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A Philippians 2 spotlight on my arrogant heart

What would happen if Christians did better at living out a call to humility?

If you have a journalist for a friend, I am sorry. Or maybe it’s just me. My friends can’t enjoy a decent hang-out session with me without me fact-checking their statements, sharing my opinions on every relevant and irrelevant issue, and reminding them of all the dark and depressing issues that they’d rather not dwell on at that moment. Please have pity on my friends. 

I can’t seem to help it. My job is literally to inform people, and I was raised by a preacher who used every moment with his family as a teaching opportunity, so it’s both in my blood and my vocation to constantly teach and inform and correct people around me. And that irritating habit has gotten even worse during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

I did it again several weeks ago with my women’s Bible study group. We were on a group text thread one evening, talking about the latest news on the coronavirus (what else?), when a friend shared something that I sniffed out as inaccurate. Like any good reporter would, I fact-checked it, and then quickly informed her on the group text that her information was outdated. My friend texted back an unhappy emoji face with rolled-back eyes, and I realized then that I had probably ticked her off. 

At first, I was also annoyed: Well, didn’t she want the correct information? But then as I thought more about it, I felt convicted: It wasn’t just that I had basically edited her in front of others. It was the way I did it—my text response to her had been curt, undercutting, and ungracious. Feeling guilty, I texted my friend privately, asking if she’s mad at me. 

She responded right away: “I’m not mad, Sophia. It’s just sometimes you come at people like you know everything. Which is awesome, you’re smart, I get it. But I notice that when anyone says anything to you, sometimes the way you answer is like everyone is stupid except you.” 

Oh, boy. She was right. I knew she was, because even though I can come up with all the excuses I want for my behavior, as I just did—I’m just a journalist being journalisty, I’m my father’s daughter, I am just trying to be factually accurate, I don’t want misinformation to spread, blah blah—the Holy Spirit shed a bright, torching spotlight into the chambers in my heart, and I saw arrogance, and even a little bit of elitism. Yes, I do often think I know more than others around me. Yes, I do pride myself for being well-read and well-researched—you know, an intellectual. Someone different, someone a tad superior to others.

How easy is it to get that sugary twinge of self-satisfaction when you prove someone wrong? It’s seeped into the language of our culture today, and we see it often in the headlines of YouTube and Facebook and certain media posts: “So-and-so absolutely DESTROYS so-and-so!” “So-and-so conservative pundit leaves so-and-so libtard SPEECHLESS!” “So-and-so OUTSMARTS idiot so-and-so!” “Compilation of snowflakes completely TRIGGERED!” “So-and-so WRECKS so-and-so!” “The TRUE story of xx agenda!” And so on and on. 

God has wise humor though. That same week, our Bible study group had planned to study Philippians 2:1-11 together. As the Bible teacher, I had prepared for the study that week, but we ended up having to postpone the Bible study. The next week, I prepared for the study again, but we had to postpone another week. That meant I had to read and study Philippians 2:1-11 at least three times by myself in the quiet mornings, meditating and praying on those words for three weeks. God wanted to teach me something Himself, and I received it loud and clear in that entire passage, particularly verse 3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” 

Oh, Lord, have mercy on me. This commandment from You is so simple to understand, yet so challenging to act out! It cuts deep into the deepest and darkest sins in my heart, igniting that yearning battle to purify myself from inside-out, for humility can’t be feigned. To “count others more significant than yourselves” requires an exorcism of all the junk and grime of selfishness, envy, pride, conceit, and greed that have congealed inside me—a thick, gooey, stinky mess that only spreads and drips and putrefies the more I try to wipe it away with my own sticky hands. The only man to do this perfectly was Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself ... and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And now that’s whose name we confess and exalt, whose mind we seek to adopt and emulate. 

I still think about this passage often today, especially as I look at the divisions between the Body in Christ shaking wider during this turbulent season. I’m not certain we are currently “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” as the Apostle Paul exhorted. We don’t even agree on what to call this season. One group would call it a public health crisis born out of a deadly virus. Another might call it an economic or constitutional rights crisis born out of overblown panic and political agendas. Another would interpret everything through the lens of prophecies in Revelations.

Two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, back when our nation still knew how to band together into a collective grief, we’ve become more polarized and outraged rather than united and determined against a common enemy, partly because we don’t even know who the real enemy is anymore. Sometimes I think our enemy has become each other.

That evening when my friend called me out, I thanked her for doing so and told her I’ll try to be more aware of my flaws. She replied, “Sophia, we have nothing but love for you. Trust me. We are all different in our amazing ways and that’s what makes us awesome together. We all fill in the gaps.” 

What, I wonder, would the church in America look like, if we all individually and collectively lived out this vision of Christ-like humility in Philippians 2, as a people who have been forever transformed and reformed by it? What if we all, like my friend here, recognized and celebrated God’s unique thumbprint on each of us, and exhorted each other in humility to count each other more significant than ourselves? Why, I think our one and only enemy would quake with fear.

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Handout

Jamison Galt (right) leads a church service before the coronavirus. (Handout)

How to run a funeral in a pandemic

A Brooklyn pastor says trying to help grieving congregants in the middle of the pandemic is an excruciating experience

A New York moment: 

Jamison Galt is the pastor of Resurrection Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and in late March he heard a parishioner’s dad had COVID-19. He and the church member, Jeremy Caliz, prayed and went over all the potential scenarios. Galt was frustrated that he couldn’t go to the hospital or to Caliz’s house to support him.

“The whole experience is kind of anti-good news,” he said. “At first it was: I have to distance myself from my neighbor out of fear of them. And then the next thing is: The creation is not good, I can’t touch these good things, because it might have [the] virus on them. I might myself be a weapon, my body has become weaponized.”

Caliz’s father died in early April (see my story about it). 

Information on funerals and dealing with death during the pandemic was “not info anyone had prepared,” said Galt. New York is only allowing in-person funerals of fewer than 10 people at a graveside, and the various systems for handling remains were so backed up that Caliz couldn’t arrange a burial in the near future. Caliz and Galt planned a virtual funeral.

“Going through this entire crisis in New York City as a pastor has been excruciating—as it has been for everybody—but excruciating in the manner in which you’re unable to do anything that you’re trained to do,” said Galt. “I ask myself every morning, what does love require, and what am I actually able to do today?”

Galt had to learn to use Google Meet for the funeral. Normally after a death he would sit with someone and cry, not saying much. But as a pastor in the pandemic, all he has are phone calls. So he has to talk.

Galt led the funeral service from an empty apartment above his own, since his wife was working and their four kids were running around. At least twice during the service, audience members accidentally took over the screen on Zoom by sharing their own screens.

“You’re working up the preacher-ly energy, and it’s like, ‘So and so has taken over your screen,’” he said. Tech problems were a small factor in the difficulty that not being able to “come together and grieve properly” presented.

Another pandemic challenge for Galt: a church birth. Some Resurrection parishioners had long struggled with infertility, and after years of prayer they had a baby during the height of the pandemic. Galt couldn’t go to the hospital or see them. They Facetimed him to tell him that they named the baby after him.

This week I learned: 

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced drive-in theaters could operate statewide, one diner in Queens turned its parking lot into a drive-in theater. Its initial showings sold out, and it appears this is now the hottest ticket in town. 

A court case you might not know about:

A federal judge ordered the New York Democratic Party to un-cancel the state’s Democratic primary set for June 23. The judge said the party’s cancellation of the primary was “unconstitutional,” even with coronavirus concerns.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a New York resident, brought the lawsuit, which former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined as well. Though Joe Biden is the sole primary candidate, the vote could have apportioned delegates to other candidates that would influence the party platform. 

Culture I am consuming:

A Hidden Life, another masterpiece from writer/director Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler in World War II. 

I didn’t realize until seeing the film that the title comes from one of my favorite quotes from my favorite novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot concludes the book: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Justin Amash (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Dean’s List: Justin Amash bids adieu

A grab-bag of politics, religion, and other news ahead of the 2020 election

Editor’s Note: This weekly feature will publish Fridays during the 2020 election season.

1. Amash’s adieu

Less than three weeks after jumping into the presidential race, Rep. Justin Amash (Libertarian-Mich.) jumped back out. Amash was exploring a bid for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, but the congressman said on May 16 he realized success isn’t likely under the current circumstances. 

That’s likely true—with or without a pandemic. But it also wasn’t certain Amash could win the party’s nomination.  Amash left the GOP in July 2019, but he filed paperwork to change his affiliation to the Libertarian Party on May 1, 2020. He officially announced his Libertarian bid just 24 days before the party’s scheduled convention. 

Amash drew media attention, but longtime Libertarian Jacob Hornberger had already won a handful of primaries. Those contests are non-binding in the party, but they revealed a base of support. 

In an online debate, Hornberger grilled Amash on a slate of issues, including his pro-life position. On abortion, the Libertarian Party platform asserts “people can hold good-faith views on all sides,” but says the government should stay out of it.

Amash didn’t deny his pro-life beliefs. But he said he thought a Libertarian presidency wouldn’t require him to compromise the party’s platform, since the party opposes federal funding for abortion. Still, there are other abortion-related issues a president must face, and it wasn’t clear how Amash would handle them. 

The Libertarian Party is set to hold its nominating convention online over Memorial Day weekend. The decision to go virtual came only after an extensive debate over party by-laws that require the group to meet “in a place” they agree on. A question they debated—perhaps one we’re all pondering these days: Is the internet a place? 

2. Swinging low

At a moment when nursing homes are suffering some of the highest death rates related to COVID-19, frailty isn’t funny. But, sadly, that’s the schtick in a recent Trump campaign ad pointing out opponent Joe Biden’s mishaps on the presidential trail.

Biden has stumbled with his speech and concentration at more than one public event this cycle. Though he’s struggled with a stutter since childhood, it’s still fair to ask reasonable questions about his mental acuity if he aspires to the presidency. 

But it’s folly for the Trump campaign to produce an ad that begins with an image altered to appear like Biden is being spoon-fed in a nursing home. The recent Facebook spot featured jaunty music and a string of Biden’s slip-ups. Another ad declared: “Geriatric mental health is no laughing matter,” while playing a jovial tune and showing Biden falter. 

Ben Carson, now secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was once a presidential candidate who liked to quote the book of Proverbs on the campaign trail. One of the Proverbs that campaign managers might keep in mind: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense.” 

3.  Loving thy neighbor 

Nursing home residents are some of our most isolated neighbors, with COVID-19 contributing to a steep death toll at many residential care facilities. President Trump announced an independent commission to assess COVID-19 response in nursing homes, and to make recommendations to the federal government for preparing for outbreaks.

Emma Green of The Atlantic penned a moving story about nuns from the Roman Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor, as they cared for residents falling ill in a nursing home in Delaware. “If you don’t have a strong faith, this thing would just succeed in crushing you,” one of the nuns told Green. 

A few weeks later, attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor were making oral arguments via telephone to the Supreme Court (the court was quarantining). The nuns are still battling regulations related to the Affordable Care Act requiring the religious order to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in its health care plan. 

Biden served as vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration when the rules rolled out. The case is a reminder that Biden, a lifelong Catholic, should face questions about his views on religious liberty during the presidential campaign. 

4. Sound bites 

The Atlantic also published an expose of QAnon, an anonymous online entity with a group of followers professing belief in a vast, deep-state conspiracy theory they say is aligned against Trump. 

Some of the followers also use Biblical language, and the article leans toward suggesting the group could be partly an outgrowth of the evangelical church. Denny Burk, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered a crisp response on Twitter: “I know what Christianity is, and Qanon ain’t it.” 

5. Off-the-trail

In non-campaign news, two NASA astronauts are scheduled to launch from earth on May 27 and soar to the International Space Station. The astronauts will fly in the Dragon capsule developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. (NASA encourages viewers to watch the launch online.) It’s the first manned flight for the California company—and perhaps the ultimate form of social distancing during an election year.

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