature.

Let me offer some background. I started to write this blog weeks ago, as many athletes began to express their views regarding race and equity in this country. The response of many people mimicked Laura Ingraham’s “order” to LeBron James when he expressed his political views.

She said that LeBron should “Shut up and dribble.” It is hard to imagine a more condescending response to an athlete expressing an opinion. This is a stark contrast to her stance regarding other athletes who lean more towards her views.

This came up again last week in a Tweet from a sports commentator that I follow. He leans much more conservative than I; hence, I pay attention to his excellent sports commentary and give little heed to his political views. However, he expressed a view that some deemed to be too “political.”

Their “command” to him? “Stick to sports.” I do not even know what the original tweet was, and I am still disturbed by the response. You may not like it, but sports personalities are not obligated to silence on all subjects other than sports.

This came to a head on Saturday, when Clemson fans began to express their displeasure with the displays on the back of the jerseys of some Tiger players. I committed the cardinal sin of reading the comments about this. I saw fans vent the anger and outrage and threats to “disown” the program over the political messaging.

And what were those messages?

Justice

Love

Matter

Vote

Equality

Peace

Change

The entire team warmed up with black tshirts with the words “We need change.”

Wow. What disturbing, upsetting, “political” messages these are. If you abandon the program for these messages, that is a lot closer to dipping your foot in the pool than being “All In.”

Let us start with the fact that not all Tiger fans felt this way. I saw tweets and posts from many who supported the players in their call for justice and unity in our society. Coach Dabo Swinney did not care for the approach but did allow his players to do it. Other fans expressed dislike for the players’ decision (much like Dabo) but supported their right to make that choice.

To those who were so horribly offended by these “political” statements? Maybe Clemson is better off without you.

Sports is a multi-BILLION dollar industry in this country. Local governments, state legislatures, congress and the President of the United States offer commentary and criticism and even ultimatums to sports leagues. State institutions rake in millions of dollars from university athletic programs.

And coming soon to your state tax office: Profits from sports gambling.

Like it or not, sports IS political—not to mention societal.

How many people have gained political access by using their millions/billions of dollars to curry favor or influence in the political process? But suddenly, when athletes or sports commentators exercise similar influence, we want them to “shut up and dribble.”

We’re past that in sports. Way, way past that.

We may want our sports with silence, but it is far too large of a force in society to continue expecting—much less demanding—such a stance.

If you do not like what team or school or sports personality says about politics or think that their perspective is unwarranted, you can ignore them or stop following them. You also have no restriction on expressing your viewpoint.

But neither should they. Before you make the choice to abandon your team because they exercise their rights, think long and hard about the message you are sending.

We cheer these young men and women, rejoice in their on-field success and claim it is OUR success. Think about the terminology we use in reference to players, particularly at a program of Clemson’s stature.

Our guys (or girls)

We

My

Us

Love

(Yes, love).

“I love MY Tigers!” or whoever your team happens to be is pretty common among fans. But are these truly terms of love, or are they terms of ownership?

If we only love them when they are winning games for us and not when they have something to say, then those terms of affection and unity ring extremely hollow.

Better yet, if we threaten to withdraw our investment in that affection and unity when they speak, then perhaps we view players more as property than people, a commodity that we “love” only in the way that we do our car or our best shirt or our favorite food.

If we are going to cheer athletes on the field of play—particularly athletes that do not look like most of the people in the stands—then why are we so threatened by listening to their views of what is happening off the field? As long as they are winning and successful, it’s “Our” and “Us” and “We.” But when they ask us to consider matters beyond the field, it suddenly becomes “they” and “them.”

Some might call that a “plantation” mentality. While you may not like the term, I would challenge you to disagree with the perspective. If you choose to disagree, I would further challenge you to consider it from the athlete’s perspective, particularly black athletes.

Some of you may ask, “What if one of the players endorsed a candidate? How would you feel then?” That would change the equation, to be sure.

But let’s cross that bridge if we come to it, shall we? From what I saw on the Clemson jerseys on that Saturday night, they did not endorse any party or politician. They endorsed a view of humanity.

If you cannot agree with that view or think that these young men should simply play football without regard to the human condition, so be it. That is your right.

Just keep in mind that they are not chattel utilized to satisfy your unfulfilled athletic ambitions. And they are under no obligation to shut up just because they wear the uniform of the school that you like.

If you truly value them as human beings, then spend your time contemplating their messages rather than just cheering when they do well for you on the field.

Like it or not, it is vital to morality and Christian ethics to support these athletes both on and off the field. And that means listening to them while we cheer, and long after the cheering has stopped.

The Enemy Within—Again (aka Part II)

I started this post the day after the first Presidential debate—and it took me this long to finish it. I hope that this post offers a bit more hope than the debate itself.

Did you watch the Presidential Debate last week? I did—for approximately 26 seconds.

Civic duty = check.

Why did I not watch more of it? How can I be that disinterested in the future of our nation? The answer is found in the Facebook posts of my friends on both sides of the political aisle.

“Well that was just about as ugly as it gets. No winners here tonight…”

“Do we really think more of these will help anyone?”

And my personal fave: “Can we send both of them back and start with two new candidates?”

Yes, plenty of friends and family confirmed that I made the right decision. Quite honestly, that decision had much more to do with concern for these friends and family, not to mention my sanity.

Short of a drastic bombshell that I can read/hear on the morning news feed, the debate was not going to change my vote. Watching the hot mess would alienate me further from my neighbor, and likely not change my mind regarding the election. Not one iota.

At the same time, watching and/or commenting on the debates is likely to infuriate and alienate people that I love on either side of the aisle. Therefore, I sat this one out.

Am I a wimp? Maybe. But instead of adding to the already volatile concoction of our current social/political/religious climate, I am spending some time considering what might bring us to a measure of peace. And I have come up with several additional solutions beyond the suggestions of my last post.

The first solution is a seemingly simple one that I chose to put into practice: Keep your mouth shut.

Okay. Yeah, I know. There has never been a LeGrand in history (that we know of anyway) that valued peace and unity enough to keep quiet. Least of all me.

But to use the most over-used term of 2020, in these “unprecedented” times, maybe the present calls on us to learn the value of silence.

I am not talking about complete silence in relation to the issues that you deem to be critical to your soul. Or to the future of the church. Or the future of the nation. I am talking about silence in regard to those in your circle of family and friends who will not agree with you, no matter what.

Let us face the reality of our societal polarization. If there is anything “unprecedented” about these times, it is the fact that we are polarized in a way unseen since perhaps the Civil War. In such a reality, we are not likely to sway our neighbor and our neighbor is not likely to sway us.

Therefore, it would better serve us to love one another and walk away from the bitterness of political debate.

Let us acknowledge the reality of our societal polarization. It is arguably elevated to a level unseen since the Civil War. In this present reality, we are unlikely to sway our neighbor, relative, or Facebook friend. And they are just as unlikely to sway us.

We cannot abandon our convictions just to appease others, particularly for . However, we can pursue wisdom to recognize how to fruitfully and productively express those convictions. It is highly unlikely that such wisdom will lead us to social media or lengthy arguments with our neighbor.

Choose instead to pour yourself into tangible, visible needs that are likely to make a difference beyond the bluster of bitterness. Voters need transportation in states where government has closed or severely limited access to polling places. Poll monitors are needed to ensure that all people are granted their constitutional right to vote. And poll workers are needed in numerous counties across the nation. Senior adults are often the anchors for such polling places, and many are unable to help out of concerns about COVID-19.

Yes, raise your voice when a spirit-filled conviction overwhelms your soul. But do so carefully, selectively, and in the most productive way. Action is always the most productive method for voicing those convictions.

Make sure you do this after testing those convictions with the wisdom of scripture, trusted confidants, and community. All of us need accountability, and these three things can guide us to greater productivity instead of pointless, self-righteous rage.

Speaking of self-righteous rage—an ailment to which I am extremely prone—we cannot forget the greatest commandment during this election season. No matter who wins, or how upset it makes us, or how enraged we get, we cannot abandon our true Christ-like calling:

Love your neighbor as yourself.

There are no qualifiers to this. Jesus did not say to love only your neighbors who vote Republican or Democrat. He did not say to love only your neighbors who agree with you on matters of policy and practice. He said to love ALL of your neighbors—even those who are lowly Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37).

We are in an era where anger can easily consume us and turn us towards pure hate. Hate of others. Hate of political ideology. Hate of failures in the system. This is never the answer. As Jesus (and Ghandi, and King, and many others) tell us, hate only breeds more hate.

One of our neighbors down the street displays a sign in their window that says, “Hate Has No Place Here” in English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic. If that is true, then we have to leave room to love everyone, even those who disagree with our social, political, and religious convictions.

It’s really very simple. Jesus did it. Therefore, so must we strive to do the same—whether we like it or not.

Yes, I am angry at a myriad of things that I think are unjust, unconstitutional, unequal, un-American, and un-Christian in our society. I am frustrated by those who disagree with this perspective. Or support policies that I find morally and ethically offensive to my perspective on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet, I am compelled by that same Christ to recognize that they have a different view of the Gospel. And that they are my neighbor, just as the immigrant, African-American, poor person, fellow church member, or political ally is my neighbor. I am therefore compelled to find a way to love them in spite of our differences.

I will continue to vote, advocate, and fight for policies that I believe are just in our society. As I do that, I also have to fight to love my neighbor, remembering that “neighbor” in the words of Jesus did not mean those with whom we agree. He meant it to include everyone. To those who recognized the one who was “justified” in the treatment of their neighbor, he gave the simplest (and hardest) of commands: “Go and do likewise.”

As I continue to fight for what I believe to be right, I will also fight to follow the greatest commandment.

Perhaps my greatest lesson in this comes from an interaction that I had with a long time valued and trusted friend on—wait for it—Facebook. I responded to an inquiry from him, and this is how I started my response:

“What I believe we can agree on is that we love and care about one another, about our respective families, and that we have been through too much for too long to let our disagreements divide…I will always look up to you for the incredible love and support you have given me over the years. This will never change no matter how you feel about my views or how I speak out. As always, you still hold me accountable for trying to express those views in a more positive and Christian way. Anytime you want to talk about life, faith, and family, I am here for that—all day, every day…if you ever need anything, I will do everything in my power to be there for you—all of you.”

His response?

“On this part…we can always agree.”

If we can agree on that, then we can always find a path to love our neighbor. Even when our convictions lead us in opposite directions at the ballot box.

The Enemy Within

Since September 11, 2001, we regularly hear about threats from “outsiders” who want to infiltrate and damage the nation. The biggest threat to a people is the rot that happens from the inside-out.

It seems to me that becoming a Master of the Twitter-verse takes a lot more time, effort, and energy than I am willing to devote. Or waste. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may not believe that, but I put less energy into it than you think.

Despite my lack of Twitter prowess, once in a blue moon I tweet something that strikes a chord with my dozen or so followers. Perhaps it hits a few people beyond that. A couple weekends ago was one of those occasions.

Pete Buttigieg is a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Democrat candidate for president in 2020. South Carolina congressman James Clyburn essentially put an end to his and all other bids by endorsing Joe Biden. But as an extremely young candidate, Buttigieg surely has political ambitions for the future.

He tweeted a question that at one time served as the calling card for President Ronald Reagan. “Aren’t you better off than you were four years ago?” One of my followers replied that it is much more important to ask if our neighbor is better off than four years ago. I re-tweeted this, with some commentary.

By my rather humble standards, this got a lot of “likes” and retweets. Sadly, not nearly enough people buy into the neighborly philosophy. We forget the foundational ideals of loving our neighbor.

Since September 11, 2001, we have heard ongoing messages about how we need to fear enemies who are outside of this nation. We have lumped Muslims, secularists, immigrants, and generally anyone who does not look like or think like the stereotypical American into this “outsider” category.

Yet, we see a nation that seems more divided than ever and a church that feels powerless to speak into the void of leadership and humanity. Followers of Christ are picking sides, and churches struggle more and more to remain politically neutral, not to mention morally relevant.

This struggle is internal. Outsiders did not do this to us. We did it to ourselves.

The biggest threat to the United States may be the enemy in our own hearts, homes, schools, towns, and places of worship. This is certainly the biggest threat to the American church, and it is slowly eating away at the church’s ability to have a moral compass. Much less provide moral guidance.

If we look at the people of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament, we find out that the biggest threat to a nation or congregation never came from the outside. The internal rot in the hearts of communities causes the mayhem and weeping, if not the outright destruction.

One of the two greatest commandments cited by Jesus is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this becoming a greater struggle for us? We have either forgotten the essence of this command or we have lost the internal will to follow it. Or maybe both. Or maybe we are just choosing to disregard it.

All of these options are bewildering and potentially devastating. I do not offer this assessment with any hint of righteousness. The self-proclaimed World’s Worst Pastor is as guilty as anyone, and some days are worse than others.

In the Age of Trump, of Progressivism, of protest, of counterprotest, and of rampant “Cancel Culture” that exist across all realms of politics, religion and culture—how can we recapture a commitment to love of neighbor over self?

While I have many opinions (never a shortage of those in our house), I will not venture into the world of systemic or political changes that need to happen. Those are better left for more qualified experts. I will offer a few suggestions, with more to come as we venture forward in this fresh chaos called 2020.

One place to begin is to stop identifying our neighbor with every aspect of everything that he or she supports in some way.

This is certainly a challenge in an era where we tend to decorate our houses, our cars, or ourselves in the garb of our political allegiances. I am not apologetic for saying that some of the devotion to Donald Trump seems disturbing and dangerous.

However, not every person who voted (or will vote) for Donald Trump supports every aspect of Trump’s policies or actions. In the same way, not every person who says Black Lives Matter supports rioting or violence. They do not support every person or every aspect of the movement. It is high time that we acknowledge this among our neighbors.

As an example, I am unapologetically a follower of Christ and believe in the vitality of discipleship in Christ as an essential aspect of humanity. This does not mean I support every idea, theory, concept, or theological position of others who call themselves Christian. It does not mean that I agree with every aspect of those who equate “true” Christianity with following—or opposing—Donald Trump.

When this election is over, we are going to have to find some pathway towards living together in the extreme divisiveness that of this present world. This gets much tougher if we focus on the extremes. If we can recognize the validity of humanity beyond the extremes in ideology, then we have a much greater opportunity to find pathways towards the future.

Forging such pathways is not going to be easy, no matter what political circumstances engulf us after November 3, 2020. To develop some level of understanding, empathy, and humanity, I turn to one thing that seems to bring us together for the common good: Service. Not to politicians or so-called “leaders,” but to others.

In my work and study, the one common denominator that creates empathy and understanding is a commitment to love our neighbor by serving our neighbor. This is unquestionably a command of Jesus Christ, and it is the one thing that seems to create understanding among the servants and the served.

No matter who the president or the pastor or the political commentator is, we cannot avoid the call of God to serve our neighbor above ourselves. By focusing on that call, we gain an empathetic understanding of the “other” that is noticeably absent in videos and news reports.

By serving together for a common good, we learn more about those that we serve and about one another. We learn about the struggles of those who do not look like us or live like us. Most important, we learn about the love of Christ that looks at others as equal to us.

When the Pharisee/lawyer is confronted with Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he replies with a question. “And who is my neighbor?”

It is really a smart-aleck question. He knows damn well who his neighbor is, but he is hoping that Christ will say something to get him off the hook. Jesus does the opposite by putting him ON the hook to love people the Pharisee was taught to despise.

No matter where we stand on November 4, the command to “Love your neighbor” is not going away. By recognizing that there is more to our neighbor than political or social opinions, maybe we can forge a pathway for Christ rather than violent political rhetoric and racial slurs.

Perhaps then we can spend more time serving others and less time on social media. We might be stunned at what we learn if we put down our phones and work together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, educate the children, and understand the other. It certainly seems that is what Jesus would call on us to do.

May we learn to go and do likewise—with all of our neighbors, in all corners of the globe.

Stop Calling them “Teachers”

For many reasons, the word “teacher” is no longer adequate compared to the tasks these professionals undertake. It is time to honor them for who truly are and what they really do.

The hot-button issue across the state of South Carolina right now is the re-opening of public schools. I do not envy anyone at any level–from superintendents to bus drivers–who is involved in this situation.

Some states are working closely with their education professionals and health experts on how to do this. Such is not the case in South Carolina, where politicians are making declarative judgments and expecting the experts to just go along.

And these judgments are revealing the true colors of our political “leadership.”

SC governor Henry McMaster is holding true to one of his convictions by not issuing an executive order on going back to school (not yet at least). But he did hold a press conference to line up a hardcore argument for why South Carolina schools should open for full service, five days a week.

Noticeably absent from this event was Secretary of Education Molly Spearman. This article might explain why.

The Governor and his crack team of lawyers and professional politicians (not educators or health experts) had quite a bit to say about teachers, as well as local administration and school boards. They implied that they are responsible for the failures of online schooling and the difficulties in connecting to students through the pandemic.

The entourage then lined up to imply that teachers are shirking responsibility if they do not go back to school five days a week. As one legislator stated, “They signed up for this.”

Apparently, you do not just “sign up” to teach in South Carolina. You sign up to be the salvation of the entirety of civilization for our fair state.

It is not an exaggeration that this group at the press conference held up teachers as accountable and responsible for taking care of all the malnourished and abused children in the public school system. They are accountable and responsible for their physical, mental, and emotional health.

They are accountable and responsible to account for the presence and participation of every child in the state. They are accountable and responsible for ending cycles of abuse of children and families.

It’s funny how none of these points make it to the press conferences for the Governor and his cronies when schools need more funding, more equipment, more resources, or fair enough pay to hire necessary teachers (much less support staff).

People are more than happy to jump on this political bandwagon of dismissing public education. Until now, of course, when we suddenly and desperately “need it” so much.

In spite of this blatant and obvious disrespect, I actually (everyone clutch your pearls or grab onto something) agree with Henry McMaster and his crew.

Public schools are vitally important for the total welfare of all humanity. But I would add in one critical part that these people carefully left out.

It’s time to start acting like public education matters—ALL the time, even after it stops being politically convenient.

Let us start by no longer calling them “teachers.” That should be a term of respect, but too many people have allowed it to be dragged through the mud for no good reason.

Let us start calling them what they are: Educators. Better yet, they are Professional Educators.

If we want them to risk their health and their lives and the well-being of their families to solve all the problems of society that McMaster and some legislators continue to ignore, then we can at least acknowledge them with full respect.

(A raise and more funding would be preferable, but maybe we can work our way up?)

For decades, South Carolina has neglected the needs of underserved people and communities. They have ignored racial injustice, affordable housing, generational poverty, food security, the onslaught of child/domestic abuse, and the difficulty in paying educators competitive wages.

The state has dumped millions into online education programs over the last 10 years. McMaster inadvertently admitted at his press conference that this had nothing to do with fair and equitable education. If we knew that poor, underserved, rural communities did not benefit from this because they do not have broadband internet access, then why did we invest those millions? Perhaps to benefit those vocal enough to insist on the privilege?

Now, the Governor is all but demanding that professional educators continue cleaning up the messes he and others have ignored. This is not new. Educators have done this for years. As usual, most of these educators will do exactly that—because they know what it means to care more about the children than their own self-interest. Or their political future.

How is McMaster responding to the long-term fallout of wasted dollars, lack of funding, and total absence of respect for the vitality of public education? He is attempting to shuffle $32 million to private schools (67% of CARES Act funds), while dismissing anyone who disagrees with his approach.

The least we can do is be clear about who these true leaders are. Professional educators do not merely teach curriculum from a textbook. They educate the rest of us about the issues of society because they are always the first to step up in an effort to address them.

Without educators, not only will our children suffer, but we will also have a profound lack of awareness. Goodness knows that is the last thing we need.

A simple name change is certainly not sufficient. Professional Educators are much more valuable than simply a more appropriate title. But perhaps this small step of respect will make us more aware of how critical public education is, and how much we truly need it.

The next step is to VOTE. That includes voting out those who only care about Professional Educators when it suits their purpose. And voting in those who want to make a full investment in our children, their schools, and those who educate them (and us).

The state of the State depends on it.

Revisiting My Interrupted Reverent Moment

Some folks have questioned why I am so vocal about current events, particularly regarding diversity, equity, and justice. In response to this, I return to my faith in Christ as the ultimate arbiter of justice–not after our death, but in our present life.

This is a post from almost seven years ago might give some insight into why this is so important. If we are not making room for everyone at the Lord’s Table–in spite of how we want things to be–then we are in danger of missing the point.

Sunday, October 6, 2013. A date which will live in infamy…at least at Augusta Heights.

Needless to say, it was not a day that went according to plan. Let’s put it this way: When the pastor has to be at the door of Radio Shack at 10 a.m. to get a part for the sound system, it’s not exactly a “silky smooth” Sunday.

In spite of it all, we managed to get the service going. And with the help of some great worship leaders (and lots of prayer) we found ourselves with the exact atmosphere needed for reverent celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

While the first Sunday in October is a regular communion Sunday for us, we also joined other Christians in celebrating World Communion Sunday. We had a really reverent moment going on that day. Even as the deacons and I fumbled around with the communion plates and who was going where to serve whom (a common phenomena for us), you could sense a real peace and worshipful atmosphere.

Then, it happened. Just as I was serving the bread to the deacons, it happened.

“Hey Rev!”

I knew the voice well. Eric is a great guy, and is the last person I expected to interrupt a quiet point in the service. But here was, calling out–loudly–to break that wonderfully reverent moment. After surviving the carnage and chaos, we had arrived. We set the mood. We focused ourselves on worship. I was really starting to enjoy the moment. And then…Eric happened.

I tried to ignore it. That was an epic fail. “Hey…REV!”

With no other choice, I turned my head to let Eric know I heard him. “Rev, Mr. Larry didn’t get no bread back here!”

I had no clue what to do. Can’t pretend it didn’t happen, because Eric wasn’t going to let it go. Larry told me to go on, but now everyone in the room knew that he didn’t get bread. Could I possibly ignore him?

I took the only possible route. I walked back with a tray to make sure Larry had some bread. I did it. I served him. But I did it with exactly the wrong attitude.

It wasn’t that I minded serving, and I certainly didn’t want to leave anyone sitting at a distance from the Lord’s Table. But it broke the mood, ruined the reverence. It totally disrupted the worship after we had overcome so much just to get there.

I wasn’t much good in worship after that. I tried to lead with some semblance of composure, attempted to preach as if I might know what I was doing. But it was a pretty weak effort on my part.

As we were riding home, I tried to reflect on what went wrong that day and what I might do better to insure that it would never happen again. As in, ever…at least not on MY watch! We would not let chaos break our reverence.

Later that night on Facebook, as I was still stewing a bit, I noticed some banter about the morning’s service. Someone posted:

Great morning…thank God for Eric. Those words…”Rev, Larry didn’t get it.” We could write a book about all the beauty in that moment of time.

And in that one sentence, my high-minded self-righteous self-important arrogance came mercifully crashing back to earth.

I—and more than a few others—longed to be captivated by our reverent moment, so much so that we missed it. I wanted my silence, my peace, my reverence so much that I just flat-out missed it.

Most of us would’ve just let Larry sit there with no bread. Few of us would have interrupted the entire service. But not Eric—and his willingness to speak gave us the most incredible witness to the grace of Jesus Christ that happened all day long.

Without even realizing it, he was completely faithful to the meal, to the day, and to the spirit of worship that I was flailing around trying to create. On World Communion Sunday, where all are encouraged to pull up a chair to the table, he made sure that someone wasn’t left out.

Just when we think that we have things the way we want them and have our plans in motion, Jesus steps in to break the silence and disrupt what we want to show us moments of incredible grace. Jesus reminds us that the bread and the cup are not about us, but about Him.

As we try to execute our grand plans for what church is supposed to be, Jesus can still make His presence known by telling us what church is. And it’s not about us, or what we want, or what we think. It’s about making sure that everyone gets the bread. It’s about sharing God’s grace, even if we have to drop our self-centered worship bear witness to that grace.

The grace of Jesus Christ comes to us to make us profoundly uncomfortable. By definition, it disturbs our little world as the Spirit grows us into a place where we see grace in action, and hopefully put that grace in action ourselves—even in the middle of our reverent moments.  And our sense of reverence and order should never be an excuse for pushing down a profound act of grace. (See Luke 18:15-17).

So yes, thank God for Eric. Thank God that Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, disrupts our world with the most unexpected examples of living Grace. Thank God for those who are less worried about how the table is set, than they are about moving the plates and rearranging the chairs to make sure everyone has a place at the table.

We sit at a point in history when Christianity stares into the mirror of a harsh reality. Too many people are denied a seat at the table. Some were offered a seat at the “Kiddie Table,” or maybe are invited to have a seat close to the table. 

This is not enough. We are called to move over, scrunch together, or even pull our own chairs out of the way in order to make plenty of room for everyone. 

It is going to disrupt the comfort of the Lord’s Table for this to happen. But the Lord’s Table was never created for our comfort. If we make the Table what the Lord intended from the start, it will always challenge us to go well beyond our present level of comfort.

May we become more concerned about making room at the Table than we are in maintaining our comfortable, reverent space.

 

We Cannot Erase Our History

In these “challenging times” (a phrase I now loathe), it is absolutely essential that we not destroy the truth of the history of the south or our nation. But how much of that history are we actually teaching?

Here we sit, just one day after the five-year anniversary of the Mother Emanuel church murders. And one day away from a celebration that was never mentioned in my house, school, church, or family. It is the celebration of Juneteenth, commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation finally coming to Texas on the 19th of June, 1865.

It is my good fortune to know the women’s basketball coach at Furman University, Jackie Smith Carson. She posted a tweet last week asking how many of us learned about Juneteenth in school?

It is an honest question. Coach Carson never heard it in school but learned it at home. I never heard of it anywhere until about four years ago.

I wonder why that is?

As we continue to grapple with the issue of Confederate flags and monuments across the United States, Coach’s question might provide some guidance on how we can proceed. And it brings to mind intense questions on how we teach children to navigate history.

There are some standard rallying cries against the changing of building names, the toppling of statues, and the banning of the “stars and bars.” It is almost always some variation of “You cannot erase history!”

“My family fought for the south!”

“We have to remember our past!”

Well, yes, all of those things may be true. But is Juneteenth not also a part of that history? Is it not true that many Americans received their first hint of freedom from at least one aspect of slavery on that day in 1865, when the last holdout state of Texas got the word?

Yet we do not seem to be as concerned about that as we are about a statue of the founder of the KKK. Or the preservation of a placard in Greenville declaring the south was right.

In the interest of full disclosure, I join others in my concern about erasing or ignoring history. We need to know our history, teach our history, and learn from our history.

All of it.

Preserving a group of statues to men who engaged in armed insurrection against the United States is not the tool for true history. In fact, it may be the tool to whitewash a ton of history’s harsh realities. The South Carolina legislature has institutionalized the protection of Confederate memorials and organizations are forced to petition for exceptions to make changes

Let us begin by noting that we can learn history without honoring all aspects of that history. A monument honors history, often without educating people about its realities. Saying that you want to take down a statue or change the name of the building may indicate that you care about the TRUTH of history, rather than honoring it.

Both sides of my family fought for the south in the Civil War. One side of my family owned a significant number of slaves and built their large homestead in North Carolina with slave labor. I am related (by marriage) to John C. Calhoun. My family was extremely close friends with General Wade Hampton III. It is essential to know that family history, but it does not mean that I have to celebrate it.

A full understanding of history only happens when we agree to engage the full scope and reality of the past. By maintaining monuments while neglecting the classroom, we fail to even remotely recognize that scope and reality. This nation invested 155 years into preserving the mythology of valiant Southerners dying for states’ rights

It is time for the nation to grapple with the whole truth. This is not going to happen by maintaining our monuments. Better yet, we can teach a history curriculum that includes Juneteenth and a host of other relevant facts that we have long ignored. (FYI, these initial ideas are particular to South Carolina).

How many of us learned about the Orangeburg Massacre in SC history?

Or Septima Poinsette Clark?

Or the placing of the Confederate flag on top of the statehouse in 1963?

Or the lynching of Willie Earle?

Or the Hamburg Massacre, and the subsequent Ellenton riot?

Or the brutality of Benjamin Tillman and John C. Calhoun?

How many of us heard about Joseph Hayne Rainey or Robert Smalls?

It is almost assured that most of us never heard a word about Juneteenth, if we could not even cover the people and issues that seriously impacted the story of our own state.

And finally, I would bet every dime I have (few as they may be) that no one ever teaches about Thomas Dixon and how his fraudulent story of The Clansmen precipitated the myths of dangerous black men—a mythology that contributed to the creation of hundreds of Confederate monuments.

The reality that some do not want to acknowledge is this: Confederate monuments preserve a false reality rather than actual history. Because the real history is too ugly for us to take and too many do not want to face it.

Nevertheless, if we want to take a real look in the mirror and begin to heal the wounds of our past, we need to teach the full scope of history before we decide how we honor those who are a part of it.

Yes, we cannot erase our history. But we can certainly stop limiting it to the sections that fit our narrative, and start telling the whole of history. After we begin to do that, the “debate” over Confederate monuments should take care of itself.

Changing monuments and the history curriculum are small steps in a very long journey. They will not end the systemic racism in our society or the absence of good in the hearts of those who continue to perpetuate myths and stereotypes.

But these steps are still important. Perhaps it will empower a new generation of students who know the truth—the whole truth—about their history to not be doomed to repeating the mistakes of a racist past.

Some Suggestions? 

How can we ensure that our children are receiving a more complete education into the history of ALL citizens of this country. Here are a few ideas–and I would request that you feel free to comment and add others!

Request Copies of Curriculum Requirements: I have asked for such documents for my particular school district, and am looking into the expectations for teaching history.

-Educate yourself–and your family: Keep in mind that teachers are not always given time to cover everything, even things they want to teach! Do your own reading and research, and talk to your family about what you learn.

-Talk with your child’s teacher: Ask if they plan to cover some of these issues; and perhaps ask how you can help.

More ideas–particularly from educators? I welcome your comments!

The Bible Isn’t a Prop (But That’s How We Use It)

Some cheered and some took offense to the President’s picture in front of St. John’s Church, holding a closed Bible. It may be that we all need to stop in front of an opened Bible for a little while.

Pastors LOVE to talk.

In case you have not noticed this.

This is our task, our calling. Even an introverted pastor (and there are some) has to figure out a way to effectively do this. Primarily, we are tasked with talking about the Bible, challenging people to go in-depth in their study and understanding of a text that we view as holy and sacred.

To a large extent, we have failed. The evidence may be a photo in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C.

Forget about the wealth of debatable issues surrounding the events that led the President of the United States across the street from his house. Forget the tear gas “debate,” the picture, the motives for the photo, etc. Let’s talk about the response to the photo.

A number of ministers, including those affiliated with St. John’s, took great offense at the creation of this photo opportunity. The response of many ministers was to say that “The Bible is not a prop!” I can completely understand the frustration and the sentiment.

But they are wrong. The Bible is a prop, in far too many places and contexts where it is not supposed to be.

This does not justify anything that happened around the picture of the President in front of the church. It does mean that our response—be it outrage or adoration—to the President’s actions are not justified.

Donald Trump just did what preachers and pastors and those who listen to them do far too often. We treat the Bible as something that it is not, as something that God never intended it to be.

Witnesses in court rooms for years put their hand on a Bible and swear to tell the truth. The prop is apparently designed to keep people from lying because God may strike them down if they take this oath. Yet, we fail to ask them if they actually believe any of the words of the Bible. Not to mention that this oath never really addresses what Jesus says about the subject in Matthew 5.

After making this pledge on this holy book, some witnesses lie, manipulate, deceive, dodge, duck, dip, and dive. Who can blame them, when they see so many others in the courtroom, including those with authority, doing the same thing to varying degrees?

Many of us have a family Bible or other Bibles on display in our homes, maybe even at our places of business. How often do we open those Bibles and let ourselves ponder what the words mean?

Christians have raged for years about how God and the Bible are “removed” from our schools, not allowed inside the walls. As a youth minister, I heard parents rant and watched them post memes about this very topic. Yet the majority of the students in my group never brought a Bible to church. Many did not even know where their Bible was, which probably made reading it quite a challenge.

Some pastors love to hold the Bible in the air and declare it as the “inherent, infallible Word of God” as congregants nod their approval. But declarations about the Bible do not equal understanding of it. Besides, how can we know if the pastor is preaching the Bible when we never crack the spine of one, or at least visit biblegateway.com on occasion?

We love to pick certain verses to prove to others what is morally right or wrong, without looking at the context of these passages. Sometimes these beliefs just echo what we heard in church some Sunday or from our parents/grandparents, and we have no idea if they are truly in the Bible.

I encounter Christians who love to declare what the Bible “clearly states.” It is interesting that the Bible never “clearly states” anything that is contrary to what they already think or were taught for most of their life. Furthermore, some of these folks offer little love or Christ-like charity to those who do not agree with their view of the Bible’s clarity.

How often do we truly struggle with the text, letting the meaning and purpose guide us beyond our preconceived ideas or traditional interpretation? What might become of us if we took on the scriptures that we do not like, or that challenge us to real change, or that totally blow up our religious training and world view? Heaven forbid!

Many Christians hold the Bible up as something to be followed, rather than letting the Bible point us to the Christ that we are supposed to follow and emulate in everything that we say and do. We come dangerously close to making the Bible an idol, something to be seen and discussed but never truly heard.

Worse yet, some people use the Bible as a weapon instead of a prop. They use it to bash the heads of those who disagree with them, or pick verses that cut into the heart of another person.

Perhaps President Trump simply did what he has seen many of us do on a daily basis, whether we want to admit it or not. He just did it right out in the open, where we might try to hide it.

As offensive as his action was—and to me, it was horribly offensive—we are no less guilty of holding up Bibles to show our commitment, rather than opening our hearts and minds to what the Scripture says.

It is time for us to acknowledge the command of Christ that is in the Bible to care for the poor and tend the prisoner and clean the wounds of the hurting.

It is time to hear the Word of the Lord that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and sacrifice our comfort for the well-being of others (a task at which I fail on a regular basis).

It is time to live the scripture that God IS love, and we prove that most effectively when we love others.

It is time to read how Jesus sees, feels, and empowers the pain of those who are hurting and suffering in so many ways.

It is time for us to end our “Whataboutisms” and stop pointing to other people. Instead of saying “What about him?,” we can start answering Jesus when He tells us to follow.

It is time for us to decide, “Who do you say that I am?”

It is time to recognize that Jesus is not our ticket to heaven. Jesus is here for us to bring the Kingdom of God in the here and now. That means standing for equity, justice, mercy, and humanity for all people in the here and now.

It is time to stop worshipping the Jesus that we think is in the Bible, and discover the hard, challenging path of the Living Christ that is actually in the Bible.

I have scripture references for every one of the above points. Feel free to search for some yourself, or feel free to contact me if you would like to know what they are.

We should be offended at someone using the Bible as prop for a photo op. The true path to change is for Christians to stop using the Bible as a prop in their own lives. If we truly believe that all are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated as such, then that is the steep and rocky path we must choose.

This may not stop police brutality or lynching or racism or hatred. But it will surely lead us to speak up and work to do something about it.

It is time for all of us to stop our strategic placement of closed Bibles, and start opening it up to do what it actually says.