There is no one but us ...

In the Old Testament, a trio of people are often cited as deserving special protections from God and God’s people … The fatherless, the widow, the orphan. Often, the foreigner is added to this list.

God knew these people were at risk in the society of the Old Testament … at risk to be marginalized, neglected, oppressed, victimized, even killed.

And so God commanded his people to take special care of these particular people in their midst. He gave special commandments, even made special rules that protected them, gave them chances to enter mainstream society again, helped them escape the noose of generational poverty, protected them from oppression and violence.

And these rules spoke to God’s people and said, “I care for this group of people in a special way, and if you follow me, you must care for them, too!”

Who are the marginalized among us today?

Might they not fit into this same descriptive trio (or quartet)? The fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

It matters not your political persuasion, if you are a follower of God, you are to live in such a way that you protect the marginalized, speak up for them, watch out for them, care for them, serve them, give to them, pray for them.

Often, when confronted with the marginalized in our midst, we hope for someone else to help them.

Annie Dillard addresses this common deferral of responsibility:

There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth --- only us … unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

There is no one but us.

Why Judge?

I have often wondered how the church, which was founded on amazing grace, became a place of judgment for people struggling with sin.

Which is really all of us, if you think about it.

 Here is a thought:

I think the church moves toward judgment of those outside our walls because it is much easier to judge others than it is to love, and to submit our own darkness to the transforming ways of God.

And so we judge. Despite what the Scriptures tell us is our main job.

Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

He says that the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The writer of 1 John says:

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

Jesus said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

(Not to mention his summary of the greatest commandment … love God, love neighbor.)

We, by the nature of who we are as followers of Christ, are first of all called to love.

Here is a little section of 1 Corinthians that I am not sure many of us have even heard before:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”(1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Far easier to judge than to love…

I think Paul knew that.

I often ponder what might happen if the church became known again as a place of great love and grace, rather than a place that makes hurting, broken people feel worse than ever about themselves.

O, the tongue ...

James writes, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Jesus says, “… for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

I have been pondering these passages of Scripture in light of a couple verbal interchanges I experienced over the last week or so.

Let me explain:

I have been teaching on Sunday mornings at Orchard Hill Church for 15 years. Because of recent retirement and staff changes, I am now one of the senior teachers at our church. I suppose you could even call me a teaching pastor. And don’t forget, I happen to be a woman.

Despite this seniority, I still find people (mainly men) who speak to me in ways that are not meant to be demeaning, but that, in actuality, are demeaning.

One man, on a Sunday morning before I was to teach, approached me and said, “I’ll be in there evaluating you this morning!”

Another man approached me during the week and said - (and I fully believe he hoped this would be complimentary) - “I told our senior leader after your last few teachings …. ‘I think we should keep her!’”

Now listen, I am a joker. I love a little light banter; am unoffended by casual sarcasm. I don’t consider myself overly sensitive. I don't walk around demanding respect or privilege in any way.

But I wonder about these kinds of comments.

I wonder what is underneath them.

I wonder about my own words to others. How careful am I with what I say? Do I ever use my words – intentionally or unintentionally – to “keep people in their place” or to demonstrate power?

And I wonder, in the church, when I feel diminished by words from a brother or a sister, what would be an appropriate response?

Stillness ...

“Be still, and know that I am God …”

How rarely we do that; just be still. Just let God be God.

It is so hard.

Because if he is God, then I am definitely not.

And sometimes that is just tough to face.

So, we run and run and run, hoping somehow to prove our worth, to find meaning, to justify our existence.

Is it too much for God to ask that one day a week we “be still?” Is it too much for God to ask that every once in awhile we simply allow him to be God?

This poem from Mary Oliver helps me do these really hard things:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a bit,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

Silence ...

I went out to lunch with my parents yesterday, which is always a treat.

My parents are almost 80 years old. My dad still works full-time as the senior partner in his law firm. My mom works for my dad most afternoons. They go out to lunch together almost every day. Occasionally, I get invited along.

We had great conversation. They are some of the only people besides my husband who love hearing about my kids … in detail!

However, during one part of our conversation, I noticed I was not listening well to my mom. She (a nurse) was trying to explain something medical to me, and I kept talking over her, explaining to her that I already knew what she was trying to tell me.

Yuk.

Why did I do that?

Why do I often do that?

I use my words to try to control people. To try to explain to them how much I know. To try to correct them; fix them, even.

I want to be a better listener. Do you?

First, then, we must start with silence.

“Silence frees us from the need to control others … A frantic stream of words flows from us in attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit because it puts the stopper on that.” (Richard Foster)

Oh silence, will you be my friend?

The Only Thing That Counts ...

I wonder if I really understand the challenge Jesus gives when he tells me the most important commandment is to love God and love neighbor.

I often convince myself the call to love is too simple, too shallow, too easy. I make up other goals, other things I believe matter more. And I aim for those things rather than aiming to become more loving.

But to love in the way Jesus tells and shows us to is not only of utmost importance, it is truly the challenge of a lifetime.

And one I must admit I am not very good at yet. I have so much more to learn about what it means to love like Jesus loved.

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement says it so clearly:

“If we could only learn that the important thing is love, and that we will be judged on love – to keep on loving, and showing that love, and expressing that love, over and over, whether we feel it or not, seventy times seven, to mothers-in-law, to husbands, to children – and to be oblivious of insult, or hurt, or injury – not to see them, not to hear them.

It is a hard, hard doctrine … We have got to pray, to read the Gospel, to get to frequent communion, and not judge, not do anything but love, love, love. A bitter lesson.”

Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

What might today look like if your sole purpose, your only goal … was to love?

Meanness ...

I wrote yesterday about the power of kindness.

Today, I want to write about the power of meanness.

While roaming the halls of the hospital where my son was recovering, I overheard a patient spouting the most mean-spirited, vile opinions about immigrants to a custodian who was cleaning his room. I believe the custodian was of Hispanic origin.

Later, as Will and I chatted with a young nurse in charge of the floor, she let us know that this same patient had yelled and screamed at her for 15 minutes that same day.

Two days later, I heard him yelling at the woman who brought him his food, telling her how terrible the food was and letting her know not to bring him his dinner; he was going to get his food elsewhere.

Now, I don’t know this patient’s situation. I don’t know his history. I don’t know anything about his story.

But this I do know: it seems as if our nation has become meaner.

Our radio hosts are mean.

Many of our news channels and reporters are mean.

For Lord’s sake, the political ads over the last few months were much meaner than they were factual or helpful.

People at church can sometimes be really, really mean.

It seems as if even Christians have decided that if we believe we are right about something – something cultural, or theological or political – then we have every right to be mean about it.

When we behave this way, Dallas Willard calls us  “righteously mean Christians.”

Ugh.

In the same measure that kindness is beautiful, meanness is ugly.

Just a few words from Philippians 2:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Shine, my friends … shine!

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

Merry Christmas ...

A little break from the Sabbath writing …

Today at church a couple I love told me about a new song that basically states if a store doesn’t have a Merry Christmas sign in their window, Christians shouldn’t shop there.

They were excited about the song and wanted to share it with me.

Now, listen … this is a great couple.

But on this issue, I think they are missing the mark and I (very kindly and quietly) told them I disagreed with what this song was saying.

I wonder where we got this idea … that the way we “witness” to the world around us is to be rude and demanding and arrogant.

Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say, “Go and demand that your culture practice Christian holidays the way you want them to.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and demand your own way, and thus attract the world.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and force your faith on people … they’ll love it!”

But the Scriptures do say … Love… Love those who love you. But especially love those who don’t love you. Actually love your enemy.

They do say … Be completely humble, and gentle.

They do say … Be kind. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.

They do say … As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

So I say … go into any and every store, regardless of the sign on the window, and as you interact with those inside, be loving, kind, grateful and full of grace.

And kindly, gently, humbly wish everyone a Merry Christmas on your way out …

God is for the poor?

I taught yesterday at one of our satellite venues.

I stated that the way the incarnation happened demonstrates (as does almost all of Jesus’ life) that God's heart, as Philip Yancey writes, tilts toward the underdog.

I shared the Scripture from Isaiah that Jesus read in Luke chapter 4 as he inaugurated his earthly ministry where he announces that God has anointed him to:

“… preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

recovery of sight for the blind

to set the oppressed free …”

After the service, a woman approached me quite vigorously as I tried to sneak out to get home to my family and my warm and comfortable home.

She looked me right in the eye and said,

“I have a question for you:

If God is for the poor, like you said he is, why am I still poor?

Why doesn’t my car start?

Why does my heat get shut off and no one seems to care?

If God is for the poor, why doesn’t he help me?”

“Um,” I said … “I don’t know the answer to your question. God never promised to make you ‘not poor’ but he sure promises to be with you, no matter what.”

Cheezy smile … hoping this answer will appease.

“Well, that is no help to me,” she said.

“I just want to know why I am still poor if you say Jesus came to give me good news. Where is my good news?”

When I got home I told Chuck that Jesus had confronted me about how smoothly words about God’s concern for the poor had dribbled out of my middle-class mouth from the pulpit.

I am still unsettled.

How would you have answered Jesus had he asked you this question in his “distressing disguise?”

Because it's my blog ...

Because it's my blog... I can post this.

Please, no matter what your theological views, read it...

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/parents-lgbt

It feels a bit like it ties in with my posting of the Barna survey on how many Christians follow the teachings of the Pharisees over the teachings of Jesus.

Again, I am not saying this is an easy issue.

But we should pay attention to the pain.

Such pain...

 

Grace or un-grace?

Doing some reading for our Way of Life class tomorrow, and stumbled on Anne Lamott’s definition of grace:

“It is unearned love – the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.

It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.

Grace is the light or electricity or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

 So, here is the question:

Is your life at its core filled with grace or un-grace?

Leadership ...

“Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others.”

(David Cooper, Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry)

Free to love ...

The greatest commands are to love God and love others.

This is Bible 101.

Yet, we fail at this over and over; especially the second one.

I should say, I fail at this over and over...

Sometimes we think we just need to try harder and get more serious in order to do this.

I wonder if instead, we need to drink in more of God's grace for ourselves in order to be a better lover of neighbor.

Listen to this:

"God reminds us again and again that things between he and us are forever fixed.

They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess.

This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled.

We don't have to worry about ourselves anymore.

This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

The more fully we allow ourselves to sink into the unearned Good News of God's grace for us, the more we will be able to live into his command to love our  neighbors as we love ourselves.

Isn't that cool how those two things are inextricably linked?

To drive back our dark ...

"I believe he [Jesus] says it to all of us:

to feed his sheep, his lambs, to be sure, but first to let him feed us -

to let him feed us with something of himself.

In the sip of wine and crumb of bread.

In the dance of sun and water and sky.

In the faces of the people who need us most and of the people we most need.

In the smell of breakfast cooking on a charcoal fire. 

Who knows where we will find him or whether we will recognize him, if we do?

Who knows anything even approaching the truth of who he really was?

But my prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere, somehow,

and that he will give us something of his life to fill our emptiness,

something of his light to drive back our dark."

(Frederick Buechner)

Exactly the opposite ...

So, I am reading a book called "One-Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian, who happens to be Billy Graham's grandson.

It is a powerful book on grace.

This morning I read about how Tullian was kicked out of his home by his parents when he was 16.

To say he was a bit of a rebel is an understatement.

But he tells a story about how he used to wear earrings, and how it drove his parents crazy.

People then ask him, "Well, how did your grandparents respond? How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat you during your rebellious phase?"

This is what Tullian writes:

"They treated me exactly the opposite of how I deserved to be treated. 

For example, I wore earrings back in those days... It used to drive my parents nuts.

Every time my grandmother - Ruth Graham - came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear!

They were always funny.

At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture.

At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture.

She made light of it. 

She wasn't making fun of me.

She was saying, 'This isn't a big deal He's going to grow out of it.'

It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me.

Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me closer."

Beautiful...

How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat their rebellious grandson?

Exactly the opposite of how he deserved to be treated.

Meaning, they treated him like God treats all of us.

Who are we to judge?

It is pretty stunning to me when people believe it is ok to publicly question another person's faith.

Of course, I am thinking of certain politicians... and our president.

It is actually a very ugly thing to do.

Who are we to say?

The world watches and, I believe, finds it repulsive when folks who automatically assume (of course) that their faith is beyond question and "how it is suppsed to be," believe it is ok in the eyes of God to announce that other people may or may not be "true Christians" based on a checklist of their own choosing.

Of all the human behavior that God appears to chastise most severely in the Scriptures, arrogance, self-righteousness and judgment of neighbor sit pretty high on the list.

Kindess, humility, mercy... now those are some of God's favorite things.

Politicians or not... stop the judging.

Speak kindly of others.

Assume that perhaps you are wrong.

Remember the mercy with which God treated, and still treats, you... 

And then... out of wisdom... shut your mouth.

 

Hatred over pain?

I read this today and wondered if this is one of the reasons so many of us have such a hard time forgiving those who have hurt us...

Do we believe that hatred is easier to deal with than pain?

"Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the one who hated, and this was an immutable law…

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

(James Baldwin, 1924 – 1987)



           
                                                                                       

 

The Gospel liberates ...

Doing some great reading on GRACE for my Easter teaching... and stumbled upon this beautiful statement.

See if it doesn't lift your spirits today:

"The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we're not - though we try very hard to convince other people we are. But the gospel tells us, "Relax, it is finished"

Because of the gospel, we have nothing to prove or protect.

We can stop pretending.

The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we're something that we're not.

The gospel frees us from what one writer calls "the law of capability" - the law, he says, "that judges us wanting if we are not capable, if we cannot handle it all, if we are not competent to balance our diverse commitments without a slip."

The gospel grants us the strength to admit we're weak and needy and restless - knowing that Christ's finished work has proven to be all the strength and fulfillment and peace we could ever want, and more.

The gospel frees us from the urge to self-gain, to push ourselves forward for our own purposes and agenda and self-esteem.

When you understand that your significance and identity and purpose and direction are all anchored in Christ, you don't have to win - you're free to lose.

And nothing in this broken world can beat a person who isn't afraid to lose!

You'll be free to say crazy, risky, counterintuitive stuff like, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)! That's pure, unadulterated freedom.

Since Jesus is our strength, our weaknesses don't threaten our sense of worth and value.

Now we're free to admit our wrongs and weaknesses without feeling as if our flesh is being ripped off our bones."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

Now, take a deep breath... and live your day free and forgiven! It is finished. It is not up to you. Thank God!

Stretch our hearts ...

The years of all of us are short, our lives precarious.

Our days and nights go hurrying on, and there is scarcely time to do the little we might.

Yet we find time for bitterness, for petty treason and evasion.

What can we do to stretch our hearts enough to lose their littleness?

Here we are – all of us – all upon this planet, bound together in a common destiny, living our lives between the briefness of the daylight and the dark, kindred in this: each lighted by the same precarious, flickering flame of life, how does it happen that we are not kindred in all things else?

How strange and foolish are these walls of separation that divide us!


(A. Powell Davies, 1902 - 1957)