Five Minute (Saturday): World

Gentle Reader,

Have you hugged a children’s ministry director lately? Brought him or her a very large coffee? You should. I don’t know how they do what they do, apart from the empowerment of God. I spent 8 hours with a group of elementary students on Thursday, filling in for a counselor at my church’s summer program, and I’m wiped out.

I may not be able to tell you exactly where this calling of mine is going to end up, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be in the children’s department. I’ll take 50 hormonal teenagers who just broke up with their significant others over someone screaming at me for no apparent reason (translation: they need a nap) any day.

Kate says: world.

Go.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the humanitarian crisis at the United States-Mexico border.

We can argue with each other all day long about immigration processes. And I do actually believe that there should be a process; I really don’t know anyone who is for the idea of “open borders.” The problem right now is that the system is broken. Blame the President, blame Congress, blame whoever. But that misses the point.

We have people crossing the border, some through official channels and some not. Whether you think they should be doing so or not doesn’t matter. The reality is: They are here. And we are not treating them as fellow human beings.

Particular sorrow wells up in my soul when I think of the children who are being taken from their families. (Yes, some children are being trafficked. That makes my heart break and blood boil and I very much want the perpetrators of this evil to be brought to justice. But, let’s be real, every child who comes to the border is not a victim of trafficking, and using that as an excuse to separate families is wrong). Government officials claim that it’s not necessary for children to have access to things like soap and toothpaste, because these things do not fall under “safe and sanitary” regulations, displaying an incredible lack of common sense. Prominent evangelical leaders wonder why we can’t just send these people back where they came from while in the next breath claiming their hearts are broken for them, displaying an impressive cognitive dissonance.

This isn’t a political issue. I don’t care what side of the aisle you normally sit on, what party you identify with, or who you voted for in 2016. It’s a waste of time and breath to argue about minutiae and legalities. Further, it’s an attempt to escape responsibility, because we who follow Christ, who truly know Him as our Lord and Savior, know that we have a holy obligation to care for others. No, not an obligation, a privilege. The whole of Scripture repeats this command over and over again. God does not take kindly to the oppression and marginalization of the least of these.

And if children aren’t the least of these, then who is? If people fleeing violence aren’t the least of these, then who is?

I know, I know. Some of you reading this want to tell me that we should care for our own fellow Americans first. If I may step on your toes a little harder, we, the church, as a whole, aren’t doing that, either. We are stuck in a mindset of occasional handouts and hoping that problems will magically disappear. Because caring for others, really caring for them, involves relational investment. It takes time and the giving up of our own agendas, which we don’t want to do. And I’m right there with you; I struggle just as much as you do to surrender my will and take up the will of the Father.

Once more, this is not political. Our inability to address these issues appropriately arises when we think of them as merely political, when we cast fellow image bearers into the “other” category and deem them enemies. This is a Jesus issue. How would He have us bring light and love into this chaotic, dark world?

The words at the end of a well-known parable echo in my mind:

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

“The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

– Luke 10:36-37 (CSB)

What does it mean for you to “go and do the same” today? What does it mean for me? Let’s wrestle with this together, and then do as God leads.

Stop.

Please read this letter and consider adding your name to it. Doing so may not feel like much, but it’s something. Then, join me in praying that God would grace us all with compassion and wisdom, from those in positions of power in the halls of government to those in the smallest communities around the nation.

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(Yet Again) Five Minute Monday: Touch

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Gentle Reader,

I was so on top of things last week. Back to a regular posting schedule. Back to a regular life schedule. Except for the headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt pretty good.

As The Beatles sing, “I shoulda known better.”

My beloved youths shared their germs with me again, and I’m on day three of being stuck in my bed with a nasty cold. All I’ve done is sleep, drink orange juice, and watch movies. Try to read, by my eyes swim and I can’t focus.

Go.

I’ve never regained feeling along the left side of the scar that bisects my abdomen. Too many nerves sliced up. Between the white line and my belly button is a field of nothingness. Except that it itches, practically all the time. But when I scratch the itch, I can’t feel the scratching.

Don’t ask me to explain this.

Skin is an amazing thing. So many different shades and textures. Senses the slightest movement of air. Responds to the tiniest pinprick. Blushing cheeks. Freckles bursting across shoulders in the summer sun.

Our church culture is not touchy-feely. The world around us has given way to the oversexualization of every person and interaction, and, rather than being a people who redeem and restore, we succumb to paranoia. “Noli mi tangere,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene in the garden that day (John 20:17); we take up “touch me not” as our mantra. So our hands never feel a squeeze in a moment of celebration. Our backs never feel encircling arms during times of grief.

Our bodies are not evil. We can give and receive appropriate, healthy, loving touch. In fact, this giving and receiving should be a natural, normal marker of our communities.

We embrace.

Stop.

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Love Them, Love Them, Say That You Love Them

Gentle Reader,

The Apostle John fascinates me.

…on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

But He turned and rebuked them…

– Luke 9:52b-55a (CSB)

Like a gangster’s lackeys in a Depression-era movie, they ask, “Hey, Jesus? You want we should whack them?”

I wonder if Jesus paused before turning around. I wonder if His head dropped to His chest the way a father’s does when he’s exasperated with his children. I wonder if He rubbed his temples. I wonder if His words came out clipped or if they were measured. I know that He surely looked both of them in the eyes and, from the deep well of patient love within His heart, the Savior spoke, telling James and John to knock it off.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Him and said, “Teacher, we want You to do whatever we ask You.”

“What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked them.

They answered Him, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.”

– Mark 10:35-37 (CSB)

They want the places of honor. The top spots. Of course this makes the other disciples mad. I wonder if Jesus sighed heavily. I wonder if He cast His eyes to Heaven. I wonder if He shook His head, marveling at how little they understood.

Then, Gethsemane. The betrayal. The arrest. Everyone flees. At some point, John circles back around, following the proceedings from a safe distance. He is there, at the foot of the Cross, with the women. Jesus tells him to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27; church tradition maintains that he did so for the rest of her life). Dark, quiet hours as the Light of the World lay in the tomb.

Ah, but as the song says: Bursting forth, in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again. Fifty days to wrap their minds around resurrection, salvation. His feet lifted off of the Mount of Olives. They watched, blinking at the brightness. Confusion, waiting.

Pentecost. Tongues of fire. Preaching and teaching as they’d never preached before.

About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

– Acts 12:1-2 (CSB)

No mention of how John reacted. No doubt he mourned. As the eldest is usually listed first in ancient documents, including the Bible, James was probably his big brother. If John was like other little brothers throughout the ages, he wanted to be just like James. Followed him around. Tried to act and think like James did.

Suddenly, he is left alone. The community of faith, the family of God, remains, but there’s something about losing a sibling. Your first friend. The one who knows you the best.

Something shifts in John as he grows and continues to walk with God. The narrative in Acts slides over to Paul beginning in Chapter 13, and we lose track of the man who begins, at some point, to think of himself as the Beloved Disciple. No more does he want to call down fire on people’s heads. No more does he seek a place of glory.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

– 1 John 4:7-10 (CSB)

Brimstone and rage, power and position…to love.

Another church tradition tells us that, toward the end of his life, John settled on one sentence to sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, a sentence that he repeated over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

I don’t believe it’s too far a stretch to think that John would be shocked by our practices in the church today, for this Apostle was not only the preacher of love but the great enemy of Gnosticism, a philosophy that downplays the importance of the physical and elevates mystical experiences in the pursuit of secret or special knowledge. Gnostics were either ascetics, denying bodily needs, or libertines, engaging in whatever activities they liked because it didn’t matter. In essence, “thou shalt not” or “do what thou wilt.”

These competing ideas influence us greatly. For some of us, there is fear of the body, and so we come up with long lists of rules. A man must not really be friends with a woman to whom he is not married, and he definitely shouldn’t hug women, because he will of course be aroused and there’s no way he can control himself. (I am not sure if this is more insulting to women or to men). For others, there is shunning of Scriptural ethics. That passage tells me not to do this, but that can’t be what the writer actually meant; they had no concept of this and so I can ignore what’s being said and indulge because God is basically a cosmic hippie who cares only about my happiness.

Neither is healthy. Neither is loving.

In the youth ministry context in which I currently sit, I listen as teens ask, “Do you really love me? Do I really belong?” They don’t always use words, but the question is ever-present. Of course, we tell them, “Yes! Yes!” But they are smarter than we give them credit for, despite the lack of fully developed brains. They watch how we interact with each other. They see our unease, our inability to avoid the extremes. They notice our fear.

Our answers don’t line up with our actions.

When John said, “Little children, love one another,” he meant it. As in, actually love one another. Recognizing that we who have been brought from death to life by the power of Christ are really family, we don’t have to be paranoid around each other. You can give someone a hug if he looks like he needs it. You can say “I love you” to her without having to rush to the marriage altar. At the same time, we also don’t get to cast off good sense and wisdom; we don’t get to make our own rules and demand that God and Scripture submit to them. Instead, we see the goodness and kindness in what God commands, and we ask Him to reshape our hearts into those that beat to the time of obedience.

We have to love one another. Love is listening. Love is responding in grace and truth. Love is playing, eating, serving, sitting in silence. Love is squeezing hands and shoulders. Love is hugs. Love is looking others in the eye. Love is creating space for God-given differences of abilities, gifts and perspectives.

Love is relationship.

The messy, up-in-your-business, no-room-for-hiding relationship.

Not this fakeness we’re used to.

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(Again a) Five Minute Monday: Lack

Gentle Reader,

There is a light at the end of the tunnel of busyness.

Maybe it’s a freight train…

Kate says: lack.

Go.

I lack the ability to see myself as others see me.

Yes, of course, we all deal with that. We’re all surprised by the compliments (and criticisms) that seem to come out of left field. But me, I’m far less taken aback by the criticism. Maybe it’s because, left to my own devices, I’m a real pessimist. Maybe it’s because we women are incessantly told that we don’t measure up to an ever-changing standard. Maybe it’s because I spend far too little time immersed in the healing, loving presence of God, something that I suspect is an issue for many, if not most of us. (I might relate hardcore to Martha and her need to get the chores done).

All I know for sure is that, when I’m complimented, I have no idea how to respond.

It’s not false modesty. It’s not fishing for more compliments.

It’s, “Huh. He really likes me. She said something nice. Why?”

Brain can’t make it compute.

A reminder for me: What I say truly matters. Can really make a difference. Because there have to be others like me out there who’ve latched onto the rough words rather than the smooth. There have to be others who, while not engaged in active self-hate, see themselves as…lacking. And in that sense of lacking, then lack the ability to see the good that others do, the good that God placed there.

Lord, I know that I can’t control my tongue. Any bridling comes straight from Your hands. So Father, please, come reign over my words. The words I speak to others. The words I speak to myself. The words I speak to You. Let my lips be ones that drip with the honey of kindness, gentleness, grace and truth.

Stop.

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