Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Why rules and consequences are a good thing.
Early this spring, I was in Chicago for the release of Bitterness Runs Deep, the book I helped write for Chicago-based pastor/therapist Dr. Beverly Carnes-Lowe. I'd only been to Chicago once before, last fall, to interview Beverly for the book. I promptly fell in love with the Windy City. The stately, monumental downtown and architectural treasures, the user-friendly waterfront and urban sea, the priceless collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum plus, the midwestern friendliness, jazz, blues, vibrant diversity, and really good hot dogs. Fine stuff. I was smitten.
But I'd been warned. Warned of rampant, bold crime, and tentacles of once-localized violence increasingly snaking its way into the touristy spots. The civil unrest of 2020 shuttered several chic stores of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, the city's ritzy shopping district. Fact is, Chicago often makes America's most murderous cities lists and its name is synonymous with corruption. But the worst violence--once confined to neighborhoods someplace else--was now infringing on the fabulous people, penetrating their blithe indifference to the masses' suffering a stone's throw away. Once the looting started and Louis Vuitton was smashed and grabbed, well that's when folks really got good and bothered.
"Why are all those people so angry?" Good question. Why indeed?
"Why are all those people indifferent to the poverty and suffering a stone's throw away?" That's another good question.
Point is, a few of my native Chicagoan friends urged me not to stay downtown. "It's not safe!" they warned. "I never go down there anymore."
Not quite anarchy or Escape from New York, but super sketchy nonetheless. I'm an intrepid--and maybe ever-so-slightly reckless--traveler, so I'm not inclined to fear.
I was thrilled to find a bargain hotel right on Michigan Avenue, a brisk early spring walk from everything. The Congress is a mammoth historic monument of a bygone era, with lots of marble and gilded ballrooms, but with too many layers of restorative paint to attract the fussy modern-day traveler. And it was sketchy. Still, the rooms were spacious and the location was perfect.
One evening, walking back from ARTIC by myself, I ducked into a chain drugstore on Michigan Avenue. The place was about empty, with one other customer at the register with a female clerk, and another female associate on the floor. I grabbed a bag of Smart Pop and made my way to check out. Suddenly, the cashier started hollering angrily, and it quickly became clear that she and the other employee were trying to corner and shoo a shoplifter, who was weaving through the aisles stealing.
I waited patiently, non-plussed by the spectacle, watching the two young women trying to corral the thief and get him out of the store.
I caught of glimpse of him as he ran past me, finally persuaded the ladies meant business. He was a teenager, about my son's age, still a bit boyish, but with an evident edge. Tracing the arc, it's easy to predict his trajectory.
The check-out girl apologized, explaining this was a common scenario. In fact, she said, the very same teenager had been their earlier that very day, evidently undeterred by two young female sales clerks. The young woman told me the cops wouldn't bother coming if called, understaffed and diverted by bigger fish. The chain wouldn't pay for a security guard, though they reprimanded employees for shoplifting losses. The women's only defense was their bravery and hopefully, wisdom to assess whether a shoplifter was desperate or hardened enough to shoot them when confronted. How long would it be until they misjudged or they simply decided not to bother for $15/hour? I commended them for their bravery and dedication.
The whole picture is all kinds of wrong from so many different standpoints. I'll let you mull that over on your own, informed, no doubt, by your worldview.
I have opinions and as they say, that and $5 (these days) will buy you a cup of coffee, which you can buy me sometime to discuss our respective views.
The takeaway for me is noting the long-range, widespread ramifications of unchecked sin. Again, your worldview may lead you to point fingers to one or more parties in this big picture. Here are a few, non-partisan protagonists in no particular order:
The person who takes what he wants shamelessly
The cops…and others…who fail to protect or protect selectively
The system that underfunds law enforcement
Corrupt politicians who misdirect resources
Those who use violence as a tool
Abject poverty in an offensive ocean of prosperity
The greedy corporations that undercompensate retail workers and fail to provide them with a safe workplace
A contagious criminal mindset
Indifferent rich folks, who ignore the plight of the poor, thus leading to despair and desperate acts
The long-range after-effects of slavery, segregation, and racism
Learned helplessness and a victim mentality
Removing prayer from schools
Moral dissolution due to any number of factors
Parents who fail to discipline their children
Children whose minds and consciences are numbed by screen time
A broken educational system
A pervasive sense of entitlement
Removing God from the public arena
The ever-increasing temptation of more
A government and societythat doesn't provide options for young people
A complacent, self-satisfied church that has failed to adequately care for the poor or confront evil
A prosperous, self-indulgent church blithely oblivious to others’ needs
A self-righteous, judgmental church that justifies contempt by attributing suffering to sin
A disillusioned, faithless, defeated church
An absence of strong moral leadership
We could surely come up with many more villains and villainous causes. Pick yours. There's plenty of blame to go around!
The irritating problem I have with this list is that I can claim a few such features or attitudes myself, sometimes concurrently and diametrically opposed! I've lived in the profoundly uneasy tension of my heart being wrong in ways I didn't even see at the time, and even when I did see, seemed truly powerless to change. On the other hand, when I was able to change, I boasted it--sometimes openly or sometimes in the darkness of my heart! My heart!
Sometimes, I've even attempted to use my "righteousness" as leverage with God.
If this list bothers you, I suggest praying this sweet little prayer and then paying attention:
Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message)
Rules and consequences—cosmic and common— are a good thing because they show us how much we need rescue.
Now, now, don't get me wrong. Jesus Himself said God's law is wise and perfect and true! We are very, very smart to seek to obey it, lest we suffer consequences, like going kersplat by defying the law of gravity. Or landing in the clink for stealing. Or your nation being leveled. Or having your glass house shattered.
I have suffered a few consequences myself and sure wish I'd had the good sense to simply follow the rules, trusting their wisdom without self-justifying my defiance. But for reasons I cannot always grasp, I didn’t.
Listen, we're in really good company. The apostle Paul struggled with this very issue. NYC Pastor Tim Keller, and many others, speak on this issue round the clock. Our inability to be perfect can help to keep us humble, dependent, and repentant. There's that word again!
Because repentance is the key to the whole enchilada! And being willing to own our part in any mess, to ask for forgiveness, and to repair what we break is critically important. Of course, we need to be able to identify what is wrong, too. God has offered a very comprehensive resource for that purpose. It's called the Bible.
Again, the thing about the rules is that it's not so much about following them--though that's so important--it's more about showing us how broken we really are. All of us.
Things are getting bad down here on planet earth. In America, there's still a large contingent of people who are mostly unaffected by the increased heat and pressure. Kind of like a frog in a pot on the stove.
Some are indifferent because they live in a literal and figurative gated community, comfortably enjoying their advantages, sheltered from unsightly suffering. They weathered Covid, and are happily chugging along.
Others are indifferent because they've become desensitized or hardened by suffering. Some of those folks are very angry and getting angrier. Others become depressed or desperate; desperate enough to kill themselves or others.
Wherever you stand in the American tableau, we will not remain insulated from consequences forever and they are increasingly beyond human shelter and manipulation anyhow. Challenges like pandemics, weather events, obstinate inflation, nuclear menace, or even said desperate people doing desperate things, exceed our management skills and best thinking.
More and more, we are all being impacted by the consequences of sin. There, I said it! Sin. We are utterly hopeless, apart from God. How much more evidence do we need?! And even with God--and I'm a big fan--I find myself capable of some pretty unpleasant things or thoughts. Nothing that would land me in jail, but certainly, thoughts or behaviors that have hurt me or others. Repeatedly. Again, I KNOW I'm not alone in this and my buddy St. Paul agrees.
IMHO, the remedy to all this is not political or even within mere mortal's power to impact without supernatural intervention.
"...and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you." 2 Chronicles 15:2 (ESV)
These are the sobering words spoken by the prophet Azariah to King Asah and his wayward people in the midst of a really hot mess. The good news is, faced with the utter unmanageability of the circumstances in his nation, King Asa heeded Azariah's warning, and called His people to repentance and a return to God. Things got a whole lot better in a hurry. It's really elusively simple.
We are wayward people. Not "us and them." I won't point fingers, because we have all contributed to this sorry state of affairs. Don't get hung up on the religious language. Replace "repent" with "feel bad" if you like. Replace "sin" with "defect," "mistake," or "misdeed," if you like. A rose by any other name...
The one Word we cannot replace is Christ Himself. But that's good news.
The Good News.
God is love and sent His love to rescue us from ourselves. Jesus Christ is less about us cleaning ourselves up or cleaning up others, and more about admitting our desperate need for a Savior. If we accept Christ, will change ensue? You bet! Is humble cooperation part of the process? You bet!
But in the meantime, the Great Equalizer will love us where we are, as we are, even as He transforms us and our circumstance.
Let's re/turn to the only One who has all power.
Grace, peace, joy & love in Christ,
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