Wrecked – I Choose Love

In February of 2008 we were in a horrible wreck.  My pregnant daughter and I were taken by ambulance to the hospital while emergency workers continued trying to get my husband out of our vehicle. We were taken to our state’s top trauma hospital because they knew that was where they would be taking my husband. My daughter and I were both released later in the day.  My husband remained in the hospital for a week with multiple injuries. Once released, he remained in a wheelchair for a few months. Several other vehicles were involved in the incident and other people were also injured.

It was bad.

We learned later that the driver of the painting truck who caused the wreck (hitting us first) did not have a license and had an expired work permit, thus making him an illegal immigrant.

We were angry.

As more details came out and as we began to heal, we became less angry and more amazed at God’s provision, protection, and purposes.  Family and friends surrounded us with care. The more we talked about everything that happened, the more obvious all the ways God had his hand on the situation became.  The biggest detail was that we were not sitting in our “normal” spots in the car that day which meant my daughter ended up in the least impacted area of the car rather than the most directly hit.  There are also dozens of details surrounding the time in the hospital where we knew God was near and was providing for our care physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There was the conversation with an accident reconstruction specialist who after hearing the details for the third time just shook his head and said “that was a God thing because all my training says the car would have rolled over.”

We were amazed.

While my husband and I have some lasting physical effects, we are fine. The injuries that still trouble us serve as a reminder of our weakness and how little we actually control; they are equally a reminder of God’s faithfulness.  While we couldn’t control the physical impact, we learned every day that we could control much of the mental and emotional part of healing.  We could have become bitter and vengeful and this post would be about how bad illegal immigrants are, or a certain race is, or that we should build walls – all deluding ourselves into thinking that any of those factors could have prevented the wreck.

But, here’s the thing.

God didn’t prevent this! He knew it was going to happen and He allowed it – for His purposes. We don’t know what those purposes were for anyone else involved but we figured out what some of them were for us.

We learned lots of other things too. We found out that the painting company this young man worked for tried to tell the insurance companies that “some guy” stole the truck. Investigators disproved this rather quickly finding that he was not only employed by the company but they had sent him to go get lunch while they finished up at the paint store.  They likely knew he had no license and also that his work visa had expired.  They seem to have mostly been interested in maintaining cheap labor and then trying to cover up after the wreck.

As part of processing and working toward empathy and finally forgiveness, I asked myself many questions about that part of the situation:

How often are companies complicit in maintaining workers as illegals? Clearly this company had limited ethical standards so it isn’t hard to imagine them choosing to benefit from not paying taxes, benefits, unemployment, and other things required for a legal employee. The profitability must have seemed worth the risk.

How bad was it where this young man came from – how poor, how dangerous – that he was willing to stay on illegally to work?

Further, how complicated and inaccessible is the system to renew a work visa or apply for legal status? If the government offices were only open during the hours he worked, it doesn’t seem likely his employer would have been inclined to let him have time off, let alone encourage him to take care of it. It’s possible, if it was financially beneficial to them for employees to remain “illegal”, that they even purposely made it difficult to get the time and information needed for the process.

We just don’t know.

I choose to believe the best about this man – that he was just trying to follow directions and earn a living from an unscrupulous employer.  We don’t know exactly what happened to him after the wreck. We know he served several months under house arrest. It is likely he was fired and then in an even more difficult financial spot.  I truly hope someone helped him to attain legal status whether temporary or permanent.  I pray that if he was deported back to Mexico that he is in a safe area and was able to find work there.  I believe God was intervening in his life in an ultimately positive way just as he was in ours.

I chose to forgive.

For us, the wreck changed everything. My husband couldn’t take the high paying job he’d planned to after he retired because he was still in the wheelchair when the job became available.

God opened our eyes to our love of money and the false sense of security it brings.

While he recuperated, we had months of almost 24/7 contact with each other forcing us to deal with relational issues we had been actively ignoring and ones we’d remained too busy or distracted to notice. It isn’t an overstatement to say that we likely wouldn’t still be married if the wreck hadn’t happened.

God forced us to slow down and made a path for us back to each other and also back to Him on a much deeper level.

The losses dominoed as no comparable job came for my husband and I was picked for permanent layoff when the housing industry declined. The six weeks I was off work recovering and taking care of my husband as he recovered during the busy Spring season meant my sales figures were the lowest for that year.  All this and a few other factors forced us to leave the home we had built, mostly with our own hands, for something we could afford now.

God tore down the idol of a dream home that had become a nightmare and provided a home in the inner city where we learned and grew more than we ever could have in our house in the woods.

Mostly, we learned that there are multiple facets to all of our stories – the beautiful ones and the seemingly ugly ones. It is easiest to judge and misjudge others when we avoid learning the details of their story.

We can choose to look for and believe the best in the situation, in other people, and in God, or we can choose anger, bitterness, and fear.  But fear and love cannot occupy the same space. So, even if the anger or fear is “justified”, the result is the same – a heart shut down to empathy, mercy, and love.

I choose love.

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A Complacent and Fearful People

As Christians, we are to be disciples of Jesus.  Simply put, this means we are to try to be like Him.  We are told we are sons & daughters of the King, a royal priesthood, representatives of Christ, and implementers of His kingdom – here, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”.

Yet in our day to day lives few of us aspire to, or even act like we have, this high calling.

Just like the Israelites who would doubt God time and time again, we doubt that the teachings of Jesus will actually work in this world.

Instead of being a bold witness to His ways, we have become a complacent and fearful people.

We refuse to take the personal risk of living out what He said.  We want laws and government to do the job for us so we can feel safe and comfortable even though that is the exact opposite of what Jesus said his followers would experience.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33

He is not promising us an earthly peace, but His peace which passes understanding. Peace in the midst of fear, of disaster, of violence around us.

Empires, powers, and principalities of this world make laws and rules to protect those empires and to protect their power.  They are “of this world”.

For decades now, we Christians have been colluding with the enemy instead of working against it. To what end? It hasn’t gained us anything! In fact, it has only made those powers stronger and us more reliant on them – sometimes to the point of idolatry. This partnership has not, and will not, do what it promised.  It will not end abortion. It will not make the world safer.  It will definitely not protect our “Christian values” – many of which we have already sacrificed on its alter.

Sleeping with the enemy has left us impotent in the ways of Kingdom living.

We are not living the peacemaking way of Jesus, we are promoting wars and buying guns to protect ourselves.

We are not welcoming the immigrant, we are trying to keep them out or send them back – even to places they have never known or lived or to regimes that will likely kill them because they are fellow Christians.  Apparently we think it is worth it for our own false sense of security.

We are not loving our neighbors. We are allowing divisiveness and prejudice to run rampant in our world and even within the church.

We are not caring for the poor and for the widow.  We sometimes make a show of helping in the way we think is best for them but we are not listening to them, we are not willing to support programs that help them if it might cost us a few more dollars in taxes that we could spend on ourselves.

We seem to have completely forgotten, or have just chosen to ignore, that Jesus never said follow me and you will be happy, safe, and comfortable.  What He did say is:

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 *

Until we can honestly admit that the American dream of more money, more power, and more success is in opposition to the Kingdom of God where all are welcome, where we are our brother’s keeper, and where we are not ruled by fear but by love, we will never be able to grasp living as a true disciple of Jesus.

 

I’ve been asking myself these questions for a while now.  I invite you to ask them too.

  1. What did I do this week to bring Kingdom here, now?
  2. What did I do this week that required courage – that caused me to risk my reputation, my safety, or even just my comfort for the benefit of “the least of these”?
  3. Where am I relying on the things or the powers of this world instead of relying on God?

 

* I love The Message version of this full verse in context:

31-33 Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

 

 

When Fake News Becomes Real

Fake News, Fake News, read all about it!

Over ten years ago conservative religious groups began talking about a “war on Christmas” that didn’t actually exist. They called for boycotts over the years on stores and restaurants whose advertising wasn’t “Christmassy” enough to suit them. There were numerous stories and memes and social media comments.  One of the well known ones was that __________ department store told employees not to say Merry Christmas to customers.  While this may have been true of some individual store manager somewhere, there is no evidence nor is it even likely that it was anyone’s corporate policy.  I actually worked for a large national retailer for a number of Christmas seasons during this time under two different store managers.  Neither directed anyone in what they could or could not say.  One did suggest that we be observant of our customers and choose our responses accordingly.  His suggestion had no religious overtones.  His example was that the holidays were often difficult for people who had lost someone during the year or for families who were missing someone serving our country overseas. His idea that we be thoughtful of, and kind to, our customers rather than mindlessly offering a greeting seemed to me like the more “Christian” thing to do.

Some groups and some people, even ten years ago, seemed to want to be offended.  I don’t know what motivated these people. I wonder if it might not have to do with a need to feel persecuted.  Across the world there are places where Christians are actually persecuted.  We are told in the Bible that followers will be persecuted and the disciples are examples of that truth.  American Christians seem to have felt the need to create some kind of situation so they could claim to be persecuted. They created the fake news of a “war on Christmas”.

These claims, more political in intent than religious, have continued to come up over the years. In 2015-2016 the President made it part of his campaign.  “If I become president, we’re going to be saying Merry Christmas at every store”, Trump stated.  He has continued to bring it up at his post-election rallies. (It should be noted, of course, that he doesn’t have the power to make people or companies say certain things.)

So here we are, Christmas 2017.  The President has an abysmally low approval rating so he’s spouting off about Christmas in an attempt to placate his far right evangelical base.

This is where it happens – when fake news becomes real. 

I have been in way too many retail and food establishments over the last few weeks. I began noticing that hardly anyone was giving a seasonal greeting.  I have had a total of three people actually say “Merry Christmas” to me. Further, they aren’t saying “Happy Holidays” either.  They’re saying “thank you” or the standard “have a nice day”.   I considered that maybe it was just my personal feelings influencing what I thought was happening so I ask some friends about their experiences.  Many of their interactions echoed mine.  Then I saw this tweet and responses about it from people who likely live in an entirely different part of the country.

So, at the very least, less people are actually saying Merry Christmas than in years past.  Further, when I said Merry Christmas to a clerk as I checked out earlier this month she was unsure how to respond.  She looked at me a little funny and said, “Uh, thank you?”  That’s when I started paying attention everywhere I went.  I realized, unfortunately, “Merry Christmas” has been turned into a political statement and most people don’t want to be associated with it.  The truth is, I don’t either. Sadly, I’ve quit saying Merry Christmas to salespeople and waitresses I don’t know.

The fake war on Christmas has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thoughts & Prayers

Another tragedy in America. A mass shooting after three devastating hurricanes and acres of fires, after a car attack after a shooting on a baseball field after a shooting in a nightclub after…

Each time we offer our thoughts and prayers to the victim’s families.  We post “Praying for _________” on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Again and again.

IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

Sure, we say this initially because we don’t know what else to do.  We say it because we want victim’s families or towns or islands that have been devastated to know we care.  Thinking with sympathy or empathy for those who are hurting is good.  And some of us do actually pray. Prayer is important after a tragedy. It is.

BUT, IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

Especially in the last couple months things have come at us so fast that even if we haven’t been directly affected, we feel the tension.  Tension is a sign that something needs to give.  We need to start DOING something more and doing some things differently. And, what I need to do and what you need to do may be different things. Maybe we need to be donating to organizations that provide services. Maybe we need to donate blood. Maybe we need to volunteer to cook, to clean, to sit with victims. Maybe we need to write to our representatives in Congress to plead for more gun restrictions. (Why does anyone not actively employed by the government need an assault style rifle or a silencer?) Maybe we need to be creating organizations with less overhead to respond to the natural disasters that seem to be coming more frequently and more forcefully. We each need to use our own time and talents and resources and lean into these situations.  Mr. Rogers famously said to tell children “look for the helpers”.  As adults, we, too, need to look for the helpers and then help the helpers or just plain BE the helpers.

BUT, IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

As Christians, we have a further responsibility. We come back to prayer.  We need to be praying and lamenting the tragedies, absolutely.  Further we need to be intervening ahead of the tragedy. We need to at least have the “faith of a mustard seed” and be praying against the storm and praying ahead of time for those being evacuated to have a safe place to go.  We need to be praying against the “roaring lion looking to devour” that he will not find a willing accomplice among us to carry out violence and evil. We need to keep praying and keep helping and keep loving…

UNTIL IT IS ENOUGH.

 

It’s All in the Translation

Amidst the books I’m reading, the Bible studies I’m participating in, and the research I’ve been doing for a future blog post, I have run across things in the Bible that make me stop and say, “Hmmm, I need to think about that.”

I’m discovering that some of the assumptions and conclusions I have from growing up in church are more of a cultural or translational understanding than a purely biblical one. I’m not offering resolutions here, just my thought processes.

Below are one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament in case you want to ponder them too.

In Genesis 9:15 God makes a covenant with Noah to never destroy all flesh, or all life, again with a flood.  Whether it is all flesh or all life depends on the translation but those are, technically, two different things.  Further, translations on who else the covenant is made with vary even more.

Many translations say “every living creature of all flesh” (KJV, etc.).

Others are “each soul living that nourisheth flesh” (WYC), “every living soul that beareth flesh” (DRA), “all living creatures” (HCSB & NLT), “all living creatures of every kind” (NIV), “every living thing” (NCV).

Obviously I’m focusing on semantics but I am fascinated by the nuance.  There is a difference between flesh bearing souls and every living thing.

It would seem that since God declared that each part of creation was “good”, it is all important to Him.  His intention seems to be to redeem everything. Think about the overly familiar John 3:16 –“For God so loved the world…”  Doesn’t the world include everything?  Otherwise, wouldn’t it say, for God so loved the people He created?  I understand that “whosoever believeth in Him” comes next strengthening the idea that it refers only to people. However, in Luke 19:40 Jesus himself says “the stones will cry out”. So there’s that.

 

Did you know that the last verses in the Gospel of Mark are most likely not even written by him?  While most translations make some notation about this, I hadn’t really thought much about it before.  Two alternative endings have been found, neither of which is included in the oldest manuscripts.  Mark’s actual writing seems to end with verse eight.  From a literary perspective, it is fairly obvious that the last 12 verses of chapter 16 have a different “voice” that the rest of the book.

Within those verses, translational variations of Mark 16:15 can also mean significantly different things. The meaning of the beginning of the verse is virtually the same although different words are used. It is a directive to go to the whole world and tell, preach, announce, proclaim the Good News (Gospel).  Who, exactly, to tell it to is a little less clear. Is it “everyone” (ISV, TLB, etc.), “every creature” (KJV, TLV, etc.), “all creation” (CSB, CJB, NASB, NIV, etc.) or “the whole creation” (ASV, ESV, NRSV, WEB, etc.)?

St. Francis of Assisi took this quite literally and preached to the animals. Maybe he was right in doing so.

For me choosing between these differences start with thinking through what the Good News really means.  The Good News is not just the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about the purpose of his life, of his sacrifice, so that we and the whole creation can be redeemed and restored to relationship with God.

It is another reminder that God’s intention is not an evacuation plan but one of restoring His creation, all of it, right here.  That, however, is a whole other blog post…

The Need for Certitude

I’ve been learning recently a little about how Jewish people interact with the Bible. Since much of the Bible is their history and speaks specifically of them, maybe we could learn something from how they seek to understand scripture.

As Christians, especially American Christians, we tend to use the Bible just like we use other things. Culturally, we are geared to consume and/or to be entertained. On some level this filters how we read and understand the Bible.

We consume. We were taught from an early age to memorize the books of the Bible in order and various one line scriptures.  Enticements were offered – stars, prizes, Bible bucks. We grow up with heavy emphasis on reading the Bible in a year, or first thing in the morning, or for an hour a day.  There is an overabundance of reading plans to choose from so we don’t get bored or bogged down in the Old Testament. Now, none of these are bad things. It is good to read the Bible. It is good to commit scripture to memory. I suppose memorizing the books in order is, at least, helpful when someone says to turn to the book of Amos.

The problem is when we don’t go much deeper than that. We read our plan’s prescribed passages and then move on to the rest of our day.

We’re entertained. If we’re honest, we want our sermons to be short – preferably delivered with humor and pictures. We rely on the pastor to expeditiously explain scriptures and stories to us, often nodding in agreement with whatever they say. If we are fortunate enough to have a particularly good pastor, we may learn context and ancient language details that make confusing passages a little clearer or even allow us to see the story from a new perspective. Depending on the sermon topic, it may elicit some emotion from us. We may feel like we’ve learned something that applies to us and feel either convicted or prideful. We may even, often temporarily, feel inspired.

However, even the best pastors can become mere religious entertainers if after Sunday morning we simply say, “That was a good sermon” and carry on without absorbing and applying the ideas that drew our appreciation in the first place. This is how our cultural lens allows us to consume the Bible and be entertained by God’s Word without ever actually being truly impacted by it.

Too often we take interesting Bible stories and twist them into something that has some personal relevance that, conveniently, lines up with our pre-established belief system. Further, if the story doesn’t align with these beliefs, or with what we’ve always been taught, or worse, if the Bible seems to contradict itself, we tend to gloss over it or ignore it completely.

Here’s the thing. We say we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, the Living Word. We then read it as little more than a history book and a rule book. For the Word to be living it must not be stagnate in us. It cannot be read just like any other book.  We do this because it is easier than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed and confused by scripture. We do this because we’ve been taught that questioning the Bible, or a leader’s interpretation of it, is a lack of faith.

This is where we have much to learn from faith-filled Jewish brothers and sisters.

Many Jewish people and Jewish religious leaders regularly discuss and debate scripture and enjoy it!  They do not tend to believe there is only one “right” way to interpret what they read.  While we get all bent out of shape over differing opinions or schools of thought and demand a determination of what is “right”, they embrace the debate.  They are comfortable with learning other perspectives, possibilities, and thoughts. They are fine with either remaining in disagreement or accepting that a passage could mean more than one thing. Unlike us, this isn’t seen as threatening to them or to their religion.

A good example of this would be a (true) story I heard recently about a group of Jewish rabbis and scholars meeting at one of the men’s house. They sat and debated the text from the Torah late into the night to where the man’s wife nearly ran out of food for them. She was thrilled they had stayed so long because this was part of what made scripture beautiful.  The text had invited them into community and conversation. They left arm in arm.

They were fine with disagreeing. They were fine with not having a definitive determination on how things should be interpreted. They seem comfortable with the idea that they could all be wrong, or even all be right. They weren’t afraid of the uncertainty.

So, when was the last time your Bible study looked like that?

Why are we so threatened by having our personal or denominational interpretations challenged?

What if the need for certitude is more indicative of a weaker faith?

What if we had honest conversations about the things that are contradictory, or confusing, or just seem wrong?

What if instead of getting into the Bible so we can check it off our list, we actually allowed the messages of the Bible to get in us?

People wrestling with and questioning God are seen throughout the Old and New Testament. Even Jesus had a couple of questions.

However, questioning and wrestling and debating require much more of us. We have to swallow our pride and admit our uncertainty. We have to quit consuming and start contributing. We have to quit just being told a story and start becoming part of living out the Story. Questioning, wrestling, and debating require relationship.

Maybe developing those kinds of relationships would allow our lives to look like we really believe what we say we believe – that God is sovereign and Jesus ushered in a Kingdom of love and forgiveness. Maybe it would give us the courage to live out, with actions and not just words, the things Jesus clearly told us to do.

Love God.

Love your neighbors.

Love your enemies.

Care for the widow.

Care for the orphan.

Care for the refugee (immigrant).

Care for the poor.

What if a little less need to be certain allowed us to offer more grace, more mercy, and more love?

 

Brief Observations – Birds

I just watched a flock of small birds fly overhead in the evening sky all headed to the same unseen destination. They appeared to be attempting to fly in a “V” formation like geese. However, they couldn’t seem to figure out who should be in the lead or where they belonged in the formation. They darted in and out, back and forth, and their forward momentum was sometimes disrupted by unseen winds. Their journey looked anything but smooth and graceful.

It reminded me of following Jesus – trying to be like Him. We know where we want to go – to grow more and more like Him.  Along the way though, our growth comes in fits and spurts, often looking as disjointed as the flight of the birds. We get confused about whom to listen to when our teachers seem to have changed their theology or their messages don’t ring true. Like bird in the wind, we are sometimes pushed about and back by the unseen enemy of our soul.

Despite their erratic path, the birds have now flown out of sight, undoubtedly closer to their destination. We too, with the same persistence should keep moving forward in whatever way we can. Despite the confusion or obstacles, we should continue trying to grow, accepting that though the journey may not be smooth and graceful, it will result in us become more like who we want to be.

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