Calling Jesus Names

Have you ever heard a racial slur come out of a child’s mouth? I haven’t heard one recently, but when you do, trust me, the event will stick in your mind. You’ll ask, “Where did they learn that? Do their parents talk that way? Do they know what that means?”

I’m not really sure where to start with this post. I had a really great weekend. I celebrated my Scottish heritage up at Maryville College for the Smoky Mountain Highland Games. I watched burly men toss rocks. I watched burly men toss huge telephone poles. I had a plate of haggis and mashed potatoes washed down with an Irn-Bru, which is still the weirdest drink I have ever thrown down my goozle. (If I had to describe the flavor it would be orange rind and bubblegum.) I listened to some old Irish and Scots folk songs and was blasted by a combined Pipe and Drum Corps playing Amazing Grace. I was happy, and full, and very, very warm. The warmth was from the dear sounds of ancestry… or maybe the 88 degree heat, not sure. I enjoyed celebrating a culture, but I know that not everyone can with as much open pride.

God created us in His image, which gets called the Imago Dei (Latin) in the pop Christian lingo right now. I have to hand Gen X and Millennials one big high five for bringing back early church fathers and mothers and incorporating more Latin and Greek into teaching and popular theology. As God’s images, we are designed to reflect God’s glory, authority, and love into the world around us and reflect Creation’s praise back to God. (I’ve tread this path before on this blog.) God encourages culture. In fact, read through the Hebrew Bible and New Testament and you’ll rarely find God or His prophets and apostles calling out the culture (food, clothing, artwork, language, etc.) Instead, you’ll see God calling His people and others to a right attitude of justice, mercy, care for the poor, proper worship of God, to repent and seek forgiveness while offering it to others.

So it pains me greatly when I hear God’s people who are supposed to praise God with their mouth and not slander their neighbor talk about “those people.” “Those people” often come tied to some pretty nasty assumptions, and are usually poor or have little power to affect the kind of change they need. “Those people” are listed in Matthew 25 as appearances of Jesus. See, “those people” need a cup of water, need a decent meal, need clothing and security, need a safe place to sleep, need a visitor in their prison cell or their hospital bed. When we as God’s people begin to dehumanize and speak about “those people” with anger derision, refusing to help or speak out, or allow the powerful to continually take advantage of them, we may just be speaking the words, “But, Lord, when did we see you thirsty, or hungry, or naked, or in prison?” And our own reckless words will condemn us.

I beg you to come with me on a nuanced journey. Let’s work this out. If you get uncomfortable, you can stop at any time… but you’ll have to face this at some point.

You are made in God’s image.

Your most hated co-worker is made in God’s image.

Your in-law that drives you nuts is made in God’s image.

Prisoners are made in God’s image.

Death-row inmates are made in God’s image.

Your pastor is made in God’s image.

The pastor you disagree with is made in God’s image.

The President is made in God’s image.

Immigrants are made in God’s image.

Migrants are made in God’s image.

The Ayatollah is made in God’s image.

Kim Jong Un is made in God’s image.

Police officers are made in God’s image.

Black Lives Matter members are made in God’s image.

Every person you fear might shake up your comfortable life and status quo is made in God’s image.

Are you uncomfortable? Do you see what God’s image does? It places us in an uncomfortable place where we share the exact same foundation with every single other human being who has ever lived and who ever will live. We are all made in God’s image.

The Benedictine monks had a practice of bowing to guests to their monasteries. They bowed in reverence to the presence of Christ in their guest. They recognized that welcoming someone and showing hospitality was welcoming the presence of Jesus into their midst.

We seem rather quick to draw lines that Jesus didn’t draw. Jesus, who defined his primary ministry as to His people, the Jews, still served the Roman Official, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Samaritan woman, and chastised his disciples when they threatened Samaria in their anger.

If we can look at another human being and see anything less than a human being, loved by the God who longs to show them mercy and love, maybe our eyes haven’t been made complete in Jesus’ image, yet. If we can hate and denigrate and name call and demean and ignore, maybe our hearts still need work until we’re made complete in Jesus. If we can look at the image of God and speak hate over it, aren’t we really speaking hate to the One who made them in the first place? Aren’t we throwing our voices in with the crowd shouting and mocking Him as He hung on the cross?

Who do you need to rethink? What groups have you denigrated? What kind of language do your kids hear when it comes to minorities, immigrants, or those that look or think differently than you? Do your children know anyone different than them?

Advertisements

A Nation of Scaredy Cats

We, as Americans, have become scaredy cats. All of us. Home of the brave, my foot. You and I both know we can’t turn on the TV or radio or open our homepage without some new Chicken Little remarking about how another piece of the sky has fallen. Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but what frustrates me most is who seems to be the most terrified about life right now: Christians.

Really? The people who serve the King of the Universe, the God who made the earth and everything in it, the Savior who faced down Rome’s wrath and rose on the third day victoriously condemning, deposing, and defeating the wickedness and violence that he bore on the cross, are the ones sitting in abject terror at every newscast and Facebook story?

Sorry… I get a little worked up on this one. Fear is the perfect opposite of what a Christian should base their life. We’re told that perfect love drives out fear. Why? Because fear leads to contempt and hatred – which often leads to violence and destruction. Fear caused Peter to deny his very best friend and mentor. Fear causes us to deny our savior, too. Love leads to understanding and compassion – which leads to service and generosity. Love led Jesus to welcome Peter back with a fish fry on the beach.

Matthew 25 makes a strong case for getting outside of ourselves and serving others – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the poor, the prisoners, the outsider, the children. Do we recognize Jesus in the least of these? Or are we afraid because we see where one bad day could land us?  Do we reach out our open hands in generosity, or clench our fists, avert our eyes, and pretend everything is fine?

Jesus didn’t fear having his reputation questioned for the good of others. He touched lepers. Spoke openly with women and welcomed them as disciples. He ate and drank with tax collectors and other miscreants – to the point that some groups called Jesus a drunkard and demon-possessed. Sure, Jesus was wise and chose his battles with intention and purpose, but he didn’t fear the repercussions.

If we are following the lead of Jesus, comfort should never be an expectation. Expecting an easy ride should be seen as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself. Jesus’ path drove right through the cross – and so does ours, for that matter.

There are so many things that drive us to fear, but if we fully understand the love of God and His command to love others we will be able to proceed with a Spirit of power, and not fear, that God has placed within us. Don’t fear those you serve. Don’t cower before the wars and rumors of wars. Don’t allow fear to become your god – the thing that drives all of your thoughts and actions.

How do you model courage- or fear – in your life? Which of your political, theological, or social views are built on a foundation of fear? How can you rethink them? What can you do today to help your child live courageously in Jesus?

So How’s Your Easter Going?

Well, here I am coming back, blinking in the bright light of day after being holed up for several weeks in preparation for Easter. (If the minister comes out of his hole and is scared of his shadow, is that 6 more weeks of winter? Or is that just the groundhog?) Anyway, I hope your Easter was full of joy, hope, explosive worship (metaphorically, of course) and time with family.

Remember, though. Easter isn’t just one day. Easter, traditionally, is a long feasting period between Lent and Pentecost. And if we’re intellectually honest, Easter is, well, always. See, we meet on Sunday to celebrate and remember our risen King. Each week we tell the Easter story through communion/Eucharist and the proclaiming of the good news – Jesus is alive and is King!

But do we leave Easter on one day a year? Do we live like we serve a King who has expectations, who has a mission, who has a clear guiding purpose for His church? Or do we slink back into the before times?

Celebration is great, but Easter is a starting gun. Sure, it’s the ultimate defeat of the powers of sin and death and we fear them no longer. It’s also the starting point for a lot of work. Jesus is King. It’s our God-given role to let the world know that fact. It’s also our God-given mission to live like ambassadors of that King. Ambassadors live honorably, generously, and in such a way as to bring honor on the ruler or nation they represent. An ambassador can make or break a diplomatic mission.

May your Easter continue on through this season. May you celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ reign and may your life as an ambassador bring Him honor. May the powers of sin and death bring you no more fear.

(And may your Easter candy last juuuust long enough while adding no calories to your diet.)

Your Racist Language

You know, language and words have a life of their own. Some words can change meaning drastically, taking on so much weight, baggage, and connotation that they become nearly unusable unless prefaced by a huge contextual aside to clarify the meaning. The common example here is “thong.” Now, a certain age group will see that word and picture a sandal to be worn on the foot. Before then, a group would have seen a strap to tie town luggage. Now… well… the artist Sisqo had a very particular type of underwear/swimwear in mind when writing his famous “Thong Song.”

That said, there are so many other examples of words that have changed or evolved over the course of history. English is a living language, meaning that new words are added and definitions can change over time as words are used. I ran square into this my first time through “The Lord of the Rings” as the Hobbits and others would regularly refer to bundles of sticks as faggots. Now, my middle-school brain had a hard time with that one – until the context clued me into what was actually being said. I have since come to discover that this particular word which is a slur used for a particular minority group, also had connotations with smoking.

Some words have subtle meanings to certain groups – which would be referred to as coded language. You may have heard the term “dog whistle” to describe some of these terms – the metaphor being that these words are indistinguishable to anyone without the code or specific knowledge.

For instance, the term “Nazi” has a very specific meaning. We, as Americans, have probably overused the term for a joke’s sake (“grammer nazi,” for example) but that may have been an attempt to degrade the power that the Third Reich held for a short, but devastating period of history. The term “Fascist” also has a very particular meaning, also bandied about a bit too much and has probably degraded in its descriptive power over the years. Now, individuals and groups who ascribe to the social policies of Nazism and Fascism would prefer the terms “alt right,” “white racialist,” “white nationalist,” etc. America didn’t do as good a job ridding the world of these groups as originally thought or celebrated at the end of WWII. (And on the other side, America has such a checkered past with “communist” that the word hardly has a meaning in today’s society. It could almost be defined as “enemy of the U.S.” for the way its used in common speech.)

That said, there are some coded phrases that are used, even by well-meaning people that tend to mean something other than the textbook definitions. I’m a believer in clear communication. If we’re going to speak to one another, let’s try as best we can to use the same meanings so that we can both walk away with the same impression of a conversation. Let’s take “urban” for example. Urban can mean, simply, “of the city.” However, it’s often really just code for “black,” as is “inner city.” Take a moment and think about the picture those words conjure up for you. Do you see a diverse group? Or one color of skin? And the word “diverse,” what picture does that draw in your mind? Is it multicolored? Does it include lighter and darker shades? Does it include age, gender, or ideas? What about the word “immigrant?”

Take this verse, for instance, and replace the word “stranger” with “immigrant:”

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34 (JPS)

Or maybe replace “stranger” with “refugee.”

The problem with the world is that it tries to paint human beings as objects, often using language to accomplish tat goal. In some ways, we are fighting against our own minds to keep this from happening. Between racism, sexism, porn, abuse, politics, and misconceptions of religion, the idea that human beings are all made in God’s image gets lost. People are not problems… they’re people. It’s very easy to sit or stand in a place of privilege, and point a finger at a group, dehumanize them and see them as an object, or a problem. It’s much harder to look into the eyes of another human being and see the face of Christ there.

There is a sentiment often attributed to Joseph Stalin, though it has been stated many times in many eras, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” This, sadly, has often been the case in history. Jesus, though, did the opposite, he approached the individual, dealt with the human aspect of any situation. He praised a Roman for his faith, interacted with women, welcomed foreigners, and accepted people as they were. (He never left them there, but did accept them as they were.) Jesus didn’t see numbers, he saw human beings.

Until we see others as people, as being made in the image of God, we will be lacking that love of God so crucial to life in the Kingdom. As long as we see numbers, problems, statistics instead of faces, stories, and suffering, we will ultimately miss the work God has set out for us.

Our language needs to reflect God’s love. We should all look at our language and ask what we mean when we discuss with others. When someone challenges us and points out our racist language, we need to be humble submit to one another in love and change our habits.

Your children listen to what you say and what those you respect say. What are they learning about how to speak with others? Are they learning love? Respect? Peace-making? Humility? Are they learning to speak of others as human beings, loved and cherished by the God who made them? Or are they being trained in the world’s mindset – to see people as numbers, statistics, problems?

May we speak truth, love, and peace to our children.

“Don’t Make Me Come Down There!” – God, also my mom, and every parent ever

As a child, I was a little wild. Most of it was not malicious, but I had an energy and curiosity that often got me in trouble. The few times I was blatantly defiant, my parents were often standing right there with me and saw the whole thing. I wasn’t much for sneaking around. That said, I’ve seen my share of punishment and discipline over the years. And, honestly, I’ve just now come to know the difference.

I think this may have been the reason I was always a little averse to the idea of Spiritual Disciplines – I had equated the word discipline and punishment. Punishment might be an aspect of discipline, but it’s not the whole package.

Discipline comes from the Latin discipulus,  which means “pupil, or learner.” A disciple was one who learned, either as a pupil under a teacher, or as an apprentice under a master craftsman. So a discipline is a course of learning or training, a way to attain mastery in a field or craft.  Discipline, then, is a way to learn that encompasses all the ways people learn, by positive and negative reinforcement, reward and punishment, and internal drive.

Spiritual Disciplines are not punishments meant to harm us or whip us into submission. the Spiritual Disciplines are a training course in humility, God’s character, and submission to His will. Fasting isn’t a painful beating, it’s a practice that reminds us that God sustains us even in periods of hunger or want. Fasting helps us clear our minds so that we can better hear God’s calling.

Silence isn’t a time out from God. Silence is (come to find out) a necessary aspect of our lives for mental health, but also for spiritual health. It’s hard to hear God if we’ve got sound and information bombarding us 24/7. Silence gives us a chance to stop, listen, and reorient to God’s way of life.

Sabbath (rest) is a spiritual discipline! It isn’t a red card to get out of the game of life. It’s a reminder that worrying and trying to do everything ourselves is pointless, because God doesn’t need to rest and will continue sustaining the world even while we sleep. We rest because we have trust in God’s compassion, love, and care.

Those that surrounded Jesus received the honor of being called his Disciples. We still call them that today. How many of us are disciples? How many of us have truly submitted to the discipline of Jesus by living and walking with him every day? In the case of those twelve men who were called by name, their discipleship training never stopped. It just changed, became different since they were no longer able to reach over and tap Jesus on the shoulder. You can bet they continued praying, seeking one another’s advice, sharing meals together, and sharing in that renewed life that Jesus brought through his death and resurrection. Many of them showed their devotion through martyrdom and suffering, facing the challenges that the world threw against them.

In the case of children, you are discipling them whether you realize it or not. When you choose church over sports, or choose kindness over revenge you lay out a discipline for those in your life, children or adult, who look to you for guidance. Do your choices, the discipline of your life, lead others in Jesus’ path, or another?

May your discipline be that of Jesus’, and may you lay out that same path for others.

 

Naive White Male Makes Discovery in Foreign Land

Several times in my life I have found myself in a position of making a purchase in a market in a foreign country. In one of these countries I knew a smattering of the language, and the other, I found myself at a severe disadvantage knowing almost nothing about the language and less than I’d like about the culture at large. However, in both countries I found myself expecting everything to be cheap. I found myself valuing things as less than they would be at home. In some cases this was true, based on basic exchange rates, but in others I found myself surprised. (Now, some of this is my inherently trusting nature that renders me hopelessly naive at times.)

Today I wondered about that. What caused me to value someone else’s artwork or handiwork as less? Was it simple cultural familiarity bias where I assumed other countries were further behind? Was it pride? Was it relying on hearsay and assumptions built up over a lifetime? Was it a combination of all of these? Regardless, I was humbled and realized how much more I needed to grow in my understanding and appreciation for other cultures outside my own.

I wonder if this is how the disciples felt whenever Jesus raised up someone who, in that culture, was valued less. How did the disciples feel when they came back to find Jesus chatting with a divorced, unmarried, Samaritan woman? (What judgments are you unconsciously passing on her yourself?) How did the disciples react when Jesus touched a man with a skin disease – an unclean person? What did the disciples say when Jesus said that a Roman centurion, one of the hated, oppressive gentiles, had more faith than anyone in Israel? The disciples suddenly found themselves in a seemingly foreign land realizing that people had way more value than they thought.

We struggle with this ourselves today in America. How much to we value the immigrant, the foreigner God commanded his people to respect and care for? How much do we value women, and all of the struggles they face? How much do we value those with a different skin color, with all of the present and historical abuse they’ve suffered?

In our families, how much do we value our children? Do we show it by our actions, by our forethought, by our considering their dreams, hopes, and fears? Jesus raised children to a new level when he said, “Let the little children come to me.” He made them a priority, much like God did in the Old Testament – funny how that works, right? God taught his people that children are blessings, gifts that don’t belong to us as parents, but are gifted to us to raise, guide, disciple, and protect. Children are more than children, they are human beings, too. I know this sounds cliche, but a reminder of the value of children is needed on occasion.

How do your actions show what and who you value? How do your actions teach your kids who you choose not to value? What might you change about your habits to show your children to value all people?

What if you could dash it all to pieces… and start over?

There’s been a lot of anger surrounding ideas concerning immigration, racism, sexual assault, consent, abuse, and so many other issues I’m having a hard time remembering which one of them has priority at the moment. It can get difficult to trek through all of these issues, but I had a thought the other day to help deal with some of these. It’s an exercise even kids can do.

Have you ever asked yourself what a perfect society would look like? Have you ever gone through the exercise of deciding how you would build America if you could do it all over again? What would you keep? What would you scrap? What do you think your kids would say in response to that question?

Now, there are some people who would say that America is fine, as is. I wonder about those people. Seriously? There are absolutely no problems that need fixing either present or historically speaking?

Try the exercise and ask specific questions. Start with the fun ones. What would be the national style of food? What language would your country speak? Would you have specific national clothing? What would be the most popular books or movies? Who would be the people celebrated in your country? And after you’ve got the fun stuff talk about, move on to the difficult stuff…

What style of government would you have? What responsibilities would that government have? What would you do about poverty? How would you handle immigration? How would you handle diplomacy with other nations? What would your cities look like? Who would manage the resources of your land? How would you avoid extreme inequality? How would you regulate industry? What would your justice and prison system look like? How would you treat criminals? How would you handle healthcare and illness?

It’s easy to just copy and paste whatever our current US system is doing. Often times we don’t recognize our own blind spots and weaknesses until we do an activity like this. Which is more important, infrastructure or military, freedom or order, compassion or justice? Asking ourselves what we see as priorities for life can give us insight into ourselves as individuals as well.

While I would like to sit here and go on and on about my personal beliefs and how Scripture and church tradition as well as wisdom from people I trust has guided the development of those beliefs, it wouldn’t be productive. See, I understand that a blog doesn’t have the kind of punch to change someone’s mind… but you do. Can you hold your beliefs and views under extreme scrutiny, comparing each detail to Scripture, to Jesus, and come out with all of them in tact?

I’m not going to get all cliche and ask, “How would Jesus vote?” Instead, I’ll just ask whether or not our society, our families, our churches reflect Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom? Do our lives look as though “His Kingdom [has] come?” Or do our lives look more like that other extremity?

What will you change to help your family better reflect the Kingdom? How will you act to help your community better reflect the Kingdom? How will you engage your family to serve the city around you?