What we desperately need right now is something any of us can do

We’re missing one thing in our culture today. In the America that we have become, there is one element that we’ve largely cast aside. More specifically, we have stopped showing this trait to those who are different than us. Democrats and Republicans withhold it from each other. People who disagree about hot-button issues of sex and gender and race and immigration and the Supreme Court all seem to be lacking in one key area.

Kindness. The ability to treat someone in such a way that isn’t based on the differences we have about the human condition, but is rooted in the fact that both we and they are human.

Kindness doesn’t require you to agree even one iota with another person. It isn’t about seeing eye-to-eye. But it does involve looking someone in the eye, and seeing in them a person who, just like you, has needs, doubts, hurts, struggles, fears, prejudices, convictions, questions — as well as things they believe passionately, and things they’re prepared to defend til their dying breath.

Recently, I have been listening to two podcast episodes that brought this to mind. The first is this conversation between Kate Bowler and Margaret Feinberg. Both women have been diagnosed with cancer, and they talk about the various responses they’ve received from others — like the person who wrote an extended email to Kate, describing her in the past tense, and the numerous folks who recommended Margaret try a coffee enema. Yes, you read that right. Coffee in reverse, so to speak, as a cure for cancer.

But those who are facing a complex diagnosis that defies simplistic solutions ultimately don’t need a oddball cure or a trite theological truth. What is most helpful for them is something that truly anyone can offer: simple kindness.

The other podcast is this interview Mike Cosper has with Rachelle Starr. Listen to the entire episode, and hear a powerful story of God’s grace — and of leading with kindness. Rachelle sensed God calling her to show that kindness to women who experience anything but kindness: women in the sex industry. After a decade of this outreach, Rachelle and her team have learned how powerful it can be just to offer a simple meal and a listening ear. In other words, kindness.

See, here’s the thing: you don’t have to understand someone to offer them kindness. You don’t have to agree with them to say a kind word. You don’t have to feel connected to someone to offer them the gift — the grace — of kindness. And in a day when it seems like we’re just yelling at each other in cyberspace or avoiding each other in real space, what a breath of fresh air kindness can be. In fact, what a breath of the Spirit it can be; for, as it turns out, the fruit of the Spirit is not arrogance, or debating skills, or even being right. No, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness….

Christians in America

 

As our country prepares for another transition at the top, what does it mean to be a Christian in America? How do we access our rights and responsibilities as followers of Jesus in the United States?

A good, basic principle is found in a helpful quote from the late Richard John Neuhaus. He reminded us that “Christians are called to walk not the road to political victory, but the way of the cross.”

I think Neuhaus is right. But what does that mean in practice?

I have recently been reading the New Testament Book of Acts, and I think we see, in two back-to-back episodes from the life of the Apostle Paul, a guide for how we put that principle into practice.

In Acts 16, Paul and his companions have come to the Macedonian city of Philippi. As was Paul’s custom, they seek out Jewish believers to share with them the good news of Jesus. Because Philippi had no synagogue, they find a group of Jewish women praying outside the city. Paul shares the gospel, and a prominent woman named Lydia answers the call to follow Jesus.

Paul continues on in Philippi, and continues to teach and preach. While there, he encounters a woman with a “spirit of divination,” whom he heals. This leads to anger on the part of her masters, and leads to Paul and his colleague, Silas, being thrown into jail. When an earthquake rattles them free (literally), they have an encounter with the jailer – and they lead him and his family to Christ.

The next day, Paul is told he is free. Great! Take your tunic and run, Paul.

But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he tells the police, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now cast us out secretly?” (Acts 16.37, RSV).

In other words: You guys can’t get off that easily. We’re not leaving quietly when you took away our rights. Paul claims his Roman citizenship, without apology, using it to stand up for his rights and their responsibilities. He is not ashamed to say: I am a Roman citizen; give me my due.

The leaders apologize to Paul, and he heads to Thessalonica, where there is a synagogue. Paul goes in and starts teaching. Many listen and believe. But still others hear and get upset – upset enough to start what is essentially a riot. And the mob goes looking for Paul at a house owned by a man named Jason. They can’t find Paul, so they drag Jason before the authorities. And notice what they say: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also … and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6-7).

Notice what got them so upset: Paul was proclaiming another king beside Caesar. Let’s be clear: Them’s fightin’ words. To say that, openly, in a Roman city is to invite yourself back into another Roman prison cell.

In Philippi, Paul is not afraid to claim his rights as a Roman citizen. In Thessalonica, Paul is not afraid to speak truth to the leader of the Roman empire. In one, Paul claims what is rightfully his. In another, Paul speaks clearly what is rightfully not Caesar’s. In both cases, Paul uses his voice to speak truth as a Roman citizen, in Roman cities. All while staying true to his calling to walk in the way of the cross.

It seems to me that there’s a message for those of us trying to navigate as Christians in America:

  • As Americans, we shouldn’t be ashamed to claim that reality. When our country’s pledge is “liberty and justice for all” – we should seek that, for others, and for ourselves.
  • But we must also remember that we are not first Christian Americans, or even American Christians. We are Christians who happen to live in America. As such, we must never be afraid to remind Caesar that he is not god. Lovingly, faithfully, and humbly, we must continue to pledge allegiance first to Jesus – and lift him up as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Like Paul, we who are Americans are citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. With that, come privileges – and responsibilities. Let’s wisely continue to use both, as we choose to bow to no other god but the One who showed us that the path of life goes straight through a cross.

What Elections Can’t Change

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that next Tuesday is Election Day. You’d have to be living off the grid, out in the wilderness somewhere, not to know that. Even then, if you were in a swing state, some political operative would probably still find you.

For many of us, it’s been a long election season. I would guess that most of us are ready for it to be over with – even if we’re not sure we’re ready for what comes next. This was especially true for Mary Anne Noland, who passed away in May. Her death may have been expected, but her obituary was not. It began:

Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016….

I expect that Ms. Noland’s family was trying to be funny; but they clearly were also trying to make a serious point. This is especially true, I think, for those of us who wear the name of Jesus. When I look at the presidential race, hoping to see plans that would reflect God’s heart for justice and compassion; integrity and principled leadership; real freedom and a respect for ALL life – I don’t see it.

So, for me, Election Day will not solve many of our biggest problems. While this should concern us, it can also serve as a reminder of what is bigger than politics. That as important as a presidential election is, there is much that it does not determine or change.

Here’s the deal: I will wake up on November 9 hopeful, no matter who wins. And I will do so, because:

  1. God is still God. He has been so from before Time began, and He will be so for all Eternity.
  2. Jesus still saves. He’s been doing so for nearly 2000 years.
  3. The Church gets to be the Church. Though we are flawed and cracked vessels, the Spirit of God will continue to use us to show the Grace & Truth of God. No law or limits stop that.
  4. Love is still love. No matter how ostracized or overlooked we might feel, love will always be the language we speak – and the language that others understand. Love will simply never go out of style – and, we’re told, it is the greatest of what remains.

So, as followers of Jesus, let’s not worry or rage, point fingers or withdraw in fear. Instead, let’s continue to follow the Lord of love, as we live in love – remembering that, when it’s darkest out, the light shines brightest.