Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
John Newton: Amazing Grace, 1779
Due to the sensitivity of issues my writing and thoughts tend to go. I want clarify to the reader my purpose for undertaking such a seemingly futile endeavor. It is not my purpose to ruffle feathers for the sake of being confrontational, yet it is the desire for truth that has set me on a course that has done nothing less but transform and renew my mind; and It is in service to the way, the truth, and the life, that I aspire to disseminate this transformative worldview( transformative at least in relation to myself).
This renewing has consequently force me to reshape and mold my mind in the light of truth, rather than hold on to commonly held beliefs and traditions that I, and many other believers and non-believers, derive our self-worth and purpose from. Beliefs that are so strongly held internally due to a lifetime of conditioning and regurgitation, that one finds themselves hard pressed to even allow a dissimilar thought to permeate even the most outer periphery of their personhood. If new ideas arise that challenge our preconceived notions should we automatically reject and dismiss them? Does the bearer of such differing thoughts then become your enemy; not for who they are as a human being, created by God, but as an adversary to your self-identity and understanding of the reality in which you live?
As Paul wrote to the early church “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16 NASB). I admonish you, not to fall prey to this entrapment of rejecting an idea or person solely based on an inability to reconcile what is said with your own ideas; as many Christians like myself, and all peoples, have fallen prey to throughout history. The bible speaks clearly to this ever to common response in Proverbs 18:13 “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him”. (NASB) In this spirit, and only in this spirit of seeking truth by seeking a matter out first; in the stead of allowing my opinions to be formed before having the evidence for its truth, has my perception begun to change.
I grew up in a typical evangelical Christian home in America. Even from my earliest memories I can attest that Christ was always at the center of our family. through church, but even more so at home. My parents, even to this day, are some of the strongest Christians in the faith that I know, and truly trained us up in the way we should go, as to the best of their knowledge and ability.
Excluding one year of kindergarten all of my schooling was conducted in a Christian environment. We were neither more rich than anyone we knew, nor poorer. We were a typical middle class family that many Americans can relate to. My parents put us through private education by my mother’s continual teaching at the schools we attended, so that all of her children could attend for free. Through this education and home life, I started to become interested in conservative principles that my environment had espoused as biblical, and overall a better way of life; many of the same principles I still hold firmly to today.
I was taught that our country was founded on fundamental Christian values and that the blessings we have experienced as a nation, solely derive from the continuance of said principles. That we truly are one nation under God, and any divergence from this was counter to the will of both our earthly forefathers and heavenly father. This belief then permeated throughout and guided my thinking in regards to social, political, and economic issues. I began to hold socially conservative values. I voted in accordance with evangelical conservative leaders and political figures, and I defended conservative free-market economics as the system most congruent with biblical teaching, and in turn, denounced dissenting beliefs as unscriptural and unchristian.
These Christian principles also fostered my national patriotism and led me to believe that the uniqueness of being an American was worth giving my life in service unto. Even up until entering college, dreams of being a soldier, fighting for the freedoms I had been taught to cherish was a career path I viewed as admirable and honoring to my country and my faith. My grandfather fought during the Korean War and died when I was still a kid, but my father made sure to tell us of his bravery and sacrifice he characterized as a young man in service to his country. To follow in his steps, as my brother has now, serving in the U.S. Air Force, I view as an honor.
These thoughts, from my early childhood had completely determined my worldview, but when I began to seek truth, these ideas inevitable, as I see now, began to alter. Now most of my core beliefs have not changed, but have actually been reinforced and hardened as I have allowed God to break and shed the ineffectual and futile pieces that were holding me back from attaining a state of true disciple of Christ. A position I still strive for today, but with much greater clarity and understanding free from the baggage of fruitless statutes and carnal traditions.
Throughout my journey, one thing has remained constant, that Jesus Christ came to earth both fully God and fully man. He led a life without sin, and offered himself up for the sake of humanity; conquering death and the grave so that we might become heirs to the Kingdom of God when he returns. That this gift is not of ourselves, it is a gift from above, and without this gift we would have no way of being found righteous before God at the great white throne judgment. Christ is our advocate; without him we are nothing.
In effect, Christ is, and always will be truth, but what of the multiple paradigms packaged in to my conservative American Christian upbringing; such as my political and patriotic fervor? Are they as foundational as the life and teachings of our Lord and Savior himself? Was economic and social freedom we have in America as vital and necessary as the spiritual freedom we have in Christ? I was sad to say that most of these paradigms I found myself holding onto, have come to be markedly damaged, if not entirely shattered in the light of my journey to seek the heart of God and his kingdom principles.
As many Christian, I had believed that I had a corner on truth in lieu of the fact that I had accepted Christ, and I was not subject to lies as the rest of the world fell so easily entrapped and entangled in. What I failed to realize however was that just because I had the ultimate truth did not mean that all subsequent issues we are faced with today as believers I was somehow privy to “the light”, solely for the sake of accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior. As scripture says in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (NASB) I had to come to the understanding that Christ is truth, and in order to get closer to the heart and Kingdom of God I must take the willing initiative, as I had when I accepted his lordship over my life and ask, seek, knock. To not was to willingly deny myself the very nature of our creator; truth.
Not only was I denying a cornerstone of our Christian foundation as followers of Christ, but I was unwittingly, as many people are, elevating earthly wisdom and truth on par, and at some times higher, then eternal kingdom principles. Rather than the reverse and correct action of allowing kingdom principles to shine truth upon my earthly existence. When I took the first steps in beginning to seek, I feel as if Christ’s words were directly reproving, but yet prodding me to a greater existence when he said; “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:7-9 Italics added)
Was I rejecting the commandments of God in order to hold to the traditions of my American evangelical upbringing? Should I even be asking such a question? Was it heretical to question my country in light of my faith? After all, was not America supposed to be God’s country; the most moral and upright of all the countries in the world? With our collective economic and military prowess as well as individual freedom proof positive of this fact? If the beliefs I had held for so long were true, why could I not shake the feeling that I was missing something? Something greater than my physical existence and the parameters in which it was born into, and still currently resided. Something that transcended the creature comforts of American civilization, be it economic freedom or security from hostile forces to name a few. Something greater and holier; something truly authentic.
Sadly, I came to realize I was indeed missing something monumental, and I had missed it by holding my ingrained earthly traditions above the truth that Christ was willing to give me, and I only had to ask, seek, and knock. When I was finally willing to humble myself and relieve some of my earthly Idols I clung to so vehemently, God then began to speak truth (i.e. kingdom principles) into my life.
Now like the initial saving grace of Christ brings forth a hidden truth to us; when one asks, seeks and knocks it does not mean God begins to shower insurmountable truths no holds bar upon you. Purposely hidden truths that many of us would not be able to digest and accept at given points in times during our existence on earth. God is not in the business of giving us more than we can handle, but instead chooses to reveal truths to us when he knows we are able to handle said truth, and are ready to accept it in lieu of what we only believed and were taught to be true. These truths come in events and moments within one’s life that force them to wrestle with revealed truth and the principles of God versus our inferior carnal traditions. With the principle winner pronounced by none other than our own free will. Understand, the power of truth will not force your consciousness into submission. In opposite fashion, it requires willing suspension of your consciously held beliefs; entitling real truth access to your most sacred opinions, beliefs, and worldview held deep within your personhood that your beliefs had stonewalled access unto.
One of these major events, where God deposited a grain of truth into my life, forcing me to confront my worldly traditions was on May 2, 2011. Most Americans may not recollect the date, but will clearly remember the event because it was the day that Osama Bin Laden was pronounced dead. killed by U.S. Special Forces while hiding in a compound in Pakistan in a hail of gunfire as valiant American soldiers stormed the premises and systematically enacted vengeance on our greatest enemy. A vengeance so many Americans longed and sought after for almost 10 years. I remember sitting with my friends in utter shock in front of the T.V. as we watched President Obama address the nation and proclaim our greatest adversaries demise.
As our president spoke and the computerized footage of the compound raid played across the screen; all the while the news ticker in bold caps ran across the bottom of the television declaring “OSAMA BID LADIN KILLED” over and over; one could not, as an American, suppress the swelling emotions of relief, joy, and victory at such a momentous event. After Obama’s declaration of our country’s righteous victory, we were shown scenes of street celebrations, prayer vigils, and even professional ball games packed with fans disengaging from the sports entertainment to stand in unison, cheering and chanting “U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.!”. The American pride that had been damaged 10 years before, restored and swelled within me as I sat there reveling in the news as to the exact means by which this creature fell.
For all the amount of time that we were forced to relive the footage of the planes flying into our own buildings, where thousands of our citizens remained trapped and met their subsequent fate. For the video footage of him taunting the U.S. over 9/11 and the threat to kill more innocent men women and children out of pure evil and hatred for our country. I found it only just and fair we as Americans were allowed to rightfully celebrate the righteousness that had been served, albeit seemed to fall short in comparison to the wrong that was done upon us ten years before. Nevertheless, we thanked God for his hand of providence on our troops as they carried out their mission. Thankful as well, that vengeance was served, and that God did not forsake us, but yet had repaid us with justice and national closure.
I carried this patriotic excitement and joy with me for the next few days, and found it especially gratifying when we did not allow him a proper Muslim burial, but instead sent his corpse overboard to sink into the depths of the ocean, defying him his foolish pagan burial ritual. What better way to show what happens to someone who provokes the great United States of America, proclaiming a warning to all others who wish the same upon us, surely deterring further Muslim terrorist actions against us.
With the passing of time the excitement and patriotic zeal began to fade as most Americans, including myself, began to carry on with life as usual. A life we are so well conditioned to live as the news stories and our collective conversations shifted away from the events of May 2nd, and back towards celebrity, sports, and political talking points. My enthusiasm followed suit and subsided with the masses, but for some unrevealed reason to me at the time, there was an unknown force preventing my full return to normalcy as a typical American. I began to experience something different than just the fizzling fervor back to a normal existence. there was just a minute idea holding my mind from returning to its desired state of comfort. A thought that I desperately tried to submerge within my consciousness through filling my spare time with entertainment and the joys of life, but nothing I did served to fully eradicate this notion, but only suppressed and prolonged the inevitable.
A sickening feeling within my personhood as I recalled my reactions and true conscious feelings of joy and adulation at the death of this murderer; a feeling of conviction. Why I felt this way I could not tell you except that a deeper truth, deeper than my current understanding of life, had gotten ahold of me and would not relent until I allowed it access. Access to irritate and rile my inner self that held all of my deepest and most sacred beliefs.
Sick with the feeling that even though my responses over such an event and person were acceptable and encouraged as a citizen of the United States; they may, just may, be discouraged and unacceptable to God. A kernel of truth I had asked and sought for in generality, but certainly if I saw beyond the threshold and into the truth Christ was wanting to reveal, I would have run from the doorway instead of foolishly knocking, exposing myself to such contrary reason.
This was not something I wished to entertain (as true of most revelation that challenges and exposes our wrong thinking and behavior), and was much more comfortable with adhering to my previous socially agreeable response of joy at another’s demise. After all, this “other” was Osama Bin Laden. Pure, unadulterated evil manifest in flesh. How could one not praise his falling? The perpetrator of such a heinous crime could in essence be nothing more than fully depraved, and underserving of the love Christ called us to emulate as his followers. At least that is how I justified my conduct as a citizen of an earthly kingdom. Celebrating the exploits and victories of my nation to our adversary’s demise.
I found justification for my actions from my fellow citizens, believers, and family, but defense for my actions in scripture and the teachings of Christ, remained alarmingly nonexistent. The more I searched for justification throughout scripture, the more despondent I became. There existed no scripture that vindicated my actions but yet my actions condemned me before God anew each time I took the words of Jesus to heart and applied them to my life today. as Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (1 Timothy 3:16 NASB) If it was good enough for Paul to apply the words of Jesus into his own personhood allowing the words to reprove and correct him; how could I deny myself the same training in righteousness. When I did, I was forced to painstakingly admit that my mindset was ungodly, and derived from a position of hate and fear rather than a spirit of love that Christ taught in perpetuity.
When I finally regarded the word of God the rightful honor it deserved, scripture came alive with truth I had purposely, but also at times, blindly overlooked. The response, I, as a follower of Christ should have modeled myself after on May 2, 2011 became abundantly clear to me throughout scripture. I still struggled, however, even after truth had been so clearly shown to me. I fought to see beyond my previous knowns and knee-jerk responses that have been so ingrained within me. They were me.
Could Christ’s words could truly be applied today without alteration? The words he spoke seem all well and lovely, but surely our world is much different than the days of Christ over 2000 years ago, and the principles Christ espoused, although good to practice, were inadequate in dealing with the evil our world contends with today. For example, could the words of Jesus below truly be applied by a believer in such a fallen and depraved world full of war, hate, and fear.
Luke 6: 27-36 says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (NASB)
Christ surely did not have the foresight to envision someone so wicked they would kill over 3,000 innocent people in a single morning unprovoked? Surely this passage was meant for someone I encounter that may not be a Christian, but walks, talks, acts, and holds the same values I do as an American Evangelical, not a Muslim radical terrorist? Who most certainly would not wish evil and death upon me, but rather someone I had a disagreement with solved by a simple gesture of reconciliation.
This, however, was my own carnal view of Christ, packaging my creator within the confines of my perceived reality and established worldview. Whose ways are higher than my ways and thoughts transcends my thoughts. Instead of Jesus not equipping us on how to deal with others who wish harm upon us in this day and age. maybe It was I who was unequipped, unwilling and unready to humble myself, relieving my American pride I have held to so dearly. And, as Christ did, with humility; love, do good, bless, and pray for Osama Bin Laden, our enemy. Furthermore, Jesus goes on to say that if I wish to be a son of the most high I must be merciful just as my father is merciful unto myself and all his creation.
Was raiding his compound and putting a bullet in his head without due process or a trial mercy? Mercy is to show forgiveness to someone to who you have the authority and power to punish. Was this not case in point to what happened on May 2, 2011? Did not the United States have the military power and world governmental sway to force Osama Bin Laden, once trapped, to answer for the things he had done? Is that not what we would want to have done unto us? If we were deprived a fair trial for crimes, we claim to have not committed, as he did just days after 9/11, would we not feel as though we were treated unfairly?
When one finds themselves in these positions it forces oneself to, as scripture says, “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” 1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)
Defending myself against myself became impossible.
I provide this abridgment of my life and seemingly insignificant moment to aid readers in an understanding of my presumed uniform beliefs and upbringing to the hopeful core of this readership, and a brief example of where I have found myself beyond the comfort of my American Christian upbringing that found home in blissfully marching in defense of my nation and my God with my fellow faith filled countrymen.
It is much easier to accept ideas from those we find similarity with, than from another of which we struggle to find even glimpses of commonality with. I feel this necessary, because over the last few years my worldview has been in a perpetual process of change and continues even still today.
I am writing in hopes that My American Mind will one day fully, for better or for worse, become My Mind