“Miracle at Midnight”

We watched “Miracle at Midnight” on Disney+ last night…and I had trouble sleeping.

Told basically through the eyes of one family, it’s the story of the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 after plans were made for mass arrests and deportations beginning at midnight on the start of Rosh Hashana. It’s an incredible story–and resulted in the survival of 99% of the Danish Jews.

It’s a Disney movie…so while there is violence that is an integral part of the story, the violence was not what kept me awake.

No, what kept my mind stirred up were questions of how I would have reacted. Would I have had the courage this family (and the many other families) did? To have risked the lives of my loved ones in order to shelter someone I didn’t know?

I hope so.

In some cases they were friends…neighbors…business associates…teachers. But in many cases, they were strangers–taken in because that was the right thing to do.

They weren’t demonized as faceless “others.” It didn’t matter that they believed or worshiped differently. They were part of the community.

Those who took the Jews in and hid them until they could be moved to safety did so because they believed in living out their faith. They took to heart the words in their sacred scriptures (Matthew 25:35-36):

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

Could I have done the same? Can I?

 

Following Jesus … no turning back

Something I’ve been thinking about for myself and all of us who claim Christianity…

Jesus said “Follow me.” Not just when it’s convenient…or easy…or when everyone else agrees.

He said “Love your neighbor.” Not just when they’re easy to love…or when they’re the same background / race / religion / ethnicity / gender identity…

He said “Take up your cross…and follow me.” Sometimes I don’t want to follow him–because I know it may lead to persecution…or death. Sometimes I don’t want to follow him because I want my life to be easy. I want to get along with all the people around me.

But if I say I am a follower of Jesus…if I claim the mantle of Christianity…then I am called to challenge the status quo…to stand up for and with the marginalized…to speak out against injustice and violence…no matter what.

There’s a song in my denomination’s hymnal that goes like this:

I have decided to follow Jesus (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me (x3);
no turning back, no turning back.

The story goes that it was sung by a man in India who came to know Christ and left the head hunter tradition of his tribe. He was challenged to deny his faith or face execution. He stood firm–even though his wife and children were killed in front of him before he too was killed–and left this song as his testimony.

May it also be mine.

Blessed are…

Yesterday the theme suggested for use in my faith tradition was “Light shines in the darkness.”

As I was thinking about that, it dawned on me that in order for that light to shine, those of us who follow Jesus are called to be mirror images of his life and ministry. But how?

In my journaling last night, I felt a strong sense that the answer to that question lies in the part of scripture that is commonly called “The Beatitudes”…the “blessed are…” verses.

I’ve read them before…heard them. Yes, they’re nice words. But what do they really mean? So I decided to read them in a different way. Rather than using the traditional translations, I wondered how they would read if they were being spoken today. Would they make more sense?

There are a lot of modern translations and versions. In this case, I decided to see how they read in The Message–and wow! did they pack a punch! I’m going to have to spend some more time unpacking these words–but I think they’re going to be my challenge for this year. Here’s Matthew 5:1-12:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” 

What are your goals in 2020?

I know this is the time of year when many of us decide on New Year’s resolutions. We have the best of intentions…but it doesn’t seem to take too long before we get behind…or life intervenes…or we decide they were just too difficult…or we’re too tired…or (whatever you want to add here)…and they fall by the wayside.

I think that this year, instead of resolutions, I’m setting goals. They seem to be more doable…more measurable…because they are more short-term and can then be revisited, revised, and renewed.

It’s still kind of scary to put them out here, because then I know I have to focus on them…because there are friends who will keep me accountable for them.

So what are my goals for the first three months of 2020?

  1. I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruits and I will drink at least 16 ounces of water each day.
  2. I will tidy up the house before going to bed.
  3. I will take 30 minutes each day of intentional quiet time for meditation / journaling / spiritual focus time.
  4. I will speak out regularly (whether through letter writing, posting, or blogging) on behalf of those who are being marginalized by this administration.
  5. I will enter financial expenditures on a weekly basis.
  6. My faith tradition has a prayer that I will pray each day, listening for where it leads me: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

What are your goals?

Unconscious bias

If you had asked me a day or two ago, I would have said “No, I am not prejudiced, nor do I have any biases.” But I discovered that is not true.

The specifics of the situation are not particularly important…except that I was being introduced to someone who was a manager. There were two individuals present, and as the manager was introduced by name, I looked to one specific person. It did not take very long in the conversation, however, for me to realize that I had made a mistake.

It was an easily corrected mistake–and I don’t think it was a noticeable one.

I didn’t even think anything about it until later that evening…when I got to looking back and realized that of the two individuals who were there, I had immediately (and unconsciously) assumed the Caucasian individual as the manager…even though the African-American individual had responded to the introductions.

I was shocked at myself…and surprised at how easy it was to make an unwarranted assumption.

And it reminds me that I (and all of us) would do well to pay attention to our responses. Unconscious biases are present in each of us. They are not necessarily bad–but they can cause us to act in ways that have the potential of building walls rather than bringing us together.

While I was saddened to recognize that in myself, I am also glad that I was able to recognize it…because it’s only in the recognition of it that I can also have the ability to change it.

 

What’s it all about, anyway?

The Birth of Jesus - Luke 2:1-20

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

A number of years ago, there was a popular song that said “What’s it all about, Alfie?” That question seems appropriate at this time of year. What’s it all about, anyway?

I struggle sometimes with what to post…especially now. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to feel good…to enjoy the season.

But not everyone gets to do that.

And I’m not really sure the season is all about making us feel good.

After all, the child whose birth we celebrate came to shake the world up…to turn the existing expectations on their heads.

We’ve tended to sanitize that…to romanticize it. And so when someone posts a picture that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to want to immediately ignore it…or cry “foul!”

But what if we could all step back a minute…perhaps step into our time machines…and think about what was going on then? What would we see?

We would see a young pregnant woman, making a difficult journey with her fiancé to meet the demands of an occupying government. We would find them in the middle of a chaotic situation, desperately trying to find a place to stay…a quiet and at least somewhat secluded place where she could give birth.

We would see shepherds…unclean, unkempt. While the Bible positively acknowledges the shepherding background of some of the more famous individuals, shepherds didn’t have a good reputation generally. They were often considered to be thieves…and at the least were on the low end of society. And yet they were the ones the angels appeared to.

Later we would see magi–students of the heavens–coming and asking about this child, not knowing that their questions would trigger the deaths of innocent children by a frightened king.

We would see a family fleeing across borders, desperately trying to find a safe place to raise their child.

It’s not necessarily a feel-good story.

And so I think that some of the contemporary nativity scenes that we see–the ones that make us really uncomfortable…and maybe even angry…are appropriate for this time of year. They are what the story is all about…questions of dealing with “the other”…desperate families seeking safety for their children…genocide…

It’s not just something that happened approximately 2000 years ago. It happens today.

And the story…ultimately a story of hope for a new world…is all about what it means to live in this world…in this time…and a challenge to us. Who are we in the story? And how will we let it impact us?

What’s it all about anyway?

Holy Family in cages

Love your neighbor…as you love yourself

Today’s title comes from a question asked of Jesus: “What is the greatest commandment?” His response: “Love God with all your being…and the second is like it. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I sometimes wonder if the last four words in the title of today’s post are at the root of many of our problems.

If we truly loved ourselves…believed that we are “good enough”…that we are somebody of worth and value…would that change how we see others?

If we truly saw ourselves as people made in the image of the Divine…in the image of Love…would that change how we see others?

Would we see them as of worth and value? Would we see the image of the Divine…of Love…in them?

But if we don’t love ourselves, we will always be measuring ourselves against someone or something else–and we will never be good enough. And we will always be trying to find ways to “prove” that we are better than someone else.

Love is the only answer. I don’t mean what often passes for love today. The love I’m referring to is identified this way in I Corinthians 13 (God’s Word translation):

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up.

If–when–we truly love ourselves, then we will find the ability to love others, even if we don’t understand or agree with them. And if we can do that, that will change the world.