The Christmas-holiday-season is in full effect and I can nearly feel the cut of the cold breeze outside as I sit inside, fingers cloaked around a hot and freshly brewed chai tea. Looking through an expansive window from a local coffee shop in Greenville, SC, I examine withered trees bearing the battle scars of surrendered leaves due to wrestling with an early Fall. The common busyness of people walking and people watching on sidewalks, benches, waterways and patches of manicured grass has lulled to a few brave souls executing their mandatory A to B commute. The city looks lonely.
It’s no secret that the presence of the holidays ushers in wanted and at times unwanted anticipation and change. For many, holiday anticipation can bring about loneliness and depression. According to Adam K. Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, “the bombardment of media during the holidays showing images of smiling families and friends often causes people to start questioning the quality of their own relationships.” Studies reveal many people are experiencing what is called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression. This makes sense to me on several levels.
Advent season in Baden – courtesy of Robert Verzo via Flickr
Sadly, I know many people who experienced the bulk of their abuse while family spent the holidays together. The festive decorations and songs combined with the gathering of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins serves a consistent reminder of the worst days of their lives.
If your mind and heart were visible during this season, what would an onlooker, like me, uncover?
For some, maybe even you, a richly Christian word like Advent may conjure up fear or disappointment. Orthodox Christianity teaches that Advent is a season set apart for anticipating the coming of Christ. Yet for many, Advent means “I’ll be depressed ‘advent-ually.’” If this is you, you’re not alone in this struggle of the mind and spirit.
So often, we are tempted to turn our focus away from Christ in order to earnestly seek the American dream, self-protection, or whatever the online buzz of the day may be. The pressure to be more righteous or at least better than I was a year ago is also ever present, especially during this time of year. Though we may hear plenty of sermons about grace, we find ourselves still battling self-justification projects. The pull of commercial ideals and the pressure of spiritual maintenance or growth has cruelly shifted the season meant for celebratory anticipation into advent-ual anxiety and depression.
In 1922, Helen H. Lemmel wrote a hymn based on Hebrews 12:2, Turn your eyes upon Jesus. He is who Advent anticipates and celebrates. Television, shopping malls and online ads mention Christmas as the bait in order to switch your focus to what “you need” and “others want.” However, in “Advent’s coming,” we are reminded to set apart mental, relational and certainly spiritual time and space to fix their eyes on Jesus… and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Jesus alone can and does offer what all humanity wants and needs. He is the “Prince of Peace” whose Kingdom is of peace.
Advent is about remembering the incarnational Christ who became one of us in order to live amongst us, love us, and redeem us. Advent is also about anticipating His glorious return when He will eliminate all distractions and devastations. Even death will die.
His return will defeat all anxiety and fear.
If Advent has become advent-ual depression or the loneliest time of the year for you, don’t lose hope. As Christians, we have read how the story ends. We are described as pilgrims, aliens, strangers and sojourners in this life. The Apostle James wrote that our stay in this life is like a mist. This life is so short that unless you are watching intently for those vapor particles, you’ll miss them.
Advent-ually your depression will die in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your fears will flee in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your losses will lose their grip in the light of His glory and grace.
Advent-ually your abusers will no longer hold the place in your life in the light of His glory and grace.
My friend, Advent-ually Christ will return and “make all things new”. Until that day, may God help each of us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to embrace these hope-filled words written by the Apostle Paul:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Chris Armfield is married to Jerushah and they have three children, Anabelle, Liam, and Alexandria. He is the Lead Pastor of CITYLIGHTS Church in Greenville, South Carolina. As a sexual abuse survivor himself, Chris has an uniquely tender heart for helping hurting people find healing.
The most often repeated story about religion and politics these days is the evangelical love affair with Donald Trump.
Virtually every week we get another story of how evangelicals love President Trump, no matter what he does. Pundits likewise offer much analysis of the reasons for evangelicals’ undying fidelity. New York magazine recently averred, for instance, that evangelicals like Trump because of his “hatefulness.” The Washington Post similarly advised “white evangelicals” that it was time to “panic” because they had sold their birthrights for a mess of Trumpism.
There is no doubt that certain Republican evangelical insiders, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and First Baptist Dallas’ Robert Jeffress, have gone “all in” on Trumpism.
It’s true too that millions of practicing white evangelicals have seemingly gone with them. These white Christian traditionalists voted for Trump either as the “lesser of two evils” over Hillary Clinton, or out of genuine enthusiasm for the president. The 81% of self-identified evangelical white voters who supported Trump in 2016 are not a mirage. They reflect a reality about white evangelicals’ allegiance to Trump’s GOP.
Nevertheless, the vitriol of recent months has created misunderstandings about evangelicals themselves. To outsiders, it may seem as if Falwell, Graham and Jeffress define the evangelical movement. But the idea that Fox News-watching religious Republican voters are a stand-in for all evangelicals is ludicrous. The mere impression that they might encompass what it means to be an evangelical shows the paucity of our religious understanding and global insight.
Even within white traditionalist evangelicalism, an outspoken group of leaders registered opposition to or grave concern about Trump in 2016. These included Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, John Piper of Desiring God Ministries and Beth Moore of Living Proof Ministries, all of them far more visible on the evangelical conference circuit than the Republican insiders.
More importantly, those evangelicals represented in the media are hardly representative. Nonwhite evangelicals, especially African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos, were less enthusiastic about Trump. Polls often exclude such nonwhite evangelicals by design, as stories about “evangelicals and politics” typically only look at “self-identifying evangelical white Republicans and politics.”
This leads not only to misconceptions but curious absences in news about evangelicals. Probably the most fascinating topic about evangelicals and politics is one rarely discussed: the allegiances of Hispanic evangelicals, who are up for grabs between the Republicans and Democrats. We don’t hear about them, in part, because polls often have no category for Latino Protestants (almost all of whom are evangelicals).
Another group of missing evangelicals are the millions who do not vote, even in presidential elections. Though evangelicals have been more likely to vote than other Americans since 1980, a strong minority of evangelicals in America don’t vote at all, in spite of decades of brow-beating by Republican insiders who say that not voting is sinful.
Is a nonvoting evangelical still an evangelical? One would get the impression from coverage of evangelicals that the nonvoters are aberrant or nonexistent. This shows just how politicized our definition of “evangelical” has become.
The absence of these evangelicals in the political debate points up a wider problem with polls: The internet and cellphones have gutted the efficacy of traditional polling. Landlines, and people willing to answer them, were essential to the heyday of American polling a half-century ago. Now they are vanishingly rare. Response rates of 80% to 90% used to be common for pollsters; 5% or less is now routine. Pollsters try to account for this deficit, but the people polled are rarely a representative sample in a traditional sense.
Even when a pollster gets someone on the line, the category “evangelical” itself is rather vague. Political polling about evangelicals, which began in 1976 with the candidacy of the born-again Jimmy Carter, has almost always depended on self-identification. Pollsters ask respondents if they are evangelical or born again (two terms that can get strikingly different results, depending on one’s ethnicity). If a person says “yes” to either, especially if they are white, then the pollster asks about the person’s political behavior.
It is uncommon for the pollster to ask what a respondent means by saying they’re evangelical or born again. Do they go to church? Which one? How did they become an evangelical? We usually don’t know.
When pollsters do match evangelical self-identification with denomination and attendance, oddities appear. For example, it has become standard for pollsters who do ask more probing religious questions to allow a category for “nonchurchgoing evangelicals.” And in spite of evangelicalism’s historic relationship with Protestant churches, you find small but notable populations of Catholics, Mormons and even Eastern Orthodox believers who say they are evangelicals.
The absurd outcome of these factors together is that a tiny slice of the global evangelical community — white, GOP-centered self-identified evangelicals — is now the image we have of the whole.
That slice, it must be said, looks nothing like what most of the world knows as an evangelical. On the global stage, evangelicals are thriving in Latin America, Africa and east Asia. (Even in America, the growth areas for evangelical and Pentecostal denominations are among Hispanic Americans and recent immigrants from Central America, the Caribbean and Africa.)
The political concerns of a Chinese house church attendee are far different from those of a white voter in Robert Jeffress’ congregation. Yet if we understand evangelicals as a spiritual category — as Christians who believe in being born again, the authority of the Bible and a believer’s daily walk with God — that Chinese believer is absolutely an evangelical. Such Chinese believers (and others like them around the world) represent the demographic future of global evangelical faith, a future that is not centered on Donald Trump’s GOP.
Social media is pervasive in everything that we do. You can’t buy dog food or gas for your car without seeing an invitation to like the product page on Facebook or follow the Twitter handle.
So how do we as Christians engage the “clap back” and “you’ve been canceled” world of social media? After looking online and seeing so many faux pas and mistakes made by those who name the name of Christ, I’ve come up with “10 Commandments” of social media for Christians.
Pause before you publish
The one thing you must do before you do anything else in the world of social media is to stop and think before you click “Enter” and send that post or tweet or Instagram photo. Think through the ramifications of what you are about to send to the entire Internet.
Your friends and people you don’t even know have a window into this part of your world. Where most communication is private, this is public in a way that wasn’t public 20-25 years ago.
More often than not, we forget that the words and pictures we send are going into a vast public record and open to the peering eyes of our bosses, co-workers, church members, potential employers, family, and friends.
Think about the words that you are about to type and send. It can go a long way in maintaining your online and offline reputation.
World Star Hip Hop is not a credible news source
One of the things to think about is whether you are passing on credible information. Sometimes our hearts are already open to something that is more than likely a lie. We see the latest expos and what it really exposes is the bent of our heart.
Newsflash: Celebrity gossip is not news. So many rumors can be circulated in a matter of hours, and no one stops to check the facts but just publishes this stuff like it came from the mouth of God.
We have snopes.com now. There is no excuse. In this age where a story can spread faster than you can say “Ferguson,” we need to discover whether or not it is true.
Sometimes a story is just satire. Sometimes it’s for real. You need to know the difference.
Improve your offline to online ratio
I see some people on Facebook no matter what time of day it is. The phone is probably the first thing they pick up in the morning and the last thing they hold at night.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some people slept with their phone. These are the kind of folks who obnoxiously text and tweet while having dinner. This is not the person you want to be.
As a follower of Jesus, you must place a higher value on your offline relationships than online. Your online relationships are flat and cannot see into the depths of who you are, and vice versa.
Technology has the privilege of giving you the ability to edit the parts of your life you don’t want others to see. Not so with real-life flesh and blood relationships.
The more time you spend with others, the more time you see their real authentic selves, and the more time they see your real authentic self as well.
This is a good thing. This is why God created Eve for Adam. This is why the “one anothers” of the church exist. We are called to live in community together, and online interaction cannot replace that.
Would you want your grandma to see this?
First of all, as a Christian, some pictures don’t need to be taken. Yeah, that skimpy outfit just should not have been worn, much less photographed.
Second of all, some pictures don’t need to be published to the rest of the world. As a follower of Jesus, you are not just representing yourself, but the agenda of the King and His kingdom. You are representing your local and universal church family.
And if these things don’t strike a chord with you: You are also representing your own family.
Before you publish a picture, think to yourself: “Would I want my grandma to see this?”
Now if your grandma is living foul, then this doesn’t work, but if you’ve got one of those old, church mother, saved and sanctified grandmas, this can be very effective.
You wouldn’t want that grandma to see you getting “turnt” in the club or in a bikini gyrating with some dude.
If you can’t say it in person, then don’t say it
For some reason, people are bolder online. It’s not just the anonymity. This sometimes happens when people know each other. I think it has to do with the lack of proximity.
By being far away from each other physically, we are emboldened to say things we wouldn’t say if we were looking at someone directly in the eyes.
Remember this: If you can’t say it in person, don’t say it. There is nothing courageous about being an online prophet and an in-person yes-man.
Just because you get an amen corner online doesn’t make you bold. Real boldness is speaking the truth even when you don’t have an amen corner at all.
Pass on being passive-aggressive
Have you ever seen these posts that are directed to someone and no one at the same time? These are called “sub-statuses” or “subtweets,” and they are full of bitterness, anger, sometimes sarcasm.
They point out anonymous people’s faults. Sometimes they make you wonder if their online temper tantrum or cutting remark is targeting you. That’s not how saints of God air their grievances.
Private grievances need to be handled in private. Public grievances need to be handled in public.
Even if you are going to express your frustration, you at least need to name the person you are frustrated with. The Bible commands us to speak the truth in love.
Being passive-aggressive in your posts is anything but truthful or loving.
Leave the doomsday prophets in the Old Testament
As followers of Jesus, we are called to share the good news.
Often when I look at people’s Facebook pages and tweets, I am surprised when I see the latest gloom-and-doom prophecies about how the nation is going down the tubes or how Black America is doomed to fail.
A lot of what I see is just negative events or news articles.
Yes, there is a place for being realistic, but spreading negativity shouldn’t be our default. Our default is joy. Our default is peace. Our default is hope.
The things we repost and retweet need to be aligned with what we value as the people of God. They should speak to the wider world of our orientation toward the kingdom and the hope we have in Christ.
Bible-thumping doesn’t work (in person or online)
Have you ever talked to someone and the answer to every question was a Bible verse? These are the kind of people who figure out what kind of cereal to get with a Bible verse. And if it’s a religious question, they don’t actually answer the question, but just spew out Bible verses.
Don’t be that person.
Yes, we believe the Bible to be true in all that it affirms, but we also need to be aware of the world we live in.
Commenting on people’s posts with Bible verses that are most of the time out of context does nothing to win people over to Christ or a Christian perspective.
It’s best to meet people where they are and then explain what the Bible says about a subject than to proof text verses and expect to persuade people to your perspective.
Respect the Internet
The Internet has specific guidelines when it comes to communicating.
ALL CAPS USUALLY INDICATES ANGER. Now I wasn’t angry there, but sometimes we put all caps on things where we shouldn’t and unintentionally communicate anger.
Because Internet conversations are in writing, they don’t always convey the intended meaning. What we intended as a joke can potentially be seen as a threat or an insult. Emoticons can help.
The key is that as followers of Jesus, we don’t want to look like noobs on the Internet, and most importantly, we don’t want to offend people unnecessarily.
The Gospel is already offensive, and if people know that we are Christians, they may be offended by our very beliefs. We don’t want to offend them unnecessarily any other way.
Keep Jesus at the center
Last but not least, keep Jesus at the center of everything you do online. If being on Facebook or Twitter is becoming more of an addiction and less of a purposeful conversation tool, then drop them.
If you are unsure of whether to post something or respond to a comment, then think about the person and the work of Christ.
You will never go wrong by keeping Jesus as a model for your social media interaction.
I haven’t eaten with white folks in years and I’m getting a little concerned. I eat with black folks every day. They’re my family, so I have no other choice. If I didn’t eat with my husband and kids I think they’d get a little concerned about me.
But back in the day, I ate with a bunch of white folks on a regular basis. Once or twice a month, I’d be in some white person’s house, resting my brown feet under their dining room table (or coffee table, in some cases) and talking about racial issues in the American church. We were “eating” with white folks, and breaking more than bread.
As a Christian and a single parent, I’m convinced that if we fail to accept this truth, our efforts at rising above our circumstances and raising our children well will prove futile. We will continue to experience a daunting level of paralyzing frustration that immobilizes us. Our lives will become the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recent conversations about the ills facing families, particularly minority families, focus heavily on the absentee father phenomenon and its devastating consequences. No argument there. Boatloads of statistics, polls, and surveys document almost ad nauseam the poverty, social maladjustment, and emotional fallout that can’t be denied. Given all the hell breaking loose, you’d think we’d be beating down church doors and wearing the pages of our Bibles ragged, searching for His answers to our problems. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative indicates that churches and spiritual leaders are not high on the list of sources dads consult for help with fathering issues. In one survey, mothers were asked to name the sources that fathers of their child look to for help. Only a third indicated that the father had “consulted a place of worship, minister, or rabbi.” Similarly, when fathers were asked who they go to for help, just a little more than half said they relied on a place of worship. It stands to reason that if God is not consistently and actively involved in our parenting, He’s probably equally absent from our children’s lives.
So, the hard truth is this:
The absence of an earthly father, while sad and unfortunate, can be overcome. The absence of God the heavenlyFather cannot be overcome and is deadly. There is no substitute for Him. It’s vital we shift our focus to include the absolute necessities of: (1) Our children knowing, loving, and following God; and (2) parents making Him the foundation of our homes. Not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else, but most certainly preeminent to all else.
How will our children’s lives be affected when God is the absent, forgotten Father? Consider:
•Psalm 127:1 tells us that if God Himself is not the builder of our lives and homes, everything else we do is vain and accomplishes nothing.
Practical application: If no one in a home seeks God’s wisdom about priorities and strategies that will make a child’s life what God intends — and no one introduces that child to his true Father — then having a present, active, involved father doesn’t accomplish anything. There aren’t enough workshops, programs, lock-ins, websites, or resources that will make an ultimate and eternal difference in that child’s life.
Action steps: Single-parent families and dual-parent families, first let’s take stock of our children and our homes. Have we allowed God to be the master-builder of our homes? Does God’s will and desire to determine our behaviors? Do our children know Christ? Do they understand that their lives must be anchored in Him for them to be meaningful and influential? If in a single-parent home, do they experience the power of overcoming obstacles created by the absence of a parent? If we must answer ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time for a new game plan. Second, go to the Word of God and see what He says you should be doing as a mother or father. Third, pick one thing and pray specifically about it every day for one week. See what He will do.
• A child’s life built around the absence of a father rather than obedience to the Word of God has a shaky foundation that cannot sustain him against the winds of circumstance.
In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus Christ compares the life of an obedient person to someone whose house is built on a rock. This house, though buffeted by the storms of life, will still stand, providing security and safety. In contrast, one who hears and knows His word but does not obey it foolishly relies on something that will not withstand the strong winds and adversities of life. This one will find himself without protection when trouble comes.
Practical application: While God clearly indicates the role of fathers, nowhere does He instruct us to completely build our lives on their presence or absence. God and His word alone are our foundation, and upon Him alone, we must rely. When we frame our children’s lives in terms of a father’s absence, we are in effect making that fact a foundation of their life. If we make them feel that their father’s absence or lack of involvement is the determinative factor of their success, safety, and quality of life, should we be surprised when they, in fact, succumb to poverty, and poor choices? We’ve drunk our fill of the liberal social science Kool-Aid that tells us poverty and incarceration are caused by fatherlessness. Think about that. My child does not live with his father. Therefore, he will be poor, angry, aggressive, and land in jail. Come on now. We are laying a false foundation in our children’s lives with this faulty mental paradigm. What about God’s instruction to be angry and sin not? What about His promise to comfort and heal the brokenhearted and to provide all our needs? It’s time for us to skip the Kool-Aid and drink the living water the Spirit gives, which offers a life-giving alternative to what we are now experiencing because our collective house has come crashing down.
Laying the false foundation of father-absence victimization reflects a heart and mind that have not yet fully grasped the absolute power of God. If God cannot give us victory over circumstances that come with absent fathers, how can He be who He claims to be? Friends, God is waiting for us to fully trust Him with our children’s lives, no matter the circumstances of their conception, birth, or life. If you’ve laid this false foundation by internalizing the horror-story statistics: (1) Go to God, confess your fear for your child’s life and bewilderment over what to do. (2) Ask Him to renew your mind regarding your child’s future. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of answers you get in prayer and as a result of prayer. (3) Find resources that give practical and biblical strategies for parents. (4) Most of all, actually begin todo what God tells you.
That’s it for now. Truth is hard to hear, hard to digest, and harder still to implement. Everyone’s talking about “speaking truth to power,” but I say let’s speak the Truth from Power. Next time, I’ll highlight one more way in which our children’s lives can be adversely affected if the Lord remains the forgotten Father. Until then, I close with this prayer for us all:
May God give us all spiritual wisdom and insight so that we may grow in our knowledge of God. May our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—us his holy people. Lord help us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you. Your power to save our children, to heal their and our brokenness, to make our children mighty and a praise in this earth, no matter what situations they are experiencing now. And surprise us, Lord with your unique answers to our unique situations (adapted from Eph. 1:15-20).
Election campaigns inspire hope, but they can also quickly lead to political despair. During the last two elections, America’s polarized citizens experienced significant swings between hope and despair.
As a philosopher who specializes in citizenship education and political theory, I believe that political hope can be taught in schools and colleges. It can lay a pathway to help citizens make good choices at the ballot box and sustain political engagement.
Despair in democracy
A recent study published in the Journal of Democracy found that across the globe citizens have “become more cynical” about the value of a democratic system and “less hopeful” of their ability to influence public policy.
Help students explore real social and political problems to better understand citizens’ struggles and needs. Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month, for example, could be used as opportunities to showcase the hopeful endeavors of leaders and everyday citizens who fought for civil rights and against the political despair of the times.
Challenge growing citizens to see that genuine political hope is a call to ongoing collective work. Programs such as the Freechild Institute and the Mikva Challenge provide a model for how to mobilize students to act to improve their communities. In these programs, young people are encouraged to identify problems and are supported in expressing their views about them. Students can learn how to imagine better futures and take steps toward it.
Reaffirm the value of shared political governance. An example of such mentoring comes from a school in Minneapolis where students became concerned that one school had a large playground while another one, next to it, had very little playground facilities. Instead of harboring hostile feelings, students took positive actions. They surveyed students of both schools and gathered evidence on the impact of the inequality. They also worked with the school administrations and the local press to voice their concerns. In the end, students put forward a proposal that was fairer toward everyone. In the process, students learned how to listen, collaborate and build trust – something all citizens should learn.
For example, after a gunman killed 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, students from that school and across the U.S. staged widespread protests demanding safer schools.
Some educators helped students learn how to not only express dissatisfaction, but help others understand it. Some teachers, for example, helped students describe the problems and experience of gun violence by creating press packets. Parents aided children in constructing messages to share with legislators.
Students learned how to put forward solutions to be discussed and tested. Members of the school newspaper were guest editors of a U.S. edition of The Guardian a well-regarded British newspaper, which outlined their vision for change.
Questioning power structures
Educators can cultivate critical thinking. This is not just the deep thinking that most of us expect in all classes. It is thinking that interrogates power structures, identifies injustice and asserts principles of democracy.
Following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, some educators, for example, helped students understand the history of racism in order to better critique policing injustice today and describe an America where black lives matter.
When students learn this history, their critiques of the present and their vision for the future are better informed.
Tell a story
Finally, educators can nurture imagination and support students in constructing stories about improved ways of living. Stories show examples of how to take action and why it’s worthwhile to do so.
For example, in one school, as students discussed current events, a poetry teacher engaged her students in writing and presenting poetry about Haiti’s earthquake and how citizens might recover. As she wrote, instead of just saying, “It’s so sad,” she asked them to bring their learning from the history of Hurricane Katrina to look at the tragedy with empathy and ask, “How do race and class affect the aftermath from a natural disaster?”
Storytelling also includes listening to the needs of others. Learning how to pay attention to the lives of others can improve citizens’ visions for the future.
American schools and universities can help budding citizens shape and respond to the next presidential election. And, I believe, well beyond 2019, they can play a role in reviving hope and democracy in America.