Christians, Let’s Get Back to Basics

You know, sometimes I wonder how often Christ rolled his eyes at his followers while he was here on Earth. I imagine that he was imminently patient with the frustrations of dealing with people who had spent three solid years with him, listening to everything he said, but were still just not getting it. But there is no sin in a sigh as you have to restate the same things over and over, an occasional head shake, maybe pinching the bridge of the nose, or even an eye roll. He was, after all, human.

He tried repeatedly to simplify things for them (and for us). He used parables in the hopes that the important things would click, and because he knew people have a tendency to remember stories far better than lectures. And he tried to break things down to basics. Probably the best example is this: love God, love your neighbor. Three of the four gospels have a version of this quote (John is a little different from the other three, but I’m not gonna get into that–it’s for Biblical scholars). Bear with me as I give you three copies of the same fundamental idea.

First, a little background for the passage. A teacher of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Now we don’t know much about this guy other than that he was a Bible scholar (which for him, would have been the Pentateuch (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the books of the prophets). It says that he “tested” Jesus with his question. We don’t really know what his motivation was; it could be that he was a true seeker, and wanted to know if Jesus measured up to the hype, or that he was trying to trick Jesus into some objectionable offense (this was a pretty common occurrence). But it doesn’t really matter why he asked the question. Jesus used it as a teachable moment, one I’d dare say was one of his most important. Here are the three versions of his response, in the NIV (please don’t be upset if I didn’t use your favorite translation–I’ve read lots, and they really do come out the same; you can read yours if you prefer). Note that in the Luke quote, Jesus turned the question back to the enquirer, and the words are his, but then Jesus said he answered correctly.

Matthew 22:37-40

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Mark 12:30-31

30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 10:25-27

27 He {the scholar} answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

Both of these quotes come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5[a] and Leviticus 19:18[b], if you want to look them up). While we modern day people think of the commandments as “the big ten”, he was talking about far more than that. There was a huge list of laws, some applicable to the entire nation of Israel, some specifically for the Levites (who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation), and some even more specifically for the Levite priests. But with all those rules to choose from, Jesus felt these two were the most important, and they even managed to capture the essence of all those other laws.

Basically, Jesus said, “There is too much, let me sum up.”

If you boiled everything down to its most basic roots, you’d have two categories in which all the other laws fit. Loving God involves not worshiping other gods (even things or people we treat as gods). It also includes a desire to please God by behaving as he wants us to behave. And the most important of those behaviours, what Jesus said was the biggest thing in all of the laws and guidelines God set out, was “love your neighbor as yourself”.

And what happens next? The scholar asks what all of us want to know: Who is my neighbor?  That’s right, I want to know exactly whom I have to be nice to. Jesus follows up with one of the most recognizable parables in scripture, the story of the Good Samaritan. The point he’s trying to get across to the people is this: everyone is your neighbor.

Wait, do you mean the meth addict in the line at the pharmacy? The gay couple sitting together at the coffee shop? The single mom on welfare who’s pregnant again? The girl with tattoos and facial piercings who visited the church last weekend? The unemployed man begging for change at the entrance to the shopping plaza?

Yep. All of the above. And everyone else too.

But don’t I get to decide whether they’re worthy?

Sorry, nope. That’s not your job.

There is absolutely no encouragement to do so. In fact, one of the primary points of the good Samaritan story is how lowly the Israelites thought Samaritans were (for cultural reasons), but HE was the only one who was a good neighbor.

Read the next part of the passage: (from the account in Luke)

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he {the scholar} wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I think it’s kinda funny that Luke added “the scholar wanted to justify himself”. Common disease of the human race.

And after the story, Jesus asked him who he thought was the neighbor. The (potentially imperious) student of the scriptures knew the right answer. Even if he didn’t like it, it was glaringly obvious. And Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus said, Don’t be like the priest, who was supposed to be one of the highest spiritual leaders of all Israel. Don’t be like the Levite (the tribe from which the priests were selected) who were in charge of being support staff for the priests, and caring for the temple and the other spiritual needs of the nation. Pause and think on that for a second. Don’t be like the “spiritual” people, but instead be like one of the lowliest outcasts, and put someone else before yourself. Because the “spiritual” people refused to do so.

The Samaritan didn’t say, “He shouldn’t have been walking through such a rough neighborhood.”

He didn’t say, “He must have been up to no good, or he wouldn’t have been here.”

He didn’t say, “He doesn’t deserve my help. He’s probably in this predicament because of bad choices, and now he’s suffering the consequences.”

There was no victim blaming anywhere to be found in this story.

He didn’t even say what I think might have been most understandable: “His people and my people have hated each other for a long time, and I doubt one of them would help one of us. Why should I?”

It just says, when he saw him, he took pity on him. I think an even better translation of that word, in the context of the passage, is that he had compassion.

At that moment, it didn’t matter how or why the man was in the condition he was in. It didn’t matter what his race, upbringing, or fundamental beliefs might have been. All that mattered was that the Samaritan saw a need and did everything he could to help. He had compassion. In fact, he went above and beyond. He not only lifted the guy out of the disastrous situation he was in, he made sure there was enough money to help him recover fully and get back on his feet. He didn’t offer his help based on whether the man deserved it, or earned it after the fact, or groveled at his feet in thanks for his marvelous generosity. He also didn’t let the innkeeper bear the expense of a decision that he had made. He offered to cover any additional expenses the next time he was around. He lived out his convictions to the fullest. He put his money where his heart was.

So I ask you: Is this how Christians behave? Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at people who claim Christ’s name as part of their identity? Sadly, it has been far too often not the case. We definitely have a tendency to be more like the priest and the Levite, turning our heads to people in need. And it seems to have gotten even worse lately. This is something that desperately needs to change. If the majority of non-Christians see the majority of Christians acting in ways that are the exact opposite of what Christ called us to do, in fact, the opposite of what he said was one of the most important concepts of all, it’s no wonder there is animosity towards us.

So how can we turn this around? I truly believe it starts with each individual. If I claim that Christ is important to me, then my behaviour should reflect that. I should be willing to reach out to those in need, regardless of whether their need is a result of their own mistakes, or whether their beliefs align with mine. All of the people. I should be prayerfully considering how God can use my own special gifts and abilities to show his love to a hurting world. I should be working on me, not dictating how others should be spending their own money and gifts. I’ll ponder on this, and I ask that you do as well, and next time we’ll delve a little more deeply into specific instances, because there are so many people in need in this world.

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The Search for Truth

If you haven’t given up on me after the last post, I’m hoping that means the truth is important to you as well. I do not for even a split second claim to have all the answers, or to have a monopoly on the truth. You may not agree with me on the best ways to discover the truth, but I’d like to make some suggestions.

First, let’s get something out of the way: all newscasting is biased. Humans are biased. It’s virtually unavoidable. Everyone has their own unique set of deeply held personal beliefs, and it’s nearly impossible for that to not affect how we respond to certain news. Some sources are notorious for being exceptionally biased. But there are plenty of sources that try as much as possible to present the news or fact check without overtly skewing the facts toward their own bias.

I know there’s been a story going around about how “Snopes got snoped”. There’s actually a really great review of that dilemma here. The thing is, people have been claiming for years that Snopes is “too liberal”, while others have been claiming they’re “too conservative”. The truth of the matter is that they’ve done a particularly good job of remaining as neutral as it is possible to be, on a wide variety of stories on both sides of the divide, which as I said is very difficult. But here’s the most important part: they always cite their sources. If you think they’ve said something hinky, it’s super easy to follow up on the story, just by clicking on the links throughout the article. That is exactly why Snopes.com has remained a highly respected, tremendous resource for fact-checking for so many years. Snopes even has their own response to this claim that they’re biased, stating that the direction of the supposed bias changes depending on which political party is in control at the time, and whether an article fits the claimant’s preconceived notions.

And therein lies the problem.  As I said, everyone has their own beliefs, and those beliefs affect our personal bias. But we should never cling so desperately to our personal worldview that we don’t allow ourselves to remain open-minded to the truth. There will be times when we don’t like the truth. But truth can withstand any amount of intense scrutiny. We should not fear our beliefs being challenged; if they are based on truth, they will endure. It may occasionally happen that we will discover something we believe in is not based on truth, and we will need to be willing to adjust our beliefs accordingly.

If you can’t let go of the idea that Snopes is biased, though, there are plenty of other resources. Factcheck.org, Politifact, and Fact Checker are just a few. Media Bias Fact Check has a list of 10 of their favorite sites, which includes the ones I’ve mentioned. I particularly like that they use many different resources at the same site. But here’s the biggest thing: If you read a news story that seems outrageous, chances are high that the reporting is biased. If we only rely on one source for our news, we are likely to be overwhelmed by that bias, and we will become increasingly unwilling to make sure that our beliefs are in line with the truth.

I know what I’m asking. I know how deeply ingrained some beliefs can be. But if truth is more important to us than our personal bias, there are potentially times when we will have to be willing to put our beliefs through extreme investigation in our pursuit of that truth. As painful as it might be, we might be occasionally required to reevaluate our opinions. I hope that we as individuals, and as a country, have the strength of character to do exactly that.

 

How Important is the Truth?

I have an announcement to make: We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated. Used. Taken advantage of for the purpose of money and/or power. Does this make anyone else angry? It should–we should be furious! But instead we have allowed inflammatory headlines and an addiction to outrage dictate our behavior and drive a wedge between us. We have let other people use our emotions to control us.

Since apparently we need a reminder, listen up. Internet sites get their money from page visits. They don’t care in the least if their headline is remotely truthful. Incendiary, flagrantly offensive headlines get TONS more clicks than calm, metered, truthful language. Their primary goal is to get us incensed enough to think, ‘OMG can you believe so-and-so said such-and-such?’ They know we will click ‘share’ within seconds, and before our heads have had a chance to spin a full 360 degrees, the page has had hundreds of thousands of visits. Flash lesson on internet ad revenue: In most cases, you don’t have to click on the ad to earn money for the page designer. Every single page visit brings revenue.

This post may make some people angry on both sides of the political divide, and probably some who don’t like either side. But I think considering this topic is crucial to healing the rift in our country. I think this is a very grave subject that had a dramatic impact on the process of the election as well as the country’s response to its outcome. I think it’s still having a dramatic effect on the divisiveness and bitterness that continues to linger. So I’ll repeat the question: How important is the truth, to you specifically?

Is the truth important enough to you to take just a few seconds to check and make sure an article is legitimate? Is truth important enough to you to make sure that you read an entire article before sharing? Is it important enough to avoid passing on articles that have deliberately misleading headlines, even if there is a kernel of truth in the article? Is it worth it to find the original story, so that statements or actions are not taken out of context?

I have seen this on all sides (that means you too, third party voters).

Hillary is evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote for Trump because he’s not Hillary.

Trump is evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote for Hillary because she’s not Trump.

They’re both evil, the devil, the antichrist, the second coming of Hitler. Vote third party, or not at all, because you can’t vote for either one of them.

And I’ve seen all the garbage about all the candidates, ad nauseum. It doesn’t seem to matter how fantastical, how implausible a claim is, you just think to yourself, ‘I wouldn’t put it past them’ and blindly pass it on. And unfortunately it has continued past the election. Can you believe what that group of people is doing, or trying to do? Can you believe Trump appointed this person and they want to try to pass this law? Can you believe Obama/Clinton are trying to undermine Trump? If a headline makes you think, ‘Can you believe…?’ maybe that should be a major clue that you shouldn’t believe it without checking it out.

If you value truth at all, please take the time to make sure you’re proclaiming truth and stop lending legitimacy to lies.

Stop it.

Please, I beg of you, America.

JUST STOP IT.

 

I Am Heartbroken for My Country

It’s less about the outcome of the election and more about how we’ve been responding to that outcome. At this point, it doesn’t matter much whether you voted Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party, Little Green Men, or no one at all. The fact of the matter remains, Donald Trump will be our president. But whether we are elated or distraught, the thing I think we’ve most forgotten how to do is truly listen to one another. I was desperately hoping that after the election we would start to get back to a minimal sense of unity, as is usually the case after elections, but it seems most people are only interested in talking over one another instead of listening and carrying out a truly productive dialog.

The problem is, fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. And people who have been whipped up into a frenzy of fear tend to make irrational, emotionally biased decisions.

The people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are frustrated because so many white people aren’t truly listening to their concerns and grievances. They feel marginalized because saying “all lives matter” in response doesn’t acknowledge that there is a definite issue that needs to be dealt with. If we can’t understand why the Black Lives Matter movement has resonated so strongly with so many people, we’re never going to be able to address the issues that brought it about. While there are plenty of white people who have lived their entire lives in poverty, living in dangerous neighborhoods, they still don’t fully comprehend how it feels to know that you have a much higher chance of being shot and killed if your skin is dark, or what it’s like to be “guilty until proven innocent”. It’s even harder to understand for white people who have grown up in middle class or affluent neighborhoods.

The police force is frustrated by the public perception that they are bullies, and they are worried every day that they might be sacrificing their lives in the line of duty. If we can’t understand the fear that motivates policemen to respond to threats of violence with violence instead of deescalation, we will never be able to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality that has resulted in so many wrongful deaths recently.

The LGBTQIA community is frustrated because they are being discriminated against with very specific, confrontational legislation, and bullied or attacked because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. If we can’t understand why people with a different sexuality or gender identity are genuinely afraid for their safety and sometimes even their lives, and that all most of them really want is to be accepted members of society, we are not ever going to be able to be allies and make sure that they are treated with fairness and respect.

Muslims, and indeed anyone who even looks like they might be Muslim or from a “terrorist country” are legitimately afraid for the safety of their families. There is still so much residual distrust and suspicion haunting us since 9/11. We need to understand, acknowledge, and attend to the fears that they have, as well as the fear that non-Muslims have about another potential terrorist attack.

The Christian right is frustrated because they fear they are losing ground on what they see as moral issues: abortion, gay marriage, etc. I’ll talk about Christians and the culture war in another post. Or several. Probably several.

Women are afraid that our country indulging a man who has repeatedly disrespected women will send the message that appalling “locker room talk”, sexual harassment, and even worse behaviours are perfectly acceptable, even expected.  Young boys will grow up seeing women as objects instead of equals.

People on both sides of the gun control issue are frustrated with, well, the adamant stance of the people on the other side. If we don’t even attempt to understand the fear that motivates both sides, we’re never going to be able to meet in the middle.

I hope you’re starting to understand what I’m getting at. Each of the major issues I’ve listed has at least some element of basic fear involved, and there are many more that I didn’t list. The thing about fear is that it’s hard to overcome. Many of these fears are quite justified; some, in your mind, may not seem justified, but that doesn’t change the fact that some people do feel them. We can’t really dictate to people what they are and are not allowed to be afraid of, nor should we want to try. It’s also pretty counterproductive to tell someone that their fear is ridiculous, unnecessary, or overreacting. That just shows more clearly that we’re not really listening to their concerns. If we don’t come together, acknowledge that there are some major issues that need to be dealt with, and start working toward some resolutions, we are going to continue to have ghastly, horrific, divisive political campaigns like the one we just endured. We have to realize that the majority of Americans are not acting out of hate, but out of fear. Unfortunately, fear has been responsible for some particularly reprehensible actions (consult the annals of history). The thing is, it just doesn’t work to tell someone that they shouldn’t be afraid, or that they shouldn’t act in response to their fear. It’s part of the human condition.

But we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In fact, most of the time it seems like we’ve forgotten how to, or perhaps lost the will to even try. It’s so much easier to click share on that smug article gloating about the outcome of the election, or the one bemoaning how horrible it is, and that it’s the end of our country. We’d rather lash out at our opponents, instead of remembering that ultimately, we’re all in this together. While it’s true that there are certainly some extremists on both sides of every issue, the majority of people are somewhere in the middle, in spite of the way it seemed during the election. This is somewhat easier to recognize when we view people as individuals rather than groups (i.e., those people), and if we try to refrain from using exceptionally inflammatory language like calling one another evil, Hitler, Antichrist, etc.

I’d like to propose something. If you see something on social media that makes you feel affronted, afraid, defensive, defiant, incensed, indignant, offended, or outraged, stop for a minute. Take a deep breath. Pause and try to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, and why you feel that way. Then, take a second to fact-check and make sure that the objectionable story, article, or statement is founded in truth. Please, please do not pass on misinformation or opinion pieces as fact, or worse yet, pass off satire as truth. Next, take a moment or two to try to see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes this is the hardest part of all. There are simply some aspects of another person’s state of mind that we can’t ever truly comprehend. But at least give it a shot, for the sake of the country. Then, consider what you’d like to accomplish by passing something on. Are you trying to help people understand one another, or are you really just trying to engender outrage at the actions of a few unrepresentative obnoxious individuals. Are you pursuing unity, or are you deliberately encouraging division?

The comedian Craig Ferguson, former host of The Late, Late Show, has a stand-up routine themed “Does This Need to be Said?”. I think we would all be well-served to try this approach as much as possible; it boils down to this:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

I might even add a corollary: Am I using the most effective, least divisive language and tone that I can, while still getting my point across?

Regardless of whether you were for or against Hillary, if we want to Make America Great Again, we have to acknowledge that we are Stronger Together. United we stand, divided we fall. Those are not trite platitudes, it is an absolute necessity, especially if we are to surmount the challenges that will face us from without.

We’ve got some pretty ugly tears in the fabric of our country. Let’s start the process of mending them, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

With utmost hope for our restoration,

Karen

Sometimes, Life is a Roller Coaster

The last year or so has been quite a roller coaster ride, particularly the last few months.  Last spring/summer I was dealing with debilitating, unexplained pain which had me nearly wheelchair bound.  This turned out to be severe endometriosis, which culminated in extensive surgery.  I felt far better immediately after surgery than I did for the months preceding.

But then not long after I was allowed to resume normal activities, I spent several months fighting a recurrent sinus infection, which turned out to be MRSA in my sinuses.  I haven’t had surgery for that, but it may be necessary soon, probably before cold and flu season hits full swing.

In spring of this year my daughter was struggling with severe depression, for which she ended up medically withdrawing for the semester and spending a short stint at a mental health hospital. Then at the beginning of summer, I broke my ankle.  A month later, our 15 year old dog and my grandfather, who I was extremely close to, died within a couple of days of each other.

So yeah, the family has been through the ringer.  I’ve been generally crappy at savoring anything lately, and not really accomplishing much at all, to be honest. I’ve been far more inclined to become a hermit. I’ve withdrawn from people, from activities, from life. But I am acutely aware that it’s not healthy for me to continue that indefinitely.

In the process of trying to diagnose my unexplained pain, one rheumatologist said he was pretty confident I had fibromyalgia.  Not long after that they found the endometriosis, so honestly I kind of dismissed the fibro diagnosis.  I think I was mostly hoping that with the surgery, anything that could not be attributed to my other illnesses would be resolved.  Unfortunately, that has turned out to not be the case. I am still really struggling with “swiss cheese brain” (fibro fog), pain and swelling in various muscles, and profound weakness and fatigue which doesn’t respond as well to my Addison’s medication as I would like. So it’s put me in a state of not remotely caring about much at all. I haven’t even been doing things that I normally enjoy.

Of course, those of you who have dealt with depression know that this is prone to happening to someone who is sinking into that quagmire. We don’t feel like doing things, so we stop doing things we enjoy. We don’t feel like interacting with others, so we withdraw from everyone. Naturally, this makes the situation worse. Depression is a black hole that sucks you in and spirals down further the more you cut yourself off from those things.

I’ve talked before about depression, and I’ve been on medications for it at a few different points in my life.  But not one doctor has urged me to see a counselor, or even suggested that it might be a good idea. I’m not trying to diagnose or treat anyone else, but I think that tends to be a mistake. I have become more and more convinced that in most cases, if your depression is affecting your life enough that you seek medical help, then medication PLUS therapy would usually be better than just medication alone. If you can find the right therapist, of course.

So I’ve been doing just that. If there is something I can do to help myself feel better, both mentally and physically, why would I NOT try that? Honestly, why haven’t I tried it before now? It may be partly because no doctor ever suggested it. It may be that I was subconsciously buying into the cultural assumption that only REALLY messed up people see a psychiatrist. But if it can help me cope better with the unrelenting, rapid-fire garbage that life has been throwing our family lately, it’s all to the good, and I’m in with both feet.

I’ve seen my new therapist a half dozen times now. I think one of the biggest benefits for me is that I feel like I’m taking some of the pressure off my husband. I am often a physical drain on him because of my health, I am a huge financial drain on the household, and I know the stress of worrying about me doesn’t help. But unloading to an outside person periodically has seemed to at least take some of that emotional burden off him. And although I’m not sure I’ve learned anything groundbreaking about myself, I think it’s helped me process the difficult stuff, especially the grieving. Stay tuned for progress updates, and cheer for the return of the enthusiastic, optimistic person that I am at heart. I’ve missed her, and I’m sure my family and friends have as well.

And if you’re struggling with depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. No matter how alone you feel, there is someone out there who wants to help you be well: a family member, a friend, maybe even someone you haven’t met yet, in the form of a doctor, counselor, or a hotline volunteer. Always keep fighting.