Christ Calls Christians to Compassion, NOT Comfort

I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.

First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.

There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):

The (Samaritan) woman at the well,  John 4:4-26

Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)

The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48

This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.

 The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.

The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

 Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.

 Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11

There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.

Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:

Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)

Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)

Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?

I believe it looks like this:

Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?

Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.

Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.

Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?

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.

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

A Commentary on the Changing Face of Christian Politics

At first I was just going to share this article on the Changing Face of Christian Politics, but I quickly realized I had more comments to make than I could reasonably place in a Facebook status.  I encourage you to read the entire article (yes, even non-Christians).  There are so many great points, not the least of which are:

1. “Surely we (Christians) want to be known for what we are FOR” (not what we are against).  In my experience, although the majority of non-Christians seem to assume that the confrontational zealots that keep getting handed a microphone are representative of ALL Christians, in reality most Christians are far more interested in peace.  Even those who are uncomfortable around homosexuals usually do not actively hate homosexuals, as is often portrayed.  Most Christians believe that it is possible to love people you don’t agree with, regardless of the point of contention.  Unfortunately, it is the combative, oppositional hard-liners that tend to get the most media coverage, because the media loves a conflict most of all.  Drama gets viewers.  And that fault lies with all of us, because WE’RE the viewers.

2.  “”Why,” he asked, “is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them?”….ending a conversation is vastly different from winning an argument.”  We seem to want to silence or dismiss opposing views especially in instances when the opposition is speaking very loudly.  In some cases, it doesn’t matter if the opposition has some valid points (even if we don’t agree with them).  Let me ask you this question:  If you are so confident in your position, why are you so threatened by someone presenting an opposing view?  Ending a conversation by silencing it through censure or dismissing it with a shrug and a “well, they’re just ignorant, uneducated, delusional, etc is not at all the same thing as carrying on a productive discourse and finding common ground.  It is not at all the way to make any progress.

 And we’ve got to stop letting people cry “free speech” for their own malicious words, but then call for censure of the opposing viewpoint (or that they lose their job).  It seems to be a knee-jerk reaction: I should be able to say ANYTHING I want, without repercussions, because of “free speech”. That’s a load of tripe.  Free speech only allows you to say what you want (specifically, against the government) without being arrested.  It was never intended to protect you from the consequences of your words.  Free speech does not protect you from losing your job if you are hateful and disrespectful to your boss, neither does it protect you from disdain if you choose to express your opinion in a vindictive manner. I’m not saying people who want to speak out against (perceived or real) wrongs should keep their mouths shut.  But many of the most passionate people seem to have completely lost the ability (or desire) to carefully choose their words. There is no need to sugar coat things, but neither is there a need to attack and condemn.  We MUST not appoint ourselves judge, jury, and executioner, regardless of the topic of discussion. .  I don’t care what the topic is, we should be able to express our beliefs without dehumanizing others.  If you are incapable of doing that, you should stay away from the microphone until you grow up a bit.  Or until your language skills improve.

3.  “A Christianity that seeks to unilaterally impose itself on the nation is unlikely be fruitful, but it is similarly unrealistic and unproductive to force a secular morality on believers.”  I believe that this is the fundamental flaw in the “right-wing” approach in recent years.  First of all, Christians need to realize that we are NOT the only ones who live in this country.  And the country belongs to all of those other people too.  To try to legislate our version of morality is not only wrong, it is completely counterproductive.  No true change is brought about by legislation alone.  You cannot force someone to believe in God, or it is not true faith.  But neither should non-believers try to force their beliefs (or lack thereof) upon Christians.  There has been such an intense backlash against Christianity recently that it is shocking sometimes the malice with which non-Christians speak of Christians.  Granted, the aforementioned heavy-handed bigots are deserving of the backlash, but do not assume that all Christians are just as vicious.  And do not assume that just because some Christians ARE hateful, that you must in turn be spiteful to every Christian you ever encounter.

4.  If gay people are to be afforded dignity as those made in the image of God, what does this require of our rhetoric? What does it require of our laws?  This applies not only to gay rights, but to every other moral debate going on in the political arena today.  Do the right-wing extremists take this concept into consideration when they are trying to force restrictive laws upon the American people?  Do run-of-the-mill Christians like me consider this statement when we interact with homosexuals, prostitutes, thieves, embezzlers, liars, or any other human who has ever done anything we don’t approve of (ie, all humans, including me)?

5.  “We need leaders, and people to support them, who recognize that the question for this century is not “how do I win?” but “how can we live together?””  This is really the crux of the matter.  If we cannot get past our desire to “win” and instead work towards finding common ground in this world we share, we will never be able to have a productive conversation, much less a peaceful nation.  Which one is more important to you?  Figure out which one you value more, and you will act accordingly.

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Be The Only Thing In Your Life

Even if you don’t believe in God, you can glean some good advice from this article, They Are Third {on holding our children loosely}

I have said this to many of my friends: Yes, we should adore our children and love them unconditionally, but we cannot hold them too tightly.  And we cannot put them before everything else in our lives.  Because above all, we are trying to raise them to be independent, mature adults, and eventually they will leave.

I have seen marriages fall apart because the parents (often the mother, actually) made the children more important than nurturing their relationship.  Not that there aren’t sometimes urgent things that require our attention, and our spouse time gets put aside temporarily.  But our marriage cannot ALWAYS be on the back burner.  Because ideally, our spouse will still be there long after our kids leave, and we are going to need to know who they are and how to connect with them.  It is far too easy to start treating a spouse like a roommate instead of a life mate.

I’ve said it before: We ARE going to grow and change, the trick is making sure that we grow together.  We do our children no favors if they always come first.  Besides the fact that we’d be teaching them that investing in our marriage is not important, we’d also be teaching them that they are entitled to always be the center of the attention.  And who wants to be around an adult who has grown up with that delusion?  Think about how hard those people are to stomach.  Is that really what you want your child to be?  Besides, if your kids know your marriage is weak, they will become EXPERTS at playing you and your spouse against one another in order to get what they want.

So I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that your children should be well aware that they do NOT come before your marriage, when they get old enough to understand that.  They know that I expect them to leave and lead lives of their own, and that their dad and I will still be together long after they’re gone.  We want to continue to grow together, instead of being struck speechless by empty nest syndrome.  Chances are, both our kids will be leaving within the next couple of years, and we don’t want to be one of those couples who are at a total loss as to what to do with themselves once the kids are gone.

And I’d like to take a moment here to add: Know who YOU are without the kids.  In addition to knowing your spouse (if you have one), every parent should know who they are on their own.  This is doubly hard for single parents, I think, because without a spouse it’s easy to let the kids become everything.  But again, your goal is that they will eventually leave.  You don’t want to be left floundering, directionless, and unable to be your own person when they do leave.  Nurture your own well-being, physically and mentally, and you will be better able to give your children what they need.  Constantly deny yourself and you create selfish, dependent children, and you’re too wiped out to give them what they need anyway.  It’s always a balancing act, but make sure you don’t spend all your time at the bottom of the priority list.

Now, neither of my kids have left yet, so I may be overly optimistic about my reaction, but I think I’ll be ok.  I think my husband and I will be ok.  And I think my kids will be ok.  I certainly pray that all of those things are true!  Those of you who have already survived the empty nest, please chime in and give the rest of us some sage advice!

Why Non-Christians Want Nothing To Do With Christianity

I know I said I was (mostly) going to avoid discussing religion and politics.  But something happened to a friend of mine recently that’s had me internally fuming, and I’m afraid you guys are going to have to tolerate one of my rants; I apologize at the outset.  For those who can stomach it all the way to the end, I’m hoping there’s going to be something redeeming about it.  Maybe even a lesson to learn.

Anyone who knows me hopefully knows that I am a Christian.  I try not to be one of those judgmental, Bible-thumping, gay-hating, abortion clinic bombing people you always see on the news, because I honestly believe that Jesus had no intention of having his followers behave that way.  In fact, it really upsets me when I get lumped together with those people, but maybe I should save that for another post.  Ook.  That means at least one more religion post.  😛  But for the purposes of today’s post, I’m going to make a separation between myself and the media portrayal of what a “Christian” is.

Let’s start with a little background, then.   I’m not going to debate whether Jesus existed or not, because that’s not really doubted.  Plenty of non-Christian historians have attested to the fact that he did in fact exist.  But I think all of the infighting, and in fact the thing that hurts anyone trying to live a Christ-like life, is that there is so much debate about who he was.  So since you’re reading my blog, you get stuck hearing my opinion.

One of the most prominent things about Jesus is that he was a minimalist. He hated the regimented, legalistic, ritualistic farce that the Jewish religion had become.  The leaders (Sadducees and Pharisees, if you want to know) had added rule upon rule of what a “good Jew” had to do in order to earn God’s favor.  (Sound like any other religions we know?) This was not ever what God intended.  Some of the rules God had set down, such as the ones we know as the 10 Commandments, were meant for everyone.  Some were meant to protect the Jews from getting sucked into worshiping the gods of the people around them, which in a lot of cases included some pretty freaky stuff like child sacrifice and cutting/burning/mutilating oneself as a form of worship.  And some were meant only for the Levites, who were the group that was supposed to lead in worship, and were to keep themselves to a higher standard.

But over the years the Jewish leaders had added literally hundreds upon hundreds of “laws” to the simple ones that God had first given them.  So Jesus tried to boil it all down, super-simple.  Two things:  Love God, and love your neighbor.  That’s it.  Not that it’s EASY, mind you, but it IS simple.  Truly every other rule, every one of the 10 commandments, is covered by these two things.  If you love your neighbor, you’re not going to steal his stuff, or lie about him, or try to take his wife, or hate him because he has more than you.  And if you love God, you’re going to want to show your love for your neighbor even more.

But humans are stupid and stubborn, and we tend to screw things up and make them far more complicated than they ever need to be.  And because we have this overwhelming desire to feel better about ourselves, we want to make other people’s flaws and mistakes worse than our own.  *I* might be embezzling millions of dollars from my company, but at least I’m not gay.  *I* might be taking money on the sly to vote the way an elite group wants me to, but at least I’m not a baby-murdering abortionist.  I know it sounds like I’m writing a parody here, but there really are people who feel this way, some quite loudly.

So all this to say, I have a friend who has had a very horrible couple of years.  She has had so many things go wrong in her life, and so very few friends to cling to and help hold her up through this tough period.  But she really wanted to resolve some things and clear the air with a couple of the leaders in a church that we had both previously attended, and was not only refused a simple meeting, but in fact threatened that the assistance that had been offered by their men’s group to help her move would be withdrawn.  Bullying at its best, from leaders of the church, no less.  It’s abysmal enough how they treat non-Christians, but they even treat their own like this.   No wonder the rest of the world looks at Christians and wants nothing to do with what they have to say.

The rest of the world  sees “Christians” on the news shouting at the top of their lungs about all the things they’re doing wrong, and trying to force their beliefs on others by passing laws ordering them to behave the way they want, but really the reasonably moderate Christians are the ones who need to clean house.  We don’t need to scream at the world, or try to legislate morality.  In fact, I’d dare say that we shouldn’t have to speak at all.  Our affiliation with Christ should be obvious to others around us without ever having to say a word.  We should put others above ourselves, offer help whenever it is within our power, and love those who don’t agree with us.  Even those who hate us because they associate us with those extremists who regrettably keep getting handed a microphone.

So I apologize to all of you for the prominent, visible and vocal representatives of Christianity you see on TV.  I assure you, the extremists are in the minority, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  And they are NOT AT ALL what Christ intended his church to be.  Unfortunately, you will find these hypocrites closer to home as well, maybe even right in your own family.  But I would ask you to do two things:  please don’t assume that all Christians are like that, and please remember that all Christians are still human and still prone to making some really stupid, selfish, sometimes hurtful choices.  Being Christians certainly doesn’t make us perfect.  We are flawed creatures just like everyone else on the planet, and when we forget that is when we do the most damage to the name “Christian”.

And if you ever see me behaving like that, please call me out on it.  I have many non-Christian friends and family who I love dearly, and I would never want any of you to think that your beliefs should jeopardize our relationship.  I don’t want you to avoid being around me because you’re afraid of what I might secretly think about you, or that we would get into a beastly argument.  Most of you already know this, but if you have doubts, don’t.  If you’re interested in civil debate, I’m all for it, but I’m just as happy spending time with you and enjoying your company without religion ever entering the picture.  Because to me, relationships are of utmost importance.  And I really think that’s what Jesus intended all along.

 

 

Do It Anyway

mother-teresa-quote-final3

I saw a version of this Mother Teresa quote on Facebook this morning, and I think it goes along with my last post on the Keys to Happiness.  I think sometimes it is easy for us to forget that our happiness depends far more on our own choices than it does on the choices of others.  We are not REQUIRED to be bitter about something that someone else has done to us; it is a choice.  We are not REQUIRED to be unforgiving, just because someone has not asked for forgiveness or doesn’t “deserve” it; it is a choice.

When we attribute our behavior to someone else, we are granting them control over us by not taking responsibility for our choices.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to hand the reins over to the jerk who cut me off in traffic, or my psycho ex, or anyone else, for that matter.  I don’t want to relinquish control over my life to anyone, least of all someone who has wronged me.

Forgive

We let go of an awful lot of bitterness and leave room for happiness when we choose to forgive even when the other person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. Regardless of how unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered they may be.  Hanging on to it only harms us, not them.

Be Kind

People have a tendency to assume you want something in return when you do something nice for them.  Their response is not what you’re going for.  You will make your tiny corner of the world a better place without their approval.  Just because they’re incapable of doing something kind without ulterior motives doesn’t mean that you are.

Succeed

Fair weather friends are pretty exasperating, and people who are enemies only because you are more successful than they are can be very discouraging.  This shouldn’t stop you from striving to succeed.

Be Honest and Sincere

Yep, people are like that.  They will see that you are honest and sincere and try to take advantage of you.  But that’s not a reason to be more cutthroat.

Create

Anyone who has ever built a sand castle is familiar with the idea of creating something that is going to be destroyed.  In the grand scheme of things, everything we create will come to dust eventually.  Nothing in this world is truly permanent.  But that’s not a reason to not be creative.  Go paint, write, make music, whatever you like to do.  Even if you’re the only one who ever enjoys it, it’s worth it.  But chances are, there is someone in your circle of influence who would properly appreciate it.  Share it with that person.

Be Happy

I’m not sure why people are jealous of other people’s happiness.  I mean, it’s not like their happiness means there’s less available for you to have.  I can see how bragging could be annoying, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here.  Just chalk it up to those rare instances where people just don’t get it, and go right ahead and be happy.

Do Good

Doing good is kind of a nebulous thing, sometimes.  It can be something so simple as holding the door for the person behind you, to donating your vast wealth and all of your free time to a charity you feel passionate about, and everything in between.  A lot of times, it goes hand in hand with the “Be Kind” quote.  You may not ever receive notoriety for the good you do, and even if you do, society is fickle and WILL forget.  But that’s not why you’re doing it.  Get out there and do good anyway.

Give Your Best

It’s true that for some people, your best is never enough.  The thing you have to keep reminding yourself is that it’s YOUR best, not theirs.  And like the Four Agreements, remember that your best changes from day to day.  Strive for that balance between working to the best of your ability, and working so hard that you can’t do anything the next day.

IT WAS NEVER BETWEEN YOU AND THEM ANYWAY

Whether you believe in God or not, this statement is true.  Like I said at the beginning, any attempt to blame your actions on others is relinquishing control over your life to them.  Yes, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes you can feel the negativity of others bringing you down.  But don’t let it continue.  Keep doing the right thing, regardless of what those other people are doing, and you will have blessed those around you, even if they haven’t been very appreciative.  In turn you’ll find that it’s been a blessing to you.