Category Archives: From My Soapbox

Sandwich Boss

“This is complete nonsense.”

The comment was made in response to a social media post, in which I shared words from an anonymous author. The words had resonated deeply within me and had pierced my soul. It was a post about the complexity of people and the contradictions found within each of our lives. It spoke of how we can be for Black Lives Matter and still support the police… about how a person can be both gay and Christian… about how Muslims can be the victims of terrorism… about how a person can be anti-abortion and pro-choice… about being a feminist who respects men. It spoke to my heart because I so often read opposing arguments and think, “Why must it be one or the other? Why must I choose a side? Why can’t it be some of both?”

I scanned the list of “likes” to my post and read each comment, and was gratified to find a very diverse group of political and religious perspectives, social classes, and ethnicities. That’s always a win, to me – when people from opposite ends of the spectrum see the wisdom in a viewpoint. That’s when I feel like there’s hope for us yet… that perhaps there IS some common ground that we can build upon.

And then, in the middle of basking in the glow of like-mindedness, came the jarring full-stop:

This is complete nonsense.

Disagreement I can live with – another person had commented that everything in the post wasn’t biblical, and while I disagreed with that assessment, I simply accepted the heartfelt opinion and hit the like button. It wasn’t the time or place for a debate on interpretation of scripture. In fact, I actually love thoughtful disagreement because it feels like progress is being made, whereas lack of dissent feels like those who disagree are just staying silent.

But… nonsense? Complete nonsense? Really? What an arrogant, dismissive response.

First it made me angry, and I shot back a reply. Others piled on, and it turned into long arguments and Bible passages being used as weapons. One of those social media exercises that is a complete and utter waste of time and energy… and must surely contribute to the blood pressure medication industry.

But underlying my anger was hurt. Deep hurt. While this person is an acquaintance rather than a close friend, she represents, to me, the establishment. The mainstream. The Church, with a capital C. When someone confidently represents themselves as the authority, it’s so easy to subconsciously accept that premise and retreat into defensiveness. And if we aren’t careful, we can even confuse the opinion of such a person as God’s opinion.

I should stop for a moment and give some insight into my own personality. I’m the youngest of five, and one of the favorite family stories to repeat occurred when I was around 4 years old. One of my older brothers, a teenager at the time, was making me a sandwich. When I requested something that sounded weird to him, he told me I couldn’t have that because the ingredients didn’t go together. According to family lore, I angrily put my hands on my hips and yelled, as only a bossy 4-year old can, “Well who made YOU the big sandwich boss?!?!?”

It’s the type of question I’ve found myself asking repeatedly in the nearly 50 years since then… although as I’ve aged I do usually (but not always) keep it to myself. And so after 2-3 days of fuming, and grumbling, and having arguments within my head (surely I’m not the only one who does that??) I finally pinpointed the question I wanted to pose to my facebook friend:

Who made you the thought police? Who gave you the role of sorting out sense from nonsense? Who appointed you the judge of who’s a “real” Christian and who isn’t? Who made you the queen of biblical interpretation?

Who made you the big spirituality boss??

Now I should make something clear. I do believe in accountability… and I have people in my life who I trust to listen and filter my thoughts and ideas. My husband, my kids, my close friends, my small group, my mentors, my pastors… those who know me and walk with me and understand when I’m thinking out loud, when I’m searching, when I’m debating, when I’m deciding, and when I’m asking. People who have earned the right to provide thoughtful input.

But being a facebook friend doesn’t provide that right. Not for you, or for me, or for anyone else.

You see, when I argue over social media — even over issues near and dear to my heart — the people I’m arguing with aren’t the point. Perhaps they may one day meet one of the millions of gay Christians in the world and recognize God’s heart beating inside of them… or run across a pregnant 12-year old caught in sex trafficking and fully realize her dilemma… or meet a Muslim who’s been victimized by terrorism.

Or, maybe not. Our “opponents” may never, ever change their minds or rethink their positions. And if that’s the case, so be it. Only God can change minds that have doubled down so hard or for so long. Changing minds and hearts is way above my pay-grade, and yours.

Our REAL job is, I think, very different but far more important: to breathe life into those who have been victimized by the self-proclaimed spirituality bosses.

If you have had the courage to voice your genuine, heartfelt, Spirit-borne ideas and have had them thrown back in your face…

If you are a walking contradiction…

If you feel like a misfit…

If you have been told your beliefs are nonsense…

If you feel as though you are never validated… never given the benefit of the doubt… never even fully seen…

Then I have a message for you: You are valid. You matter. You matter to God, you matter to me, you matter to the world.

Sometimes you are dead wrong, and sometimes you are totally right, and most often you’re somewhere in between. So am I. So are our parents… friends… teachers… doctors… pastors… writers… accountants… politicians. Okay, so maybe some of these are right more often while others are wrong more often… but you get my point.

But here’s a little tip: the more certain someone is of their rightness, the more likely they are to be wrong. And when someone expresses genuine uncertainty, they are almost always presenting us with a golden nugget of truth.

Jesus taught us, long ago: “Blessed are the humble… blessed are the meek… blessed are the poor in spirit…”

Why is humility so important in seeking God? Because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty. The quickest way to find ourselves opposing God is to be certain that we represent him.

So to all the self-appointed bosses out there… your opinion of me, my theology, my biblical interpretation, my musical tastes, my friendships, my words or anything else holds absolutely no power over me. There is one, and only One, who is my judge… and he chose grace.

And to all the outcasts, the misfits, the unnoticed, the dismissed, the rejected, the beaten down… to those who can’t seem to articulate your thoughts… to those who spout “complete nonsense” because you get so angry… if you are breathing, then you matter. Your beliefs matter. Your perspective matters. Your ideas matter. If you are the only person in the entire universe who shares a particular viewpoint… it still matters. We need you in our lives and in our world and in our heads and in our hearts.

So stand up… speak out… and own your sandwich!

 

 

 

In Terror: Stronger Together

There are two important aspects to the recent mass shootings in Orlando. By far, the most important aspect is that of lives lost, families destroyed, and an already-vulnerable LGBTQ community reeling from being targeted by such senseless violence. I will address that aspect separately; but, to be honest, I need to reel my emotions in just a bit before I can speak coherently. So for now, I will focus on a different aspect.

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, with 50 precious lives lost, we touched oh-so-briefly on the victims, and then just as quickly divided into our groups and roles. Did you ever have those arguments with your Mom as a kid, when it felt like deja vu all over again? Like someone just hit replay on a well-worn recording and you had the same argument over and over again? That’s how I feel in the wake of each and every mass shooting.

Those who advocate for gun control are angry about the weapon used and how it was obtained. Those who want tighter immigration laws are angry about the name and ethnicity and travel history of the assailant. Half the country applauds the statements of our President, while the other half ridicules him. The victims, all too often a vulnerable group,  feel a fresh sense of isolation, fear and oppression. Meanwhile, the cruelest people on the planet write messages of glee over the death of those who they deem “deserved” it. And in this particular case, perhaps the largest group of all is the silent one — those who have pitted themselves in one way or another against the LGBTQ community, and now have no idea how or if to speak words of compassion. And so, while some of us are grieving, most of us are fighting. Separated, angry and afraid.

I’ve always felt that acts of terror are senseless. But this time around, I’m beginning to understand its power. Terror causes fear and anger. Fear and anger leads to division and finger-pointing. Division and finger-pointing leads to weakness and vulnerability. Weakness and vulnerability exposes us to additional harm. All of it jacks up and energizes those who have been indoctrinated to believe that causing us harm is a divine calling.

Earlier today, I read two different facebook posts, both by thoughtful, intelligent people who I respect.

One post said, “If you think this is about guns, you’re an idiot.”

The other post said, “If you think this is not about guns, you’re crazy.”

Those posts made me sad. Because these two people are both smart and passionate, and each of them is EXACTLY who the other person needs to be listening to. Each of them is EXACTLY who the leaders of our country should be listening to. Nothing in our world — whether science or technology or medicine or religion or art or anything of value — has ever moved forward with a single group of like-minded people. When like-minded people all get together, they stagnate and eventually die out. But when a group or a church or a discipline involves differing opinions and perspectives, that group thrives.

People — WE NEED EACH OTHER. We need differing perspectives and epiphanies and passion. We need disagreement and misunderstanding. We need hard heads banging against each other until the edges are smoothed out into something that makes sense. We need each other’s forgiveness when we err, rather than gloating. We need praise when we do well, rather than a childish refusal to acknowledge any success. Not just forgiveness from those who are like us, but from those who are very different. Not just praise from those who agree with us, but praise from those with whom we usually disagree.

We. Need. Each. Other.

At the risk of dragging us back into the weeds, I want to try to make a point. It seems that in this particular shooting, we finally have the opportunity for a small common ground. We have a shooter born in the United States, of Afghan descent, who travelled to Saudi Arabia on two different occasions for a Muslim religious holiday, and who was for some period of time on the FBI list of people to watch due to statements of identification with extremist groups. This person legally obtained an assault weapon, and used it to kill 50 innocent people.

Some believe that the key to preventing terrorism is to identify the potential terrorists based on a profile of ethnicity, religion and travel patterns. This viewpoint says, “Gun don’t kill people; people kill people.” So you identify potentially dangerous people and get rid of them.

Others believe that the key to preventing terrorism is in getting rid of guns. They theorize that if there are no guns, then there can be no shooters.

Each of these, of course, represents the extreme viewpoint, and most of us fall somewhere along the spectrum of views. But what if, when one of these tragedies occurred, we looked not for the differences but for the areas of common ground? And then, as we capitalize on areas of agreement, perhaps those areas may expand around the edges and give us larger areas of agreement. What if, rather than trying to poke larger holes in each other’s strategies (and thereby making each other weaker) we instead tried to find from another’s perspective something that could actually work?

What if those who are against any type of restriction based on race, ethnicity or religion, were to concede that if a person fit a particular profile of threatening behavior (such as whatever landed this person on an FBI “watch list”) then restrictions on freedom such as travel is at times permissible and reasonable?

What if those against any type of gun control were to concede that if a person fit a certain pattern of concern, whether due to behavior, ethnicity, religion or mental instability, then those persons should be restricted (to a greater degree than they currently are) from owning a gun?

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me and that’s fine; my point isn’t really even in the specifics and I have no power whatsoever to carry out my views anyway. My point is to say, can we actually LOOK for common ground, recognizing that to utilize the perspective of those who disagree with us makes us stronger rather than weaker? Could we perhaps say to one another, what would 9 parts of my viewpoint plus 1 part of your viewpoint look like?

We are a nation of smart, passionate, compassionate, hard-working, discerning, ethical people. It is time for us to benefit from our diversity rather than using differences to beat each other up.

We are called the UNITED States of America. If terrorists divide us, then they have ripped apart the very fabric of our identity, and they emerge the victor. But if we are truly united, refusing to allow difficult circumstances to tear us apart, then we cannot be defeated.

Will you join me, in praying for and modeling and seeking unity? Will you join me in an intentional effort to build bridges with each other? Will you have the courage to step out of your like-minded groups and listen to another perspective? Will you denounce the weakness and foolishness that ridicules others? Will you give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt? Will you listen more and speak less? Will you affirm more and criticize less?

During these desperate times when we find ourselves at war with a despicable, evil enemy, we need each other. I need you, and you need me.

We are stronger together.

Lost Sheep, Take Heart

Over the past couple of years, I find myself increasingly drawn to the outsider, the oppressed, the hurting, the abused, the marginalized, the overlooked, the misfit, the discounted.

The lost sheep.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t really pity or sympathy that attracts me. It’s a sense that their lostness says something important about them that matters. And that their lostness says something about those of us in the flock that needs to be heard.

I think many lost sheep have found our flock lacking in important areas. Many lost sheep have found our flock suffocating,  untrustworthy, or even dangerous. They’ve felt abandoned, misled, neglected or mistreated. In order to save themselves, they’ve had to get lost.

And guess what? If you are a lost sheep, feeling lonely and disillusioned and hurt and cast aside and overlooked… lost sheep of the world, GUESS WHAT??!?

God sees you and loves you. He gets you. He is looking for you and looking out for you. He seems to have a special place in his heart for lost sheep. And He – not the pack, not the alpha sheep, not the earthly shepherds, not the fat sheep, not the aggressive sheep, not the sheep council, but THE Shepherd – will always have the last word.

Lost, hurting, treasured, precious sheep… hear now the word of the Lord, who loves you and hurts with you and is desperately searching for you.

And those in the flock… elder sheep, and young sheep, and leader sheep, and earthly shepherds…  if we dare… hear now the word of the Lord, from the prophet Ezekiel, who has climbed up on his soap box and has some things to say to us.

Then this message came to me from the Lord:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD:

What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve.

Lost sheep 8You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost.

Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve.

“”Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land… from among the peoples and nations. Lost sheep 2 I will feed them on the mountains and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland… There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills.

I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.

But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

“And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people:

I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Why must my flock eat what you have trampled down and drink water you have fouled?

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another.

“I will make a covenant of peace with my people and drive away the dangerous animals from the land. Then they will be able to camp safely in the wildest places and sleep in the woods without fear.

I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord. They will no longer be prey for other nations, and wild animals will no longer devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them. 

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”  (Ezekiel 34:1-22;25-28;31)

Lost sheep 7

Lost sheep, don’t give up.

Shepherds and flock… go find them.

 

Guns and Kids and Jesus

Early this morning I opened Facebook, just as a way to ease into the day. Instead, I was confronted with a picture that won’t leave my mind: An adorable, chubby-cheeked, 8-year old little girl smiling into the camera. She lived just a stone’s throw from where I attended college. And she died at the hands of the 11-year old boy next door with a shot gun.

I know there’s many perspectives on this issue. I know there are legitimate reasons to own and carry guns. I know many trustworthy people who do so.

I know that the basic problem is a conundrum. While I feel safer with less guns, others feel safer with more. We aren’t both entirely wrong… or entirely right. What makes one person safer (like a Dad who sleeps with a gun under his pillow) puts another in danger (like the little kid next door who accidentally comes across it.) Pass a law to prevent the mentally ill from owning a gun, and the young woman being treated for depression following a rape is an unintended casualty, now unable to protect herself.

It’s complicated. I get it. But tonight I’m grieving a little girl. So I have some things to say.

First, about kids.

Guns harm kids far more often than they protect them. A gun in the home will accidentally kill a child, or be used by a teen to commit suicide, many-fold more times than it will be used to ward off an intruder. So please accept that a gun simultaneously protects AND endangers your family.

Children can be taught to shoot, load, unload, clean and store a gun. But they cannot truly comprehend the meaning of “forever dead.” Time and again, kids involved in shooting incidents say over and over and over again that they thought their Mom or Dad or sister or friend would get back up after they said they were sorry. They do not.

Kids can’t drive or work or volunteer at the puppy shelter till they are 16. Can’t buy cigarettes or a lighter or vote till they are 18. Can’t buy alcohol till they are 21. Can’t rent a hotel room without an adult till they’re 25. Why? Because while an 11-year old may possess all the physical dexterity and intelligence needed to drive a car, his brain isn’t ready for the responsibility.

So don’t tell me that parents just need to teach their kids about guns, anymore than parents should just teach their toddlers about the poisonous chemicals under the kitchen sink. While most kids will stay away from guns when told to, some won’t. And if they don’t, they might die. Or maybe the 8-year old girl down the street will die, instead.

Second, about Jesus.

There are lots of legitimate arguments for owning and carrying a gun including (but not limited to) self-protection, sport, and constitutional rights.

Jesus, however, isn’t one of them. He never gave us instruction or permission to kill someone else before they have a chance to kill us. Instead, he told us to turn the other cheek, give the coat off our back, walk two miles instead of one, love our enemies, and go out into the world as lambs among wolves.  When his disciple used his sword in an attempt to protect Jesus, he reprimanded him, healed the injured soldier, and spoke words that should echo loudly in our hearts and minds today:

“If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.”

Jesus taught that we die in order to live… not that we kill in order to not die.

The teachings of Jesus are often hard to swallow… and so many folks might simply conclude that this is one they don’t buy. They might simply choose to disagree with him on this point. Every human being is completely free to choose what they believe is right and true and good. So if you want to own a gun as an American… or a Southerner… or a hunter… or because of your fears… or because of your rights… then you absolutely have grounds to do so.

What you should NOT do is lump gun ownership and usage in with Christianity. Keep your gun, but leave Jesus out of it.

Tomorrow I will have writer’s remorse, and I will feel bad for the obvious points I’ve overlooked, the unchecked passion, and the people I’ve offended.

But for tonight, all that really matters is a blonde-haired, brown-eyed little girl.

God’s peace…..

Lambs or Wolves?

These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to The Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. Don’t take any money with you, nor a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals. And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road…” (Luke 10:2-4)

Our pastor this morning spoke on this passage, as well as a number of verses that followed it. The first half of the sermon was wonderful… enlightened, inspired, filled with humble instruction. The second half of the sermon… well, I couldn’t tell you.

As Father Chris worked his way through this passage, he stopped. He’d been talking about the instructions Jesus gave to those he was sending out, particularly the phrase, “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves…” He jokingly said that it was a bit different than most motivational speeches! He was about to move forward, then suddenly paused. He asked that the next passage be removed from the screen so that he could go backwards for a moment. And then he asked us a question.

It’s a question that stopped me cold. It’s the reason I don’t recall the last half of the sermon.

It’s a question that continues to rumble around my head and my heart. A question we should ask ourselves every day of our lives. A question we should ask others. A question from God. And a question that I hope sticks with you, as it did with me:

As Christians, are we more like lambs… or more like wolves?

That is all.

The Difference

When Jessica was around 4 years old, she came bounding down the stairs, yelling excitedly,

“Mommy! Mommy! Guess what?!? You’ll never believe it!!!”

I looked up, already smiling, to see what I was about to never believe. Anyone who knows anything about 4-year-old little girls knows that everything is a drama, with the whole world their stage… complete with lots of exclamation points and hand motions. There aren’t many things in the world more adorable…

“Look, Mommy… THEY’RE TWINS!!!!!”

She landed at the bottom of the stairs, breathing hard, face flushed, with two small dolls clutched in her arms. They were cloth baby dolls, purchased at two different stores, and they were indeed identical: the same size, the same hairstyle, the same dress, the same tights, even the same sewn-on shoes. But there was a rather obvious difference, too. One had dark chocolate skin, while the other had off-white skin.

We had never discussed race with Jessica, and had been intentional about finding ways to describe people that didn’t involve skin color or any sort of disability. Instead of referring to someone as “the little black girl,” or “the boy in the wheelchair,” we would instead say, “The little girl who helped you with your backpack” or, “The little boy who always wins the reading contest.” We didn’t have a blueprint for how to do it, and to be honest we just kind of faked our way along, not sure if it would actually make any difference.

So when my ultra-observant daughter… the one who would come home after an evening out together and describe 50 different details of the restaurant, the people, the songs playing, the signs on the way home, most of which I’d failed to notice… when THAT child called those dolls twins, I was stunned.

I recovered as quick as I could, and said, “Uh… yes! They are twins! How crazy is that, when we bought them at two different places?”

Something in my initial hesitation caught her attention. (Remember I said she was ultra-observant?) She stared briefly at me, in that creepy “what are you hiding from me” look that all young children possess, and looked carefully back down at the dolls.

Then she said, “Wait a minute… there’s just ONE difference…”

I could’ve kicked myself. I knew what was coming. And I wasn’t the slightest bit prepared to discuss racial issues with a super-inquisitive 4-year old. But, like is always the case in parenting, you just keep on going, rarely able to prepare adequately for the moment.

“Look, Mom… there’s only ONE difference. This one has blonde hair, and this one has black hair…”

Then, proud that she’d figured out the difference, she ran back upstairs to play with her twins.

Recalling that story never fails to take my breath away. It reminds me of the beauty and clarity in the eyes of a child… and the cloudy, murky vision of us older and wiser adults.

Why do I glance at people and automatically place them into categories? Why do I define people by the color of skin, the cadence of voice, the body language, the facebook posts, the political stance, the clothing, the car, the smell, the size? And why are certain categories more important than others?

I tell myself, well, some things are more obvious than others. How am I supposed to know that a man wearing dirty jeans, driving a truck with a gun rack, with a pronounced Southern drawl is actually a millionaire? Let’s be real here… he looks like a good old boy driving to his modest home and family after a hard day’s work.

And yet… changing just a few details gives lie to my rationalization. Because if the man was dressed the same, driving the same old truck, but was black rather than white… my assumptions may be different. I may assume that he’s up to no good, or be less likely to assume he’s going home to his family. I might think the gun rack was for hunting people rather than deer.

It seems that we spend much of our time and brain power placing the world around us into categories. As we walk down the hallway, or through a crowded store, our brains register millions of images and thoughts.

Black. White. Pretty. Obnoxious. Fat. Latino. Handsome. Foreign. Polite. Disabled. Muslim.  Arrogant. Happy. Ignorant. Short. Indian. Tall. Kind. Funny. Weird. Bright colors. Barefoot. Silly. Belly showing. Tattoos. Professional. Poor. Stressed. Loud. Helpful. Sick. Cute. Noisy.

We overhear conversations all around us, and with a nearly audible “click”, we place them into categories.

Liberal. Right-winger. Evangelical. Progressive. Tree-hugger. Rich. Poor. Gang-banger.

And then based on those categories, we make additional assumptions.

Lost. Ignorant. Flighty. Racist. Entitled. SOB. Rich. Backward. Irrelevant. Brainwashed. Worldly. Bigot. Lazy. Greedy.

All of this, it seems, can flash through our minds in an instant… so before we even open our mouths to have a conversation with someone we don’t know, we’ve already formed opinions and judgments about them. And they have already formed opinions about us. Sometimes they are correct… sometimes they aren’t… and how would we ever know? It’s already all muddled up by our assumption and presuppositions.

It was into just this kind of arena — political and religious tension,  power plays, vicious ideological separation, and intense competition for hierarchy — that Jesus did something remarkable. Something crazy. Something that turned everything upside down. He brought a little child forward, and he said to the crowds,

“I tell you the truth, you must change and become like little children. Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who makes himself humble like this child.” (Matthew 18:3 NCV)

A part of me loves this passage with all my heart — it is an important reason I became a pediatrician, because it strikes a deep chord within me, resonating like the lowest string on a bass violin.

But another part of me is terrified by this passage. Because when I’m in conversation with other people, I’m far more interested in winning the argument than in making myself humble. I’m far more interested in honing in on their weaknesses, than exposing and admitting my own weaknesses. I’m far too busy clicking people into categories, following where that leads me, and then after the fact recalling the words I spoke… while having difficulty remembering anything the other person said. I’m far more interested in being at the top of the ranking system, than at the bottom.

Oh, to have the eyes and heart of a child. To learn not to see, in order to see more clearly. To become deaf, in order to hear. To become foolish, in order to be wise.

To look at the people around us, and be able to pronounce with utter certainty, “There’s just one difference. This one has blonde hair, and this one has black hair….”

 

All That I Know Isn’t Much

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:10-13)

Remember lying on your back picking shapes out of the clouds? That’s what I think about every time I read about the “puzzling reflections in a mirror”. Look! A hippopotamus! Fun fact: when I was in med school I always saw body parts in the clouds. Where others saw a dinosaur or a daffodil, I saw the aorta or the large intestine. Medical school does not necessarily produce normal people.

We don’t get too worked up over differences of opinion when it comes to a cumulus cloud… but we surely do over other things. Like race and ethnicity. Or gun control. Or the definition of marriage. Or policemen. Or flags. Or immigration. Or rainbows. These days, referring to someone as “he” rather than “she” is enough to draw the battle lines.

I don’t think we intend to be contentious or mean-spirited… it’s just that these topics seem to hit where it hurts. We seem to be at some sort of turning point in history. Even trying to describe THAT brings about sharp differences of perception: where some people see the dawn, freedom, and a bright future… others see the end of life as we know it.

None of us are objective, much as we’d like to pretend we are. The truth is, each of us brings our own wisdom and knowledge and experience to the table… but it’s colored with our fears and hurts and insecurities. Put it all together, and nearly any sentence uttered can result in the age-old Southern expression:

“Them’s fightin’ words!”

I think we desire certainty more than anything. We want to KNOW… and we want to KNOW THAT WE ARE RIGHT. Unfortunately, much of life doesn’t lend itself to certainty, and matters of faith require… well, faith. That’s uncomfortable. So our response is often to gather together with other people who agree with us. We gather together in clubs, or denominations, or schools of thought, or advocacy groups… often for very good reasons. But another reason may be this: there’s something about a lot of people all saying the same thing that provides confidence. (It’s why I love being in Neyland Stadium in the fall — there’s just something awesome about 100,000 people who all agree with me!)

Into the midst of our desire for certainty… our longing to be right…  and our fierce, chin-lifted, fist-clenched posture… comes Paul’s refreshingly authentic words:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Wait. What?

Isn’t Paul the guy whose words we so often use to beat each other over the head with? Weren’t his words the deep trench that put our nation at war with ourselves over slavery? That led to the splitting of denominations over the role of women? Aren’t his words the grand canyon separating us over how to define marriage?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Is it possible that some uncertainty is okay? When faced with really complex things… is it possible that it’s okay to not have all the answers? Is it possible that faith is less about having our theology tied up into a tidy package… and more about trusting in a God who is way bigger than us?

It isn’t as though Paul left us hanging, either. He didn’t just say, “Life is complicated, so do your best… have fun… chill out… hakuna matata.” No, he gave us very specific marching orders in how to conduct ourselves when we are uncertain:

LOVE.

The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 says, in essence, that everything we generally put our trust in is worthless without love. Knowledge… wisdom… faith that moves mountains… sacrificial giving… the gift of prophecy… eloquent speaking and preaching… all of it adds up to nothing without love.

I wonder, if we were to use this passage as our method of grading all the arguments that occur over “what’s right”… if the score wouldn’t end up being 0-0.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that if the guy who wrote half of the New Testament can say that everything he knows now is partial and incomplete, maybe we ought to follow suit. Perhaps it’s time to season our demands and our turf battles and our culture wars with humility and gracious uncertainty. Perhaps, in doing so, we would begin to have discussions and relationships that are, in the Bible’s method of scoring, actually worth something.

Perhaps it’s time to stop being divided over our certain beliefs… and instead become unified by our faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Three things will last forever…

Not certainty. Not truth. Not wisdom. Not theology. Not science. Not marriage. Not a specific nation. Not a specific race.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.