Humanization – the key to intelligent and compassionate discourse

 

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I still remember the first time I read about this concept. I was reading a book by Justo Gonzalez titled Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes. As I was reading, I remember thinking “Oh my God. I do this.” The book was describing how we normally feel or think about immigrants from Latin America – uneducated, dirty, poor, and I could keep going, but it wouldn’t get any better.

From that moment, I began to notice dehumanization everywhere I went, including times where I felt dehumanized. I think many of my fellow evangelical Christians can relate to feeling like Hollywood and news media has painted us with a broad stroke (a phrase that implies they paint us in one “color” – and by the way that color is usually “white”). Times where they have deprived us the human qualities of compassion, nuance, individual personality, suffering, etc. and instead will do the lazy work of choosing a caricature to depict us. They seem to pick the worst of those who use our name and exaggerate the qualities (well, sometimes it’s exaggerated) to fit the narrative that’s convenient. Crazy-maker, right?

I’ve learned that dehumanization takes on different forms. Ironically, I believe the type of dehumanization that some in the media use toward evangelicals can probably be described as demonization. Words used to describe us, which can include “evil” and “monsters”, gnaw at our sense of justice as it doesn’t validate our humanity and good deeds, not taking an honest look at all the parts that comprise who we are, all the parts that make us human. Our acts of mercy and compassion are ignored. We are the enemy, and in order to justify taking “shots” at us, they have to lessen our value as humans.

Perhaps this should give us more empathy when someone does the same to others who get that “less-than-human” treatment, not just in the social and mainstream media, but everywhere. However, I believe dehumanization is a default state. We seem to do it to everyone whose lives we know little about, but to those who are significantly different in ethnicity, social class, gender, political opinions, faiths, denominations, it seems to add an extra layer of justification to those tendencies. We further this by adding negative stereotypes to those same people. For the great majority of people, this is not a conscious act of willful mal-intent where someone says to themselves:

  1. Remove or reduce humanity
  2. Attack! OR justify the actions of the person with more humanity (a.k.a. more worth who I may identify the most with) more than the person of less humanity.

I can think of an ENDLESS list of examples, both current and historical.

Fairly frequently, on social media I may observe a person who is an atheist insulting the intelligence or IQ of someone who believes in God. This one is a double-edged sword as insulting someone using their IQ can actually dehumanize someone with a low IQ AND the person they are intending to dehumanize.

On the other end, Christians can dehumanize atheists by making them quite one-dimensional. My impressions of an atheist growing up was someone that was angry, bitter, attacking Christians, having an agenda, etc. and while I’ve actually learned that some of those descriptors MAY be true of some atheists, firstly, that is not ALL anyone is. They each have a story. Some of those words can be used to describe some Christians and that is not ALL who they are. Each one of us has quite a range of complex emotions, men AND women, which are part of what make us human.

Secondly, I have met and known of atheists who are not at all angry, bitter, on the attack, OR have an agenda. They just made a personal decision. But hey, that person may get angry and even bitter and have an agenda one day – and it may be for completely other reasons not having to do with their belief in God or lack thereof. All of those emotions fit in to what we call “being human.”

Historically, the US legislated dehumanization by counting slaves as 60% of a human. The extra slap in the face here being that they weren’t being counted at all and this was, technically, an improvement in the written value of their humanness in order to convenience states that wanted more representation in Congress. Later, even though slavery went away and legislation changed – albeit not at all completely and other laws took their place – legislating the human heart is a task no man or woman or leader can do. People of black or brown skin were considered “animals” so we used terms I won’t mention here that are way short of a human with a complex range of emotions and experiences.

Today, the rate of incarceration of black males continues this pattern of dehumanization. Now, because there are so many in our prisons and we assume they deserve their penalties, we can revert back to calling them all of those names. After all, they’re just criminals, except even if they were – a criminal, white, black, brown or yellow, or “other” – has also been given the gift of humanity and to reduce that humanity, may even unwittingly minimize the severity of their actions.

Because of these hard truths about our history, we should never EVER legislate dehumanization, yet we do. Our history should have warned us about dehumanizing (removing human qualities from) anything else, including an unborn child. The answer to the dehumanizing of women is not dehumanizing their unborn. The answer is never to individually or culturally suppress one of our most human of qualities – empathy – to stop the beating heart of ANYONE, and potentially anything.

We also dehumanize by removing the disliked aspects of people we admire in order to admire them more. Pastors, Politicians, and Leaders benefit AND suffer from this type of dehumanization. Historical figures can become legends and can be immortalized. Our Founding Fathers have become like gods in the way we invoke their name with some kind of authority “The Founding Fathers are rolling in their grave…” OR “The Founding Fathers would never…” fill in the blank with whichever political belief you would like them to have. The truth is the founding fathers (lower case this time) had the exact same arguments with each other with regard to how big or small the government should be, how the constitution should be interpreted, and whether the constitution was even a good document. With this kind of dehumanization, we can actually pit the dehumanized person we admire against the dehumanized person we dislike or disagree with, resulting in drastic marginalization.

We love our superhero movies. They are exciting, they are fun, but they don’t make us cry. Human hero movies make us cry – everyday people making the right decisions, making courageous decisions. Sacrificing for others.

We can even dehumanize Jesus.

Our movies make him quite pretty, with whatever the world’s standards are of that. Normally with blue eyes, long, straight hair, Caucasian, British and the complex range of emotions thing is not even on anyone’s radar. While these qualities may describe a human somewhere, they are not, realistically, anywhere close to what he would have looked like or behaved. We have removed HIS human qualities and that can do some serious damage to what we think of ourselves or how we believe He views us.

I can read in the Bible that Jesus really took the concept of “being human” seriously. He constantly urged his audience to rethink who we considered as our neighbor. They were radical statements at the time and, if we don’t iconize Him and turn away from the discomfort and awkwardness He causes, they can be radical statements today.

Jesus taught us first about dehumanization. “Love your enemies”, “bless those who curse you”, “do unto others as you would have them do to you” are just some of the timeless phrases he taught us. He really introduced to the world, probably more than any other, this concept of loving others as you do yourself. In our minds, we are each the ultimate human because we know all of our good and our bad. Loving others as you do yourself means you see the full humanity of everyone around you as you would for yourself. You believe in their good intentions because you’ve experienced your good intentions being misunderstood or overlooked.

Back to the immigrants, we will never stop coming face to face with how we will treat someone from a different culture, color, LANGUAGE, and custom. Will we start loving the immigrant as we do ourselves? Even my own belief in a more open posture toward, let’s say, Muslim or Central-South American immigrant, only takes me so far as I’m willing to do for them what I would want them to do for me, but let’s take at least a baby step in the human direction rather than stay paralyzed in an all-or-nothing state.

Everyone gets to be human.

 

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I am no better…

I don’t think it’s a secret that I feel quite strongly on the subject of being ethnically and culturally reconciled to one another.

At work, I co-lead a group that talks about racism. Sometimes when we are in discussion, someone will make a joke that exposes some other form of prejudice – many times the joke will come at the expense of the poor or someone of a different denomination or someone of a different gender or age than their own – as if race and ethnicity were the only areas in which we felt a temptation to feel superior to another.

Nay, my friend. Superiority is a disease. It’s a chronic, lifelong illness that plagues me and most every member of humanity daily.

I’m particularly observant and sensitive to it lately, because Jesus.

I have spent most of my adult life surrounded by people of a different ethnicity and denomination from those in which I was raised. I’ve learned to navigate and become quite fluent in the predominantly non-Hispanic White Baptist/Presbyterian/Reformed language and culture. Having grown up in a predominantly Hispanic Pentecostal environment, this experience has been enriching and highly beneficial for me, not because one is better than the other (although because of the aforementioned illness, I definitely had those thoughts), but because, after some time of struggle, it exposed my cultural blind spots and caused me to hold on tighter to the sure thing – Jesus, and how He expresses Himself through the various cultures.

As an ethnic minority, I see and experience those blind spots from the majority culture who haven’t had the same opportunity I have. I see their superiority expressed, as their own blind spots haven’t been made known.

Yet, I realize how EASY it is to feel superior to another who feels superior. Sticky, isn’t it?

Oh, and it doesn’t come close to stopping there. I have never experienced poverty. How easy would it me to judge the poor, the homeless, and the jobless? I’d like to think I know their story. Every person has one – a complex road that led him or her to where they are today. It’s much easier to judge someone based on the narrative I think I know. This way I can now lift myself up on my own merit – on how hardworking and ambitious I am. How easy would it be? Well, sorry to disappoint. I’ve done it. Many times…and there’s much more.

Oh, how I’d love to judge the woman who felt no other option was available to her other than an abortion, when I’ve always had the support of my family.

How many times would I love to say “I would NEVER…”?

I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you. I’m as sick as you are, maybe even sicker, and I know people don’t like to hear other people go on and on about their ailments.

So when you feel that symptom of superiority creep up on you, which starts in the brain and then moves on to the tongue, I recommend silence and prayer and then a kind and graceful word as Jesus continues the work of revealing your blind spots.

“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

THE MESSAGE Luke 6:41-42

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My Word for the Year

10915275_10153434204984186_195542918205334883_nMy friend Melissa and I were chatting one day while waiting for our caroling gig to begin.  She was talking to me about the body acceptance movement.

Have you heard of it?  It’s about accepting your body as it is.  Ok, that’s oversimplified, but this blog is not about that anyway.  Google it.

What she was saying is that she’s tired of waiting to get skinny for her life to begin – that accepting her body is key to enjoying and living her life now.

Right on.

I thought about how I do that, too.  I think I’ll be happier or will be able to do this or that if I do this or that first – definitely if I get skinnier is one of those things.  Then, I started to think about it and I have a whole list of things, and that list got pretty long.

This is the non-exhaustive list I came up with – the list of things I was waiting to happen for life to start:

Waiting to get thin

Waiting to get out of debt

Waiting for my children to grow out of the needy years

Waiting for my children to start school

Waiting until I have time

Waiting until I have enough money

Waiting until I have the perfect idea for that blog

Waiting until I’m a better writer

Waiting until I have a consistent, daily quiet time

Waiting until I have a Master’s Degree in something

Wait, I’m sure there are more…

Then there is the terribly unhealthy perspective of “Why make a fuss down here if heaven is waiting for me?”

I hide behind that sometimes.  Confession.

In fact, I had a mini-panic moment on Sunday morning when I was reading an article that presented a somewhat believable argument that Jesus was talking in metaphors when he was talking about eternity and that eternity just meant that our life needed to mean something significant to pass to the next generations…to which I thought to myself “Oh, no.  I need to start doing something!”

For someone who gets down and out about how little faith she has, I realized right then that I really did believe in Heaven…but that I also let that belief keep me from living my life on earth in the here and now.

So, in my department at work, many people choose a Word of the Year.  Quite frankly, I was inspired to choose one because my friend Chris was making pretty word images for those who chose one.  I know, shallow.

So my word for the year is “Live”.  That’s with a short “i” and not the long one.  I’m not talking about yogurt or TV specials. (Insert gripe about the English language).

This year I will live.

Live to be generous

Live to be free

Live to sing

Live to write

Live to take risks

Live to be vulnerable

Live to follow Jesus

Live abundantly

Live to speak up

Live to love and enjoy my children

Live to love and enjoy my husband

Just.  Live.

Waiting will always have its place in things for which I have no control.

But to live life, I will wait no more.

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Jesus wept.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Maria Rodriguez (Titi Meri) who, 4 years ago today, went to be with the One who wiped away her tears, while we wait for Him to wipe ours, too.  Also, for all those for whom the Holidays are not so Happy because you miss someone so very much.

John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible.

I’ll admit, while I always found it interesting that the Bible stops to mention Jesus in tears, I never paused to think about why.

I could always imagine myself as the All-Powerful Savior of the world, who has the ability to raise people from the dead (I’ve done it before, right?), arriving at a funeral with excitement about what I’m about to do next. “Wait till they get a load of this!” I say to myself. Wouldn’t you? I would. At least, I think I would – or maybe that’s the sinner talking.

It’s confounding to me that Jesus doesn’t do this, if I just take a moment to think about it. What’s interesting to me is that, initially, He does what many of us do or tell others during times of grief. We give hope, or at least we try.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are [f]the Christ, the Son of God, even [g]He who comes into the world.”

Martha did not understand Jesus to mean that He would raise Lazarus from the dead in those next few moments. She understood that she would see him one day in the humanly very distant future. I’m not sure if the situation surprised him in some way as I wonder why He wasn’t more blatant about what He had planned to do. Maybe it seemed wrong to bypass grief.

But something happened.

We already know from Jesus’ first miracle that Jesus doesn’t seem to have much of a problem going “off plan.” I honestly have no idea if that’s what happened in this case or maybe it didn’t happen in the way He thought it would.   All I can observe is His behavior according to what’s written in the text.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and [h]was troubled, 34 and said,“Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, [i]have kept this man also from dying?”

Jesus was troubled.

Troubled.

Whatever Jesus’ plans were, one does not plan on being “troubled.”

Another translation uses the word angry. This makes sense to me because he then seems to urgently ask where they laid him the way an angry person would.

Then he weeps. His eyes don’t just well up with tears. There is no single tear coming down with cheeks. He’s not fighting His own emotions for the sake of keeping it together for those around Him. He doesn’t stop to consider that His credibility, His manhood, nay, His Deity might be at stake.

No. Jesus was overtaken with emotion, with grief, with empathy, maybe even with anger. He experienced the pain of emotional suffering. Jesus’ came face to face with Death, His greatest enemy who, this time, had taken His friend and He wept, audibly.

Yes, Jesus had friends. Jesus needed friends.

I know not if there were perhaps a myriad of reasons Jesus chose to raise Lazarus from the dead. I don’t think He would be opposed to multi-tasking here. Could it possibly be that He chose to raise Lazarus from the dead because some of his closest and loved friends were suffering? Could it be that He raised Lazarus to relieve His own suffering and at the same time give others a reason to believe?

38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, *came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus *said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, *said to Him, “Lord, by this time [j]there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said,“Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the [k]people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus *said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. 

Again, there seems to be a sense here that Jesus made a request, and God agreed to it. He’s thankful.

And still reeling from that raw emotion, “He cries out, with a loud voice…”

I imagine myself in that scene, with Jesus raising His voice like that, I would probably pass out in awestruck wonder. Emotion, anger, and authority commanding Death to leave.

I think sometimes we confuse our fallen nature with our humanity and we fail to feel the emotions we’ve been given. Jesus had no sin, yet He grieved, He was angered, He loved – greatly. This little piece of writing is not about the Resurrection. This is about being ok with feeling the emotions that we feel are going to break us, and sometimes they do, the grief and the Death and the Disappointment, because if we don’t give ourselves that permission, the Resurrection will have very little meaning and very little power.

Jesus did it. Jesus wept. We can, too.

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Black History Month: What’s there to remember, to celebrate, and to learn?

black-history-heroesThe year 2013 may have caught me off-guard with the number of headlines involving matters of race.

A white food network celebrity tries to plan a “plantation style” Southern wedding with Black servers acting as slaves.  An Hispanic white Florida neighborhood watch member is acquitted for shooting and killing a Black teenager carrying only an Arizona iced tea and a bag of skittles.  A white reality TV icon comments on the happiness of the black experience in Alabama during the 1960’s.

While these stories, causing tense and uncomfortable conversations, would not be the first of their kind, I noticed that social media now became a forum to discuss these issues and discover what our “Friends” or “Followers” really thought about the issue of race.  Social media creates, in a sense, a safety where one can possibly say or post what they please and easily “unfriend” those who disagree too boldly (or rudely).  So, all of our “feeds” (whether you personally commented or not) were full of blogs and comments with trending names like Deen, Zimmerman, and Robertson.  Not to mention the controversial comments written about this Cheerios commercial.

I learned this past year that, while we may agree we’ve made significant strides on race issues, there is a great deal of confusion on where we currently stand, and I’ve learned that place we stand tends to fall along the lines of race.

The month of February in our country and many others is the month we celebrate the history of the African diaspora, also known as Black History Month.  That we have a month dedicated to celebrating and remembering the history of a particular race may even cause some contention.  I propose, in light of the events this past year, for us to come to a place of understanding by looking back and remembering the events brought us to this point.

What’s there to remember?  What’s to celebrate?  What can we learn?

We remember human beings with intrinsic worth from their Creator were brought chained in ships, humiliated, in deplorable conditions and many died en route.

We remember men, women, and children were only considered to be three-fifths of a white person.

We remember that even blacks that were not slaves were not free.

We remember that after freedom from almost 300 years of slavery, started an emancipation process that has not ended and that continued suffering and injustice based on skin color.

We remember the process involved separate bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants, Jim Crow laws and other such laws to remind blacks that they were still inferior, even though not slaves.

We remember that, through out this time in history and even today, black men have been unjustly incarcerated, given the death penalty, and ultimately killed only to find later that they were innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.

When we remember, we honor those who suffered and we can grieve with those who grieve.

But we cannot honor without also pressing forward and redeeming the experiences of others.

We need to also acknowledge those who have accomplished justice and pressed on despite having to live in a dark place.

We need celebration.

We celebrate that God redeems even the most horrific of experiences and is still redeeming it today.

We celebrate the faith that grew out of a race of people, and that faith was the driving factor of their freedom.  Defeat did not win.

We celebrate the many white advocates along the way who risked their reputations, their livelihoods, and their lives because they could no longer bear the sight of injustice and would risk everything to see it stop.

We celebrate the many who have succeeded and overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve great things.

Remembering and celebrating, we honor our history and we can look toward the future.  What can we still learn and where do we grow from here? 

We learn that taking ownership of and defending our country’s history and its successes also means taking responsibility for its failures.  It also means that we acknowledge that our successes came, significantly, through the slave labor of blacks.

We learn that emancipation can be a process, rather than an event.  The event left blacks never having been compensated financially for the time they worked, nor for the time their ancestors worked.  It never fully validated their existence and their humanity.  Even if they had been compensated at that moment in 1865 for all the work they and their relatives had done, so much damage had taken place to their human existence on the basis of skin color that there would still exist an enormous emotional and spiritual deficit that would be need payment for generations to come.

We learn and acknowledge that we still live in this process today.

We learn that the advocates in power, who risked so much, are the advocates we need today to move the process forward from here.

Healing will require more of us – most of which requires courage to approach this outside of social media.

It requires honest conversations in coffee shops, in churches, in break rooms.

Healing requires we reach out to our co-worker and neighbor of a different color and get to know them for whom they really are.  It requires humility.  It requires time to learn about what we don’t know and why we don’t know it.

Why were these 2013 headlines so divisive?  What is it that we don’t know about the black minority experience?  Dialogue is key.  What are some of your thoughts about this?   How do you celebrate Black History?

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“Is religion the only reason for your morality?”

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.53.43 AMThis question recently showed up on the feed of one of my Facebook friends. I love delving into these kinds of questions because they make me think deeper than what might be on the surface.

My answer to the question is yes…and no. This means, for me, yes for some morals, no for others, and both yes and no for a third category – with, of course, some overlap in between all of those.

I apologize for causing frustration to those who like the simple “yes” or “no”. I’m far from a black and white thinker.

(This is why it’s hard for me to step out of Daydream Land).

Let’s start with the “Non-religion” morals. A simple example of this would be traffic laws. The laws that govern motorists exist for the safety of society. When I approach a red light at a busy intersection, I’m not having a WWJD moment – at all. My main motivation is not getting killed, or seriously injured. Because our society has decided (rightly so) that if we all stop on red and go and green, we will be safe, I have no disagreement and will happily comply. Self-preservation is doing its job. Self-preservation continues even on the green light as I’m protecting myself (and possibly my children) from non-attentive drivers, drunk drivers, aggressive drivers, driving-and-texting drivers, etc. So I press the gas pedal cautiously to make sure all of us drivers are on the same page.

When I approach a sleepy intersection, my main motive for stopping is most likely 1) conditioning, 2) possibly still self-preservation in the event there is a sneaky cop somewhere looking to give me a ticket.  (This is especially the case with the annoying non-smart traffic lights that stay red forever with not a soul in sight), or 3) I may look to my faith morals more in the case where I really don’t think I would get caught if I did run the light – not really because of fear, but because I know integrity is an important part of representing as a Jesus-follower and what I do in hidden places could possibly affect what is done out in the open.  (That’s another discussion).

If I’m honest, I don’t really invite Jesus into these moments. Maybe I should somehow, but I don’t. But here’s a related situation where I might invite him to check my morals.

Jesus once said, “Love your enemies.”

So, at some point while driving, someone will cut me off, wave some hand gestures at me for driving too slow, honk at me, and those would just be for the times my boundaries were violated. There are even more unsavory reactions when I’m actually at fault.

Shocker.

Whatever the reason may be, I have been made or I made someone else an “enemy.” How I react next, and even how I FEEL next, is drawn directly from the well of where those words “Love your enemies” came. It’s actually an anti-self-preservation moral.

At least, initially.

This moral gnaws at my nature, at human nature. It defies my human addiction to superiority. It taunts my desire for instant gratification.

Yuck.

But what if it has the ability to radically change my heart – little by little – to rid me of my selfishness and pride, to fill me with authentic compassion and empathy, even in the seemingly insignificant (yet the most significant) moments? What if it has the ability to ultimately produce life? That was the central point of Jesus’ “morality” and also the great misunderstanding of Christians and, ultimately, those who experience us.

That’s our mistake sometimes. We like to be vocal about sexual morality, for example, adding to the confusion that our religion is based on external behavior, rather than internal thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes (which can lead to the external behavior). It’s like trying to ride your bike backwards.

Jesus loved his enemies all the way to His death. Anti-self-preservation.

The result was resurrection. LIFE. His acts and teaching were the precursor of the greater event.

I’m pretty sure that all morals are meant to lead to life in some way. As a Christian, I believe the source of all of those quirky not-common-to-all-belief-systems morals is belief in Jesus.

Thoughts?

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Challenge for the New Year: Be about what I’m “for”

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 2.42.08 PMWhat do I mean?

I struggle with pride.  It’s not just my struggle.  It’s the battle raging in all of humanity since that first bite of that one fruit on that one forbidden tree.

This ongoing battle causes me to constantly try to extinguish thoughts in my mind of my superiority.  This is usually manifested through trying to hold my tongue from pointing out some truth, Biblically themed or not, which I feel the need to point out in someone’s life without the accountability of checking my motives.  What usually happens when I do check my motives?  I find out I’m not always pointing out truth for the other person’s benefit, but mostly for my own need for self-worth.  Sometimes, I’ll make it about defending the cause of Christ or defending Biblical truths, but even if those were my true motives, they are fruitless without love.

I realize us Christians are quite well-known for this – shouting truth, without the existing context of love, in a world which doubts truth’s very existence.

It’s kind of like banging your head against a wall.

So, I’m wondering if you might take a challenge with me: to be about what we’re for, instead of what we’re against, to listen more than we speak, to make sure truth is sown into hearts prepared by grace and mercy, to be prepared to stay silent when wisdom says it’s better to do so than speaking that truth that’s about to burst from your lips.

I know many may fault me for erring on the side of grace.  I have two things to say:

  1. Grace is quite an offensive term when you mull over it for a while.  It flies in the face of our entitled mentality, implying something given that was not earned – not deserved.
  2. Grace – an undeserved gift – is our distinguishing trait as Christians.  It’s the heart of the Gospel message (…by grace you have been saved).  It’s something for which we have no control over another and that’s very unsettling, uncomfortable, messy (like the cross) …so we gravitate toward truth.  It’s quite comfortable over in the world of black and white.  Two colors are much easier to deal with than one hundred.  Grace is not sin, it actually goes against the grain of our sinful nature.

When I read the pages of the Gospels, I see Jesus answering questions with questions and I see him healing before forgiving sins.  There are times where he refrains from pointing out truth at all as he did with the ten lepers.

This convicts me to ask myself: how can I help someone heal just out of genuine love and care and compassion – both for the believer and for the unbeliever – without expecting any sort of response or favor in return?  How much more can I point to Jesus simply to love as He loved me – to love the undeserving?  How can I express this verbally or more tangibly? How can I resist the urge/need to be right?

What are some ways you have shown grace?  Will you take the challenge?  Would love to hear from you.

Here are some verses that might give more perspective:

Philippians 2
Ephesians 6:10-24

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“This Little Light Christian Academy”: A warning against the perils of Christian Education

Public Schools Harm Children

Written by:  Lizbeth Viera
Edited by:  Michelle Blanco

The following was sent to me by my sister for editing and I loved it so much I offered to post it here.  Let us know your comments!

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (NIV)  Matthew 5:14-16  (For awesome context, read here.)

I am sleepless as my mind wrestles with attitudes and statements I have encountered from believers in the past couple of years.

First, I would like to say that I’m blessed and thankful that my children have had the opportunity to have a private, Christian education all of their lives. Especially now, at a school that offers so much to them in so many different areas. However, these past few years I have discovered that there is also a great danger masked by what I mostly consider a blessing. I have seen attitudes that are as sinful as anything else my kids would experience in a public school. I see arrogance and a lack kindness and compassion towards others. This realization first came to me when one of my girls was only six years old. She made a statement that alarmed me. It wasn’t a curse word, yet its effect on me was the same. She was being judgmental as she observed someone in a store. Her words lacked compassion, she looked at me and just said “they don’t love Jesus!” I was heartbroken because I was seeing a little Pharisee in the making.

I meet parents who believe their kids are somehow better because they can afford to send them to a private school. I have even seen private school employees who, with their statements, will make a parent believe they are not doing their best because they are not sending their kids to a Christian school.

I’m concerned that we are raising arrogant Christians who will not be prepared to face the real world when the time comes for them to face it. We are in the process dismissing The Great Commission by constantly isolating our kids from other children whose only hope of knowing Christ are Christian students in the public school. But we don’t care as long as our kids are ok. We don’t care as long as our kids have a great self-esteem and awesome experiences. We feed them Scripture, which they memorize, but we don’t even give them a platform to live it. We applaud their programs which they perform mostly in front of other Christians who also believe the way they do. Yet, are we really teaching them to live out their faith?

The more I look into the life of Jesus the more I believe he would have been a public school student! He would be out there confronting the drug dealers and bullies with piercing words of kindness. I could see him as a teenager sitting among the goths and asking them questions which would make them reconsider their choices. I could see him sitting with the girl who has been around and back, you know, the one with the bad reputation, and making her feel like the purest, most loved soul.

As a parent, I sincerely understand other parents for wanting what we see as the best for our kids. But we need continually check our hearts in the process. We need to realize that arrogance (the sin of pride) is just as sinful, or more, as anything else they would experience in a public school. We need to be aware of the possible selfishness in depriving the non believers of true Christ-like examples and as we get wrapped up in our own busy lives we also forget to serve and love those who really need Christ.

When my kids reach High School they will probably be attending a public school. By then, I want them to be confident of what they believe. I want them to know that God created the heavens and the earth. I desire for them to be able to recognize sin, first and foremost in themselves, that they may have compassion for the sinner. May they humbly live out the faith they have been taught . I know they might be facing bullies, they will be seeing things they have never seen, they will be hearing lies and even be tempted to follow. Yet I do believe they will overcome. Not because they were in isolation most of their childhood, but because they have watched their imperfect parents live out grace. They have felt loved, cared for, and comforted by people who have learned not to hide their humanity for the sake of appearances. They will serve and follow Christ, who sought the lost and saw the possibility of redemption for even the most wretched, sinful soul.

As a parent, I’m not looking forward to that day, but as a believer who wants the world to know Jesus, I’m also very excited and I will do what I can now to get their “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

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The Life Free of Disappointment

As I’m seeing some people in my life walk through some very difficult times, this blog post made it to my inbox and I share for all of us – because following Christ does not mean a life free of disappointment, but a life carrying the cross.

Let Hope Rise

Sometimes in our world there is news or a circumstance that breaks through the cloud of Christian clichés that give us an illusory sense of control over our life. Do you know what clichés I mean? We’ve all heard them. Someone puts their house up for sale, and it sells immediately, and someone posts “That’s God’s favor, right there!” Or the guy speaks up at community group about how every time they give to the Lord, money just appears out of nowhere.

And I always think, “That’s great, but that’s just not how it goes for us.” In fact, lately, as I look around, many of our friends are in this place with us of trusting God despite great disappointment and amidst the carnage of broken dreams.

  • What do we do when the miracle we hoped for, prayed for, and desperately needed, missed the deadline?
  • When the adoption we knew we were…

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The Gay Marriage Debate: The Great Modern-Day Evangelical Distraction to the Gospel

Gay Marriage Debate

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I will write.  I’ve been avoiding it for WEEKS!  Ok, maybe months.  I don’t really like confrontation.  For some reason, I’m perceived sometimes as a person that does, but I don’t.  This post is somewhat confrontational and can be offensive to Christians and non-Christians alike.  I don’t like it, but passive-aggressively griping to myself isn’t really helping the world any – and it’s not very Christ-like.

Truth-in-love.  Here goes.  Blech!

Yesterday, Facebook “turned red” as some of my friends and people in America proudly showed their support for gay marriage by displaying a red symbol with pink equal signs.  I was initially encouraged not to see too much negative banter on friend’s pages who chose to display the symbol.  However, today I was a little discouraged to see some more typical comments rise to the surface after people had time to make some passive-aggressive Christian response symbols of their own.

My discouragement comes from the need to wage public battles in front of an audience of unbelievers about one sin in particular.  It’s no wonder to me anymore that we are perceived as judgmental in the eyes of an unbelieving world.  Our expectation of sinners should be sin.  We should not be surprised.  Whether or not we are judging or think we are judging, we need to be careful what we do with our “tongue” (even the metaphorical one we write with) because perception is important.  Perception itself can get its own blog on another day.  We are not to judge unbelievers, we are to love and we can share that we are ALL sinners in need of GREAT saving for ALL OUR DEPRAVITY and what God has done for YOU.  This is the Gospel.  But, please, don’t take my word for it…

As I mentioned in my first blog, one of the writers of the New Testament that I most cherish is the Apostle Paul.  Furthermore, I believe my favorite book that Mr. Apostle Paul wrote is the book of Romans.  Oh, so much wonderful stuff!  So much Gospel!  Several months ago, I read Romans 1 and 2 in a new light.  You can’t read chapter 1 without reading chapter 2.  It’s not really complete.  I feel ok saying that knowing that Paul didn’t put those chapter numbers in there.

In the gay marriage debate, Christians often quote a passage in Chapter 1:26-27:

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

We often gloss over a bit what comes after and even what came before – as if Paul only had strong words for homosexuals and that being gay was the utmost offense.  So, I have created a bit of an inner monologue response to a person truly engaging in the entire passage of Scripture – most of these thoughts came from me, actually.  Keep in mind, Paul is writing this passage To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

That’s right, preach it, Paul!  God exists!  Stupid atheists!

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

How can people actually expect man-made idols to do anything?!  Duh!

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Amen!  That’s right, Paul.  Get those fornicators and tree huggers!

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

The Gays, too!  Woo!  He’s on a roll!  Get ‘em, Paul!  Get ‘em!

28 Furthermore,

Furthermore?  How does it go any further than being gay?

just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Wasn’t that what he was just talking about?  I’m confused.

29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

OK…

 They are gossips,

SILENCE.

30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

MORE SILENCE.

 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

(Oh, Stick around…it gets better)

 YOU, THEREFORE (emphasis mine)

Uh-Oh.

have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Sorry, Lord!

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

So, let’s just talk practical now.  Any sort of highlighting one particular sin in any public arena can REALLY confuse a unbeliever about the Gospel we believe.  The Gospel isn’t just about saving the homosexual from his sin any more than it is about saving the heterosexual from his sin.  The Gospel redemption from ALL our sin.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t guilty of at least one of the sins Paul mentions in that laundry list of sins.  Many of us know that, but when we waste so much energy and time on the one sin, it gives us the impression that the #1 goal of Christianity is not sinning.  We need to be wise in whether or not we respond and how we respond.

As proud as we are of our country, it really isn’t our country as believers, is it?  Our heritage goes as far as Abraham and beyond, our Kingdom lies far beyond the borders.  It feels like we’re trying hard to protect America’s Christian heritage by “keeping” sinners from sinning, rather “taking” Christ – the true Gospel – to a fallen world – “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”

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