When I was a kid, the first thing we did at school every day was recite the Pledge of Allegiance with our teacher.

Hands over hearts.

I’m not really sure we completely understood what we were saying. But we said it because that’s what you do.

As far as I know, Coca-Cola has been working on you and I since we were the same age or younger, creating brand loyal, lifelong customers. You’re either a “Coke” person or a “Pepsi” person.

We pledge our allegiance…to a soft drink brand.

Can you imagine that soft drink brands got to us before our country did?

I’m pretty sure many of us are Apple loyalists. I cannot imagine switching sides at this point. Our cellular providers know that our allegiance mostly comes down to necessity, which is why I’m sure all of our bills are going up exponentially.

There are people who are loyal to a brand of car. Many of us have allegiance and pride for the cities we live in. We have allegiances to sports teams (usually based on their geographical location, which is an odd thing in and of itself, but it taps into the basest caveman instincts for tribalism. “Me like these guys who hit the thing with the thing because they live here. Me hate those other guys who hit the thing with the thing because they live there.”)

We are told to be loyal to party politics, one of the most poisonous forces in our culture. How many of you feel like either you changed or the labels “conservative” and “liberal” did?

And as a pastor, I saw just how hard it is to enjoy peoples’ allegiance in church. Every week, something took people away.

Jesus told his followers that allegiance to him cannot be shared with money. Either you serve money, or you serve him. On another occasion, he drew a line between Caesar and God.

But we live in a world of distraction, and every distraction vies for our undying loyalty, our little pledges of allegiance (or at least a two-year contract.)

I thought about my complicated relationship with the Pledge of Allegiance this weekend, while I enjoyed celebrating. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy being an American. But being an American and pledging allegiance is really nothing more than a nifty little motto for most of us. Our lives are filled with much nearer forces that want to consume our lives, enjoy our undying loyalty.

Our allegiance is marked by what is in our pockets, in our stomachs, on our wrists, or in our earphones.

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How excited do we get when we have bought the newest gadget from our favorite brand? Does it compare to the excitement we feel for things that truly matter?

Supreme CourtOf course, there has been but one thing that we have all been talking about over the last several days.

There are the people who support the Supreme Court decision. There are people who celebrate it…

And then there are the people, apparently about 40% of us, who do not celebrate, do not support the new law of the land in regards to marriage.

Over the last couple of years, I have heard it said over and over that state and now federal government is “redefining” marriage; the premise being that marriage has some transcendent and immutable qualities that the court just overturned.

I always found this argument to be somewhat odd, and now that the inevitable has happened, I finally figured out why. If you think the Supreme Court redefined marriage last Friday, my gut instinct is that you should probably take it up with King Henry the Eighth.

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This coming weekend is the Fourth of July, a time when we Americans will swell with “patriotic” pride.

What does it mean to be “patriotic” anyway?

If you asked your average person on the street, they’d say they love their country. They’d say they were celebrating “freedom.” Or maybe some of them know some servicemen and women and they’d be remembering them.

Okay, so what does it mean to “love your country”…besides eating meat and blowing up stuff? What do we love about this country?

I can safely say that there seems to be a good chunk of people who have conflated their Christian identity with their American identity. “Patriotism” is a part of their Christian worldview. If that describes you, I just want to gently encourage you to examine that part of yourself. It’s a popular way to think, no doubt.

And just like we easily confuse our love of God with our love of country, it seems to me that we Americans are more confused than ever about what it means to love our country.

What do we love about it? The institutions? The principles? The government? The land? The people?

Maybe patriotism at one time meant all of these things. But it seems to me that loving America today does not include loving Americans.

We spend a lot of energy not loving other Americans. We actually spend quite a bit of energy hating other Americans.

We are being trained by cable news to view vast parts of the country as “the enemy.”

We get revved up when politicians promise to “take back” our country on our behalf. From whom? An outside invader? No, other Americans. Other Americans who, ostensibly, do not love America as much as we do. Other Americans, who we are told are wrecking the country, or are backwards or narrow-minded, or whatever label your side of the aisle uses. We are not having a civil war, but it is as if we are waging a war on ourselves. We are a people at war with each other, hating each other with no less venom than if we were shooting bullets at one another. It seems to me that we are far more concerned, afraid and angry at each other than we are at a group like ISIS.

We as a people have completely lost our ability to empathize. We have lost our ability to look at situations with context. We no longer have the ability to think rationally and slowly, preferring to react quickly and vehemently. We are easily distracted by politicians who capitalize on this. We have lost our ability to stop labeling ourselves and one another, even though we ourselves do not always know what the labels mean anymore. And that creates a people at war with itself.

There are a lot of things that I wish were not so here in America. There are a lot of people with influence who I wish did not. The government does many things that frustrate me endlessly.

But I simply do not have the energy to spend on hating my neighbor, much less doing so and then puffing myself up with pride and calling my hate “patriotism.”

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If your celebrations this weekend are tinged with prayer for America, be careful. First, be careful that you are not pledging allegiance to something that is not God.

Second, think about what you are asking God to do in your prayers. Are you asking Him to protect America from its enemies, when God has already told you what to do to your enemies?

What is it about masculinity that seems so…fragile?

If this guy works to be a good enough dad, he’ll reach a level of parenting called “Mr. Mom,.” In other words, be a good enough parent, and you must not be a man anymore.

Our culture gives a lot of talk to what makes a “real man.” We produce thousands of male-centric products. We have lots of ideas about what men do and enjoy.

And yet, for all of this, we seem more confused than ever. Men seem less secure in themselves, less confident in their own masculinity. It seems harder to understand what it means to raise boys into men.

I thought about this over the weekend, as we celebrated men and masculinity. And the problem it seems, is not in spite of all the male-centric discussions and advertising.

I don’t want my son to inherit a fragile masculinity. I don’t want him to have to pursue manhood, the way our culture defines it. So I had to figure out where our confusion comes from.

It turns out that our confusion about masculinity is precisely because of our obsession with it.

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Yesterday was Father’s Day, a day that I feel is something of a celebration not just of fatherhood, but of manhood.

In my Facebook feed were dozens of tributes to men, teaching both their sons and daughters the meaning of being a man.

It seems that our culture doesn’t really know what makes a man anymore. But a lot of men certainly do.

Our culture doesn’t really have any rites of passage anymore – a significant event in which manhood is conferred. So in its place, our culture tells us that manhood can be acquired…

Manhood can be acquired by buying a particular product. Maybe one of the dozens of gendered products that say “for men.”

Manhood can be acquired by playing or being devoted to sports.

Maybe manhood can be gotten by driving a particular car.

Perhaps one becomes a man by growing a mighty beard…

…Or by eating lots of bacon, or drinking a brand of beer.

Is being a man as simple as hanging out in a “man cave?” Must a man cave be a musty, derelict room to truly be a “cave?” Are the men who preen and groom their caves to perfection not as manly?

I didn’t see anyone posting tributes to the men in their lives because they use manly Dove soap, or drive a flashy car, or their facial hair, or their bacon consumption.

Our culture peddles a caricature of men that none of us really measure up to. It is a caricature that makes all of us, if we buy into it, feel unmanly.

There are lots of different kinds of men, and lots of different kinds of masculinity.

But there is one characteristic about masculinity that I think probably holds true anywhere you go.

Masculinity cannot be purchased. It cannot be conferred. It cannot be acquired.

It can only be earned. And there are very few ways to earn masculinity, but the chances are, there are opportunities every day.

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The thing about battles is they always cost. A battle is never won for free.

Masculinity takes sacrifice. It requires loss.

There will be many opportunities today, and they won’t come with a receipt. We need a lot more men who don’t buy the consumeristic vision of manhood, who know that manhood is actually acquired through sacrifice and loss, rather than gain.

 

My first reaction, like many of you I am sure, was…

"You mean I'm going to stay this color???"

“You mean I’m going to stay this color???”

“What?”

A white woman has been “living as a black woman.”

My first question, in all seriousness was “What does it mean to live as a black woman?” But soon enough, things were cleared up.

Rachel Dolezal was lying about her identity.

Not that lying about your identity is what it means to “live as a black woman.” She was just trying very hard to be a black woman. She was dishonest with people. She implied that she had an African-American father. Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner didn’t have the luxury of lying about his / her gender.

Rachel Dolezal told Matt Lauer that she has been this way since she was five, drawing self-portraits with the brown crayons instead of the peach colored crayons.

On the one hand, Rachel appears to have had a challenging and unusual childhood, so maybe that’s true. On the other hand, she has been proven to be a very unreliable narrator for her own life, so who knows what we should believe.

But here’s the thing. Rachel may be unusual. She may be unreliable. She may even be unethical. She might even be crazy…

…But I’ll claim her.

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