Why do I write?

There are several answers to the title question, and they change from time to time. However, my current reason for writing this blog is to give folks a different perspective of someone who claims to be a Christian from the vocal view that seems to dominate so much of our society today.

While I realize that there are different ways of understanding what it means to follow the one we call Jesus the Christ, I find some of the current interpretations in direct opposition to the teachings of the Jesus I know.

That Jesus was inclusive. His circle of friends and followers included people that other religious people thought should be excluded for various reasons. Even some of his own disciples weren’t particularly fond of some of the others!

He was willing to challenge the status quo and to upset tradition. Quite often people said to him, “Well, Moses said…” in an attempt to keep things the way they were. And his response was “Well, yes, Moses did say…but say…”

He didn’t hold grudges. Even when he was dying a cruel death, he forgave the ones who put him on the cross.

And when he was asked what the most important law was, he said it was the law of love. Love of God, love of others, love of self. Everything that I read and understand about Jesus is captured in that perspective.

And because the Jesus of inclusivity, of reconciliation, of continued growth is the Jesus I choose to follow…the form of Christianity I believe he asks us to follow…I choose to try to live through the lens of love. Do I always succeed? No…but I keep trying.

And because that Jesus of inclusivity and reconciliation is the one I choose to follow, I want you to know that I believe there is a place at the table for you. We may have some challenging discussions…we will not always agree…but you are invited to join with me in this journey of living life through the lens of love.

“God has a plan”…

Several times I’ve heard people say “Well, God has a plan for you”…

Sorry, but I don’t agree.

Saying that God has plan for you implies that there is only one way of getting to a particular point that is acceptable to God…and I don’t buy that.

It’s like climbing mountains. Often there are multiple ways of climbing that will get you to the top.

If God has a plan for us, I believe it’s for us to enter into a loving relationship with the Divine that will help us become what we have been created to be…and there are multiple ways to develop that relationship.

We were created with the ability to make choices…to make decisions for ourselves. Not to be puppets.

I believe God wants us to use the minds we were created with…and I also believe that God will bless our journeys.

I know the path I have chosen to take–and it is the right path for me at this time. It has had twists and turns, some of them caused by decisions I have made, some by situations beyond my control. Early in my life I could have said that I was sure of God’s plan for me…but as I’ve gotten older, what I am sure of is that God’s plan is for me to come to know of God’s love for me and to fulfill the potential within me…and that how I get there is not as important as continuing the journey.

So maybe…just maybe…God does have a plan for each of us–and that plan is to continue our journey to a closer relationship with the Divine, no matter the path.

What color is your world?

My world used to be black and white. There was a right answer and a wrong answer. There was a right way to do things and a wrong way. There was one right way to believe and everything–and everyone–else was wrong.

It was an easy and a comfortable way to live.

I didn’t have to struggle with ambiguity. I could make quick and easy judgments…based on what I knew was right.

But then I began to get acquainted with people who believed differently from me–but who lived in what I knew was the right way.

I met people from different countries and discovered that even though we differed on politics and sometimes religion, we had a lot in common.

I became friends with people whose loved differently than I did…who loved people of the same sex. And I met others whose seemingly obvious birth gender didn’t match with their internal gender.

I began to listen to scientists who caused me to question some of my earlier simplistic beliefs.

And my world changed colors.

blue green and red abstract illustration

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

It was no longer just two colors. It began to be filled with bright, beautiful colors–colors of the rainbow.

Sometimes I miss my easy and comfortable way of living–but then I look around and realize that all the colors make my life exciting and beautiful…just as I believe God created life to be.

Love the sinner…

The last few days I’ve heard variations of this statement: “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” I used to like that saying–I thought it acknowledged the worth of someone, even if I disagreed with their behavior.

I don’t like it any more.

I’ve come to realize that when I say it, I’m placing myself in a situation of judging someone else…deciding that whatever sins I have are somehow less than the sins I see in someone else. And Jesus had some rather harsh words about that!

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5

I no longer want to judge someone else’s walk with the Divine.

I want to change the statement. In a lot of ways I had already shortened it in my mind to the first three words: “love the sinner.”

But I think it’s important now to shorten it even more–to one word: “love.” That seems to be the key word in all the words and actions of the One I claim to follow.

Love.

It really is that simple. Judging isn’t my responsibility; loving is. If my loving actions can help someone else know that they are beloved children of God, then I can leave it to God to help them live the best life possible. I can help provide an example…I can answer questions…I can walk with someone. But I don’t need to judge.

Bridging the gap?

Individuals in many faith traditions are struggling with this question: How do we share and worship together in our diversity, still holding to our own personal beliefs while engaging with others who may believe differently? How do we build bridges? This guest post articulates those concerns. I share the desire to bridge the gap between myself and others whom I like but have significant disagreements with…but I also find myself wondering if that is still possible.

I have kept this close for a while now, these feelings and thoughts haunting my waking hours and shading how my eyes see the others in my life.  I was once asked by a friend and fellow Christian, to give space for their beliefs and interpretation, to not let my own view push theirs out or away.  I agreed with the validity of the point and their life experience and have attempted to do so over the last few years.  We have engaged on a number of topics and have found many points of agreement, even as we continue to disagree on many others.

However…

As our country and our shared faith has undergone tremendous change and stress over the last few years the gulf between us has continued to grow, despite (or maybe because of) our efforts to keep the bridge open and together.  I do not claim, nor can I know for sure their thoughts, and do not mean to put words into their mouth or intentions behind the actions I see, that is for them to share.  But for myself I am feeling less and less like there is room in our relationship for my way of being and believing.  As we have shared it has seemed (to me) to become less about listening to each other and more about being pressed to agree.  It does not matter who started it, I’m not even sure I could say for sure if I had to, and both of us are guilty of it at times.  But as their position has solidified, the ground between us has continued to move us apart and now, when I stretch out my hand, our fingers no longer touch and I can’t help but be saddened by that fact.  And wonder what has happened and if it’s even possible to cover the distance any more.  And this friend is not the only one this has happened with.

Social media has may positives, but in so many ways, I am not convinced it does anything to improve our lives or our communities.  I have trouble reconciling the people I see on Facebook with the people I see in church, at work, on the street.  For several, including the one mentioned above, I have to wonder that if they really believe what they post, how on earth do they tolerate being around me?  And then that questioning filters into how I interpret our physical interactions… and I wonder.  I also question how I can continue to be an ally to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and still want to maintain “peace” with those who refuse to see how our actions continue to hurt people of color, the LGBT+ community, etc.  Am I really an ally then?

Martin Luther King Jr’s words continue to haunt me – “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I no longer wish to be silent but I do not know what words to speak.  My prayer is that whatever words I use, may they be spoken in support of justice and love, of the Shalom of the peaceable kingdom, and of the worth of each person, even if those words require me to speak up in ways I find uncomfortable or even scary.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones…”

How many of us remember the rest of that rhyme?

“But words will never hurt me.”

That is so not true. Broken bones will generally mend. But hearts and souls broken by words…maybe, but far too often, the words have broken someone so deeply that mending is not possible.

In my previous post, I said that under the skin we are the same. I had a friend take a little bit of an issue with what he thought I was saying–that we should find common ground with the oppressor, no matter what.

No, that’s not what I meant.

Yes, under the skin we are the same. However, we express our humanity in different ways–some healthy and some extremely unhealthy, both for ourselves and those we are around.

And unfortunately there are extremely unhealthy expressions being shared today. I have also indicated that I don’t very often make “political” statements on this blog…but I recently read quotes by Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu that are making me reconsider:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. – Elie Wiesel

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  – Desmond Tutu.

There are far too many vulnerable people whose lives are in danger…physically and emotionally. And instead of challenging us to be our better selves, to find ways of being part of a solution, the current administration in the United States instead panders to what is ugly in us.

People who are seeking a place of safety…who want nothing more than a better life for their children…are being called thugs, criminals, rapists. People in this country without legal documents are called “illegals”–as though a human being can somehow be inherently illegal.

Members of the LGBTQ communities are being called names I thought we had put aside years ago. They are often fearful for their lives, and their marriages are being dismissed as “parody” marriages. The lack of support for young people struggling with their sexuality and forced conversion therapy for those who identify as LGBTQ has led to an epidemic of homelessness and suicide.

Members of religions other than Christianity are being demonized for the actions of a few extremists–while Christian extremists are excused with the words, “Well, that’s not really Christianity.” And yet some of the worst mass shootings in this country have been caused by people who identify as “Christian” and who believe that their white skin makes them somehow “better” than others. And we who are followers of Jesus have far too long been unwilling to see anything positive in any religion other than our own version of Christianity.

So yes…words do matter. And when we ignore those words, when we refuse to speak out in support of the vulnerable because we want to remain neutral or not rock the boat, then we become part of the problem.

And I do not want to be part of the oppression. I want to be part of a conversation in which we can learn from each other…in which we can figure out what the problems are and how to find solutions.

Under the skin we are one…

Recently we went to a production of a musical I had wanted to see for a number of years. In many ways I’m glad we saw it where we did–it made it much more real.

The show was Cabaret–and the place we saw it was a Jewish community center…which has armed police at the entrance every show because a few years ago, someone decided he was going to try to kill Jews. He ended up killing and wounding several people–only one of whom was Jewish.

So to see a show which takes place in 1931 Germany under those circumstances made it a powerful evening.

But it was powerful in other ways as well. There is a scene where Herr Ludwig–right after we have discovered he is a Nazi–becomes angry when he discovers that Herr Schultz is Jewish. He is adamant that Schultz is not a German.

And Herr Schultz’s innocent naiveté…that nothing will happen because he knows these Germans–because he is one…is so saddening because we know that his German birth and ancestry will end up  meaning nothing.

As I watched the show, I was reminded that we seem to find so many ways to divide ourselves from each other–and yet, under the skin we are one. We all bleed the same color blood. We all want better lives for our children and grandchildren. We all have hopes and fears. We all understand that there is something more powerful than we can understand that has created (and continues to create) this world we live in–regardless of how we identify it.

And yet… There are so many names we call each other. Names that dehumanize and demonize each other. Names that make it possible for us to decide that it’s okay to discriminate against a specific group of people because they are somehow less than our own group.

And I’m tired. I know there are problems that need to be fixed. I know there are policies that need to be developed and changed.

But I’m tired.

I’m especially tired of hearing those words…those dehumanizing, demonizing, separating names…come out of the mouths of those who say they are followers of Jesus. Jesus, who crossed all kinds of barriers…who saw all people as valued brothers and sisters.

All major religions have as a priority some statement that calls us to treat each other as we ourselves want to be treated…an acknowledgment that under the skin we are one. What will it take for us to start living that way?