Dear American Church,

Dear Church Doors

“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. Be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the church, it will lose it’s authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I type the following in love (and disappointment) to the American Church:

In the last few months, more than ever before, I have questioned whether I still belong to you and whether you still belong to me. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face.

Church, you have been such an integral part of my life. As a pastor’s kid and at times, a pastor’s wife, there have been moments when it seemed you were my whole life. You have been my community, my foundation, my habit, my compass, my caretaker, and my safe place. You have also been a source of wounding, pain, and confusion. I have wrestled with the fact that we, the church, have used theology to justify wars, slavery, oppression, and segregation. I have wrestled with how we have historically and presently excluded female and LGBTQ congregants and disenfranchised those inside and outside of our community of faith.  I have wrestled with continuing to wrestle with so much but justified the continual struggle with the knowledge that I am human, you are human, and we are imperfectly trying to follow a perfect God. (And I’m not foolish enough to think that I can follow Jesus without a community of people to teach and support me in how to do that.)

But the last few months have shaken me to the core. This election season has felt like one continual wrestling match within my soul and amongst people I love.

Church, we claim to pray to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, and yet some of us felt convicted to vote for one candidate, and others, the other, and very few others, the other. And afterward, some of us mourned and others of us rejoiced; deeply mourned and deeply rejoiced. I know that part of this mess is that Jesus was not an American, a Democrat, or a Republican, and we tend to forget that every 4 years. But for me, the wrestling goes deeper than blue and red and donkeys and elephants. The convictions behind our votes represent some significant divides in how we believe we should live.

If we claim to follow the same Jesus, how is it that our interpretation of following is so starkly different? If we are reading the same Bible, how is our comprehension so vastly different? I don’t believe that this election season has divided our country or the American church. I believe this election season has highlighted the divide that has long been there. But I also believe this election season is causing a lot of us to question how we can continue to be the church together when there is such a vast divide in our theology, interpretation, and praxis.

I don’t have answers, but I do know that I am not ready to give up on us, church. And here I am crying again.

I want desperately for this relationship to work because even though it’s so complicated, I still believe that we are good for each other. I want to belong to you and for you belong to me.

But I also want us to throw our doors wide open because I believe that Jesus is for all of us, not an elite bunch of us. This struggle I’m having with our relationship is bigger than just you and me.

I want us to be a people who are focused on welcoming others in, not keeping others out. I don’t want to practice fancy invitation-only pressed linen tablecloth dinner party hospitality. I want us to host radical, messy hospitality that look like the dining room table and the card table, and the tv trays are all set with mismatched dishes and chairs (including the camping chairs) because we ran out of room at the dinner table hospitality.

I want us to be people who champion the cause of people and not the cause of causes.

I want us to stop pretending that theology, life, and following Jesus is clear cut, black and white, and figure-out-able. I want us to be humble, to embrace the gray, and to hope for God to continually change our hearts so that with each year, we look more like Jesus.

I want us to see the image of God in every single person. And I want us to fight for others because we see the image of God in them, not because we deem them innocent or not. I don’t want us to be a voice for the voiceless; I want us to give up privilege so that those without a voice have the opportunity to speak for themselves. And then I want us to listen. I want us to be part of the liberation movement, not the condemnation movement.

I want us to do less service projects and do more listening projects. I want us to get out of our bubbles and learn from people who don’t look like, worship like, speak like, and vote like we do. And then I want us to question whether our theology applies to the people we just listened to. If our theology can’t be applied outside of our little church community, it isn’t God’s theology.

I want us to listen to the uncomfortable words from today’s prophetesses and prophets who are calling out forgetfulness, greed, and fixation with current culture. I want us to stop crying for peace and unity when there is no peace, and instead, embrace the tension that might lead us to the repentance we need.

I want us to turn over tables, like our Jesus did, when we see our fellow Christians becoming insular, uptight, and judgmental.

I want us to be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

I want us to be cities on a hill. We are not called to spread fear and scarcity, but to spread hope and light and generosity.

I want us to commit to the hard, complicated, long-term work of making peace rather than the easier, unholy work of keeping peace (or if we’re being honest, keeping privilege – because there’s too much conflict in our nation and world to claim there was peace to begin with).

I want us to care for the widow, the fatherless, and the orphan. I want us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. I want us to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly.

I want us to be kingdom people, church. I want to be in this with you. Is there hope for us?

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Sowing Sunflowers

I’ve seen a lot of people adding the words #LoveWins to comments about the recent violent atrocities in the United States. But as I read the headlines every day about more violence, more injustice, and more oppression in this country and world, I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t seem that love is winning at all; it seems that hatred is winning.

This week, as I read the headlines from North Miami (and Munich and Kabul and Baghdad and the Ukraine), I couldn’t think of any words to write other than #HateWins. I tried to pray but I couldn’t find any words for that either, so I went to the only place where everything feels right in the world; my garden. And as I watered and weeded and breathed in the smells and sights of creation, I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

The line, “where there is hatred, let me sow love” was on repeat in my spirit, and as I gave pause to that phrase, I looked over at our newly bloomed sunflowers spotlighted by the setting sun.

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This year, I planted a row of sunflowers behind our garden beds. I read the instructions on the back of the packet, before digging my little trowel into the hard, weedy, soil of our backyard and sowing 12 tiny seeds. I regularly watered the ground where I had sowed the seeds and I watched and waited. It took weeks to be able to distinguish the sunflower seedlings from the abundant weeds that grow in our backyard, and months for them to show any signs of flowers blooming. Now, the plants are 4 feet high and the flowers that have bloomed are gorgeous. But it took time and work for the seeds I had sown to bear any fruit.

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This week, as I gaped at the golden blooms, I thought about what it means to sow love in this world where hatred has such deep roots. I thought about how fast the weeds grow in my garden, and how long it takes for the good things to bloom. And I thought about how gardening requires regular tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and learning.

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I’ve been gardening for four years, but I still have so much to learn. Each year, I kill some plants, prune some too harshly, miss warning signs of mold and harmful insects until it’s too late, and sometimes, there are conditions outside of my control that make growing challenging. But I keep gardening, because it’s worthwhile work. I know the same is true about me planting love (and I’ll add hope and justice) amidst hate. This is a messy, complicated, nuanced conversation and I know still have so much to learn. I don’t always go about this work in the best way, I don’t always say the right words, I miss opportunities, and I still have so many biases to uncover. But I will keep planting these seeds and learning from my mistakes, because the world, my country, and my city are not as they should be.

I believe that sowing love amidst hate in our world is going to take work – not the flashy, wordsmithy, often publicly recognized kind of work – I think it’s going to take a lot of quiet, small, humble, routine work – well, a lot of quiet, humble work for those of us in dominant culture. And I think the work will look different for each of us. Every gardener I know has their own methods and practices and yet they help things grow.

For me, sowing seeds of love currently looks like:

  1. Tilling up the soil in my own heart: Doing a deep dive into unpacking the privilege that I have as a white, middle class, straight, cisgendered, Christian person. I’m slowly rooting out my white fragility and unearthing the ways that white dominant culture has benefitted me. I believe that this ongoing self-education piece is critical for those of us who want to be about the work of justice and equity, especially for white people.
  2. Consulting master gardeners: Listening to experts at sowing seeds of love and justice – being sure that I’m listening to people of color as the experts, not just white people who like to talk about this. There’s room for a lot of expertise in the libraries of my heart and home (I’ve linked to a few white authors in this post), but I’m being extra mindful of who I’m listening to and reading these days – being mindful of who is telling whose stories. (Some of my favorite writers: Ta-Nehisi Coats, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Christena Cleveland, and Austin Channing)
  3. Planting seeds of love in my everyday life: Because of the continued violence, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in marches and vigils and lectures. But in addition to joining in these large demonstrations, I want to be intentional to continue this work in my everyday life so that this work becomes as habitual as watering my garden everyday. Currently, this looks like calling out bias, discrimination, and privilege when I hear it among friends and family and inviting them to do the same when they hear it from me, convening a book club in which I can read and unpack some of the feels that come with understanding white privilege and white dominant culture, and incorporating these dialogues more deeply into my work with teachers.

Each season, I learn better, more effective methods to grow and sustain my garden plants. I hope the same is true about my learning to plant love amidst hate. I’m not a master gardener; I don’t think I will ever be, not with vegetables, and certainly not with fighting for equity.

But I’m going to keep gardening. I’m going to keep tilling up the soil in my heart, uprooting deep and unconscious, big and small biases, I’m going to keep listening to master gardeners about what this work is and how I can join, and I’m going to keep planting seeds in my everyday life. Because this isn’t a social justice hobby garden. This is urgent – it’s literally life and death. I have friends who are fearful for their own and for the children’s lives. If I’m honest, I’m afraid for them, too. Love won’t win on its own.There will be more #Hate Wins, more Orlandos, Altons and Philandos and Dallases and Baton Rouges and Charles if nothing changes. I want love to win and I know that won’t happen unless we all pick up our trowels and dig in.

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The Other Part of James 1: World Vision, Gay Marriage, and Fighting Christians

I watched on twitter yesterday as World Vision announced that they had changed an HR policy that will allow for hiring of employees who are in same-sex marriages.

And then I watched twitter erupt with reactions.

Some Christians were overjoyed at the announcement.

Some Christians were outraged at the announcement.

And then, as often happens on twitter, those two camps of Christians found each others’ responses and started throwing stones.

And then others joined in.

And soon enough, I watched a twitter war break out.

Conservative Christians vs. Liberal Christians against each other again in a very public forum hurling Scriptures and words at one another as weapons. It’s like a well-watched reality tv show that depicts a family fighting ugly with one another while the world watches.  My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

We all have convictions.  We all have opinions.  We have all read the Bible, and somehow, we have come out with differing interpretations.

But we agree on Jesus, don’t we?  We agree on the cross.  We agree that mercy triumphs over judgement.  And we believe in justice.  Thank God we believe in justice.  We fight because we know that the world is not as it should be.  But sometimes in our quest for justice we fight mean and wrong.  

And others take notice.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for our convictions.  By all means, let’s fight for justice and truth.  But how we go about fighting matters.

I’ve seen a lot of James 1:27 quoted in the last 24 hours, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  I love that verse.  It’s a verse that inspires and challenges me to my core.

But we seem to have forgotten the verse just before it: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26).

Social media has given us an outlet and a platform to speak and respond.  It’s a medium that allows us to engage in dialogue (albeit limited to 140 characters much of the time) in real-time.

And this is the danger of social media.

Because we post things in the heat of a moment. And sometimes we do good. And sometimes we mend fences. And sometimes we cause others to think differently. And sometimes we damage someone’s reputation. And sometimes we bully others. And sometimes we wage wars.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t get angry.  We’re humans, so we get angry.  And we are followers of Jesus, so we get angry.  We should get angry at injustice, at oppressive systems, at man-made religious rules, at hypocrisy, at judgmentalism, at sin, and at hate.

But maybe we need to get better at getting angry slower.  Especially when we find ourselves angry at another person and not a systemic ill.

James puts it this way (still in chapter 1), “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)”

This isn’t about conflict-avoidance.  This isn’t about sweeping critical disagreements under a rug and pretending that our family is happy and healthy and unified.  This isn’t about never getting angry. But it is about pausing. It’s about listening (out of respect, not a cue for a comeback).  It’s about being slow to speak.  And slow to become angry.

I’ve been learning a lot about this lately and doing a whole lot of repenting.

Our immediate reactions aren’t always our realest reactions.  And when we take a moment or a day or a week, we can come the table with dialogue not debate.  Debates rarely change minds and even rarer, make friends.  Dialogue, however, can enlighten us, and can even forge unlikely friendships.

We can challenge in love.  We can disagree without slandering. We can speak out on issues, without calling out individuals.

At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, we’re family. We’re in this for eternity. We need to call each other out from time to time.  We need to have it out on occasion.  But let’s not make individual fights so public. And let’s shame each other less. And most of all, let’s keep doing God’s work of redemption, reconciliation, healing, and welcoming in the world.

This particular issue is very personal to me because we love our sponsored child through World Vision, and because we love our friends who are gay. Fighting hurts bystanders. Fighting hurts the Kingdom. And fighting hurts the Peacemaking Jesus that we follow.

As I hit publish, I’m finding myself humming that old 1960’s song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”  May that be true one day.

Don’t Volunteer this Holiday Season

Please don’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement facility or children’s hospital [*just*] this Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

Far too often, especially during this time of year, our focus is set on ourselves.  Somehow we’ve turned a season dedicated to giving and sharing into what we can give, what we can do, what we are up to, what works best for us, what traditions are important to me and my family, etc..  Because we are selfish in nature, I would bet that a lot of November and December community volunteerism is more about ourselves than the people we are serving.

Before you completely discount me, think about things you’ve heard yourself or others say after a day of serving:

“I love that I got to make someone’s day.”

“Did you see how I cheered them up?”

“It feels so good to serve on a day like today and remember how blessed I am.”

Sadly, in the frenzy of the holidays, the selfish motivation for service can get worse.  Out of guilt for our excess, we go and serve – perhaps to appease our self-centeredness or maybe justify our over-spending.  In an effort to teach our children to be grateful for all that they have we take them to observe those that have not – but don’t remedy the have-not part.  And if that is the motivation for our service, we actually use the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised.

If you’re not convinced, think about your social media feed. I see a lot of posts and pictures of community-serving around the holidays.  We post about serving because we want people to know we care about the deeper meaning behind the holiday – but in the process, we are broadcasting our good deeds, and even violating the same poor and powerless that we are there to serve. Taking pictures of someone without their permission to show how we’re serving them is downright exploitative. Even when have their permission, why do we feel the need to broadcast what good we have done? Whatever happened to “treasuring things in our hearts” (Luke 2:19)?  Whatever happened to “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing and serving in the secret” (Matthew 6)?  

I’m not proposing a ban on “doing good” this holiday season.  In fact, I’m really pro-generosity, especially during an easily selfish season. What I’m really proposing is a motivation-check this holiday season. Before we load up the cars and roll out into the community, let’s ask ourselves some really good questions:

 1.  Why am I doing this?

 2.  Who am I serving today?

 3.  What will I tell my friends and family about what I did today?

 4.  How can I make this a regular habit?

 The fourth question is a really significant one, because if we’re not serving regularly, we’re totally missing out. Regular service with a consistent organization/ministry/group helps us form relationships, shifts our perceptions, teaches us sacrifice, and changes our hearts.

Maybe the homeless woman receiving our scoop of mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving knows that we need her smile more than she needs ours.  After all, she sees a new starch scooper every week, and rarely the same face.  She knows that it makes us feel good to serve so she returns our smile.  But what if this holiday, we made it about her and not about us?  What if we committed to coming back on a regular basis and learning her name and her dreams?  What if we committed to serving because we are honoring a Lord and Savior who took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and served his disciples? What if we didn’t declare our good deeds through social media, but served quietly and humbly? What if we committed to helping things change for the long-term, not just the moment?

 What if this holiday, instead of serving once for the year, we made a new year’s resolution to serve regularly, consistently, and faithfully all year long?

 

The Gap Between the Rich and Poor

My husband and I took a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class a few years ago, which has saved us countless marital money fights, no doubt.  We are thankful for the work that Dave is doing to help folks gain and keep financial freedom.  We don’t agree with all of his premises and promotions, and that’s ok.  We took what was applicable and true for us from the course, and we left the rest.

Today, I noticed a several month-old Dave Ramsey blog post that disappointed me.   The post is a distinction between 20 things that the rich regularly do that the poor don’t do.  It’s content taken from a man name Tom Corley, but without disclaimer or addition from Dave Ramsey, one is left to assume he agrees or supports this information.

As a social worker, and a Christ-follower who is trying to figure out the church’s role in caring for the poor, I’m disappointed in a fellow Christ-follower for posting something like this.

Jesus commanded His followers to care for the poor, to give to the poor, and to welcome the poor – not draw lines in the sand and judge the behaviors of the poor.

I’ll give you a few examples of the comparisons:

70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day.

Maybe Dave doesn’t know about food deserts or how challenging it is to shop healthy on a restricted budget.  Maybe instead of pointing out how healthy the rich eat, Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to lobby for food stamps (SNAP benefits) to be raised not cut so that the poor can afford healthy food.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to go into low-income communities with healthy options and nutrition education.

76% of wealthy exercise aerobically 4 days a week. 23% of poor do this.

Maybe Dave isn’t aware that gym memberships cost about $40 a month per person, and the average low-income person can’t afford that when they’re struggling to cover rent, utilities, and food.  Maybe Dave isn’t aware that many poor individuals live in neighborhoods that are less than safe for outdoor aerobic activity (since a gym membership is out of budget).  And maybe Dave forgets that many poor have several jobs so finding time for regular exercise is extra challenging than for the rich who typically just manage one job.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to start walking groups and open community health centers in low-income neighborhoods to offer health outlets for poor people.

63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% for poor people.

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that many poor people rely on public transportation as their vehicle, which are not equipped with personal sound systems.  Sure, some poor have mp3 players (or discmans, or walkmans), but certainly not the majority of them.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to donate to public libraries to increase their supply of audio books and to donate mp3 players to those that cannot afford them.

 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% for poor

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s really hard to plan for the future when you’re not sure you’ll survive the present due to violence, abuse, hunger or…  Maybe Dave doesn’t understand priveledge and power and class and race and the ability to dream and set goals that comes with priveledge.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to mentor youth and rally with community members for safe neighborhoods.

67% of wealthy watch 1 hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% for poor

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that it’s cheaper to watch TV than it is to do a lot of things.  It costs money to play sports and sing in choirs and go to camps and go out to eat and go to movies.  The wealthy have more money, so they have more options.  Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to donate to and create community-based programs and camp funds and scholarship opportunities that would get poor youth and their families access to more opportunities

6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% for poor.

Maybe Dave doesn’t know my friends.  I have a lot of friends who I’m assuming qualify as wealthy (as in roof over heads, own a car, don’t struggle to put food on the table, take vacations every few years, and even have a savings account) who watch loads of reality tv.  Maybe all 6% are my friends?  This one seemed skewed to me.  Maybe Dave should check his sources?

86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% for poor.

Maybe Dave doesn’t realize the stark academic achievement differences between students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in school (those students who are close or under the poverty line), and those who do not. Maybe Dave doesn’t realize that poverty is generational and that many of the parents of the low-income students don’t read well, so they can’t teach their children to read.   Maybe Dave should encourage his wealthy readers to volunteer to help children and adults learn how to read (often a love of reading comes with the ability to read).

Dave, what if, instead of promoting differences between habits of the rich and habits of the poor, you promoted closing the gap between the rich and the poor?  You talk about living like no one else so you can give like no one else in your Financial Peace classes, so why not talk about how people can do that?

Many poor people can’t just “pick themselves up by the bootstraps”, or they would have.  The poor people that I know have more grit and determination and hard-work ethic than most wealthy people I know. I’ve never met a poor person who wanted to stay poor.  There’s a lot that goes into being poor, and most of that “a lot” doesn’t contain laziness, as many assume.

As Christ-followers, we shouldn’t be ok with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  We shouldn’t be ok with being proud of the wealth gap.  We are called to live differently.

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”
Deuteronomy 15:11

Sassy Friday – Christians and Political Correctness

I’ve seen the eye roll one too many times.  I can’t keep my mouth keyboard shut any longer.

Why are so many Christians opposed to political correctness?

According to good old Wikipedia, political correctness  is a term that refers to language, ideas, or policies that address perceived or actual discrimination against or alienation of politically, socially or economically disadvantaged groups.

In many Christian communities, the phrase “pc” is more offensive than the f-bomb, more eye-rolled-at than the mention of Al Gore, and more opposed than healthcare reform (but only slightly).

I hear Christians say that the political correctness agenda has been invented and embraced to undermine Christianity.  I hear Christians say that they won’t be politically correct because the notion of inclusion is non-Christian.  I hear  Christians say that political correctness muddies the truth.

But I believe that unless we know how to speak lovingly to and about our neighbors, we are undermining Christianity, we are being non-Christian, and we are muddying the truth.  Jesus loves people and his followers ought to do the same.  It’s hard to prove that we love someone when we attack, disrespect, misunderstand, and talk down to someone.

But seriously, when did speaking with care become an anti-Christian agenda?

God forbid we speak lovingly to our neighbor – oh wait, I think He is actually all for that.

Why would we not want to call our neighbors what they want to be called?  Why would we not want to learn what ethnicity our neighbors are?  Why would we want to label our neighbors at all?  Why would we not respect and give greetings when our neighbors holidays are different from our own?  Why would we not choose our speech carefully, considering who it could hurt and offend those around us?

Maybe part of it is that many of us don’t have actual neighbors who are much different than us.  Maybe we make the statements we do because we don’t really know any people to whom those statements apply.  Or maybe it’s just because we have an agenda, which we have labeled God’s agenda.

But…

Why do we get jollies from promoting discrimination?

Why do we fight to continue to call people with an intellectual disability retarded?

Why do we enjoy stereotyping?

Why do we balk at calling someone a flight attendant rather than a stewardess?

Why do we get pleasure from pushing our own agenda?

Why do we want to make everyone celebrate Christmas?

I’m not talking about changing interpretation of Scripture.  I’m not talking about changing political affiliation.  I am, however, talking about changing the way we talk about and interact with people.  People are not politics.  Individuals are not pawns in our personal stakes.

The Jesus I know  loved people.  He loved the poor and the rich, the women and the men, the unmarried and the married, the sick and the healthy, the Samaritans and the Jews.  Jesus looked on people with compassion and Jesus spoke to people with compassion.

I’m sorry, you’re right.  Jesus was offensive at times.  TO THE RELIGIOUS FOLKS.  Not to the outcast, the discriminated against, the marginalized, and the hurting.

And you know why political correctness is being promoted?  To protect the outcast, the discriminated against, the marginalized, and the hurting.  Political correctness is about changing hate-language, it’s about esteeming others,  it’s about making everyone feel equal, it’s about disbanding stereotypes.

I think that’s pretty in line with the work that Jesus was all about.

I see a lot of Christians who are more concerned with being right than with being in relationship.

And I guess the question I’m asking is: Is a political affiliation more important than a Christian reputation?  Is a label on homosexual relationships more important than building relationships?  Is pushing holiday celebrations onto others worth pushing others away?

Let’s love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31).  Golden rule stuff.  Let’s treat people like we want to be treated.  If you as a Christian don’t want to celebrate Ramadan, your Muslim neighbors probably don’t want to celebrate Christmas.  And that’s ok.  Honestly, I don’t think Jesus would love what Christmas in America has become.  I don’t know how Santa and stockings and Christmas lights point to Jesus anyway.  Getting to know your neighbors and their family and their work and their faith will open more doors to share about Jesus than saying “Merry Christmas” to them, knowing full-well they don’t celebrate Christmas.

Let’s be very careful then how we live.  Not as unwise but as wise (Ephesians 5).  This is a big one.  People watch how we live.  If we are bold and outspoken about our faith, others watch to see if our life is congruent.  The #1 reason people site for being turned off to Christianity is judgmentalism.  When we talk down to people, label people, and push our agendas, we are perceived as judgmental and we are being judgmental.

God’s agenda is people.  God’s agenda is redemption.  God’s agenda is reconciliation.  God’s agenda is salvation.  If we are fighting to push agendas that don’t bring those about, they are our agenda’s not God’s.

Speaking kindly, calling people what they wish to be called, and not pushing our agenda to the detriment of others is not anti-gospel and it’s not anti-truth.  We can take a stand on issues while not alienating others.  We can disagree with others without disrespecting them.  We can build friendships with people who don’t share our beliefs.  It’s very hard to witness to someone we’ve offended and disrespected.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. – James 1:26

“That’s Not Me, We’re Not All Like That.”

Last night, at a work event, I met a new friend.  Our conversation started with work chatter, but quickly shifted into our backgrounds and passions.  She works primarily with Kurdish and Arabic families – helping them navigate systems in the US.  She speaks multiple languages, and has experience acculturating to America, herself.

As she was talking about the families that she works with, and her own transition to life in Tennessee, she stopped and thought for a moment and said, “You know all of that stuff going on around the world in Africa and elsewhere.  That’s not me.  We’re not all like that.”  And she stopped and looked cautiously at me, wondering how I would respond.

I had a million thoughts in that moment, and a zillion things I wanted to say to her.

I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that acculturating to the US has been difficult.  I wanted to tell her that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be Muslim in the Bible Belt of America.  I wanted to tell her that I believe her.

But I started with, “I believe you, and I can understand why you would say that.”

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have cringed at fellow Christians’ choices to picket, rally, and preach in megaphones and wanted to scream, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to number the occasions when Christians have said hurtful things, ostracized others, and pushed their religious but non-Jesus agendas to the detriment of others, and wanted to yell, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to list the historical woes of wars, murder, and oppressive reign in the name of Jesus that made me shudder and want to cry, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

Followers of Jesus are people, not deities.  We get it wrong.  We misinterpret the Bible.  We get stuck on the wrong priorities.  We are selfish.  We mess up.

And if I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt and not lump me into a category of those terrible Christians, then I need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Not all Christians are the same.  Not all Muslims are the same.

The news reports from Kenya and Pakistan have been absolutely heartbreaking this week.  And as I’ve followed the news and prayed to the Prince of Peace for answers and intervention, I’ve been grieved for those who have died, for the families and friends of those who have died, and for those who caused the death and grief.

In the midst of processing such large death tolls and such unimaginable violence, it’s easy to villainize an entire group, based on a few people’s actions.  But that’s not fair.  That’s not right.  Jesus called His people to be meek, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be non-judgmental, and to make peace in the world.

 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.   Matt 5:5-9.

So as we interact with fellow creations of God today and this week and this month, what are we going to believe about them?  What assumptions will we make?  How will we interact?  Let’s be good neighbors. Let’s choose to believe the best.  Let’s be kind and open and learn from one another.  Let’s befriend people who don’t look, act, and believe just as we do.