Your Best Self


Today’s readings:
Psalms 84; 150, Jeremiah 23:16-32, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Mark 8:31-9:1

There’s a type of message that seems to pop up frequently in social media. It generally says: “Take me as I am or watch me as I go.” Intended as a phrase of self-empowerment, it may be exactly that for people who’ve suffered rejection for something beyond their control. However, when it’s used to deflect criticism, dismiss self-reflection, or justify one’s own needlessly abrasive behavior … it’s the message of a child. Mature people remain open to change and growth. They also realize other people’s feelings do actually matter.

But it’s a balancing act. Considering other people’s feelings doesn’t mean betraying our own values. Cursing like a sailor at a church bake sale (or proselytizing at an explicitly secular event) is merely offensive, not principled; on the other hand defending free speech may require us to offend some people. Being authentic doesn’t mean expressing every thought that comes into our heads regardless of circumstance. We all learn to moderate ourselves around our bosses so we don’t lose our jobs; we should have the same respect for people who don’t hold power over us.

The Apostle Paul was too devoted to his mission to simply make controversial proclamations and end with: “Take me or leave me.” Rather, he developed relationships by empathizing with – and perhaps more importantly building relationships with – those he wanted to reach. As he wrote to the church in Corinth, to the Jews he became as a Jew, to the weak he became weak, to those under the law he became as one under the law. He never sacrificed his core message, but customized his delivery for the sake of the Gospel. Paul knew relationships supersede religion. We don’t persuade by judging; we persuade by engaging.

Our lives are more fulfilling when we find ways to point our core values and true selves toward service. If we have a big mouth, we can speak for the voiceless. If we are flamboyant, we can draw focus where it will do good. If we have a dark sense of humor, we can bridge the gap between suffering and ignorance. Don’t ever be ashamed of your story and truth, but remember you share space with other equally deserving stories and truths.

Comfort: It’s good to be yourself.

Challenge: It’s not so good to use “being yourself” as an excuse to be hurtful to others.

Prayer: Lord, I know you have created me for service. Help me to let let my gifts shine in ways that honor you and the creation you love. Amen.

Discussion: Do you ever struggle to balance being authentic with being loving?

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 50; 147:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12, John 7:53-8:11

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

So Jesus said to a group of scribes and Pharisees ready to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery. Before saying it, he bent to write in the dirt with his finger. One tradition says he was writing a list of the secret sins of her accusers. Whatever he wrote, one by one the crowd members dropped their stones and walked away. When all were gone, he sent the woman away without condemning her, but advising her to sin no more.

We probably prefer to identify with the woman in need of mercy, but we also all potentially have a rock in our hand ready to hurl. There’s an adage that what we dislike about others is a reflection of what we dislike about ourselves. We clench that private guilt or shame until its weight becomes so unbearable that we are compelled to fling it at others if only to find some relief from the burden.

We think of the woman as the one who finds forgiveness, but what if those stones dropped because the crowd realized that if this woman could be forgiven, they could too?  What if they no longer felt the need to hurt someone else to soothe their own feelings of guilt?

Imagine the sound of all those stones dropping to the ground.

Thud! My own infidelity is forgiven. Thud! My anger at my brother is forgiven. Thud! My thieving ways are forgiven.

Thud! … Thud! … Thud! Thud! Thud! like the slow, building thunder of a cleansing storm.

The prophet Isaiah describes a vision in which a seraph (a type of angel) places a live coal on his lips. The seraph tells him: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” The phrase “live coal” might be better translated as “glowing stone.” By trusting God to deliver him through the pain, Isaiah found forgiveness. We must find the courage to name and face the glowing stone of our own sin before we can ask forgiveness, but afterward we can drop it to cool in the dirt. When we no longer burn, we no longer desire to burn others.

Comfort: If you ask and repent, you are forgiven.

Challenge: When you are angry with someone’s mistakes or transgressions, ask yourself what that says about you.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the abundant forgiveness of your love. Amen.

Discussion: What flaw in yourself most irritates you when you see it in others?

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Seventy-Seven Times


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Numbers 13:1-3, 21-30, Romans 2:25-3:8, Matthew 18:21-35

A slave owed his king an unpayable sum. The king decided to sell the slave’s family to collect the debt, but the slave begged for mercy. The king felt pity, released him, and forgave the debt. As the slave walked away, he met a second slave owing him a hundredth of what the king had forgiven. He demanded payment, and when it wasn’t forthcoming he had the second slave jailed. When the king learned this, he revoked his mercy and had the first slave tortured until he paid.

This parable was how Jesus answered Peter’s question: “how often should I forgive?” The story tells us whatever debt we feel someone owes us, God has already forgiven us a debt a hundred (or more!) times greater.

“Tough love” gets tossed around quite a bit. We seem to be firm believers in the power of consequences. It may be fine for parents fostering  the values of children, or managers coaching employees, but the further removed we are from someone personally, the less applicable it becomes. How easy it is to withhold mercy under the pretense of not enabling someone.

By the time we meet most people, life has had its way with them. They behave in ways they have learned best help them physically and emotionally survive. It’s arrogant to assume we would fare better under similar circumstances, and more arrogant to think our petty disciplines will change them.

Should we hand cash to gambling addicts? No. Should we allow co-workers to abuse us? Nope. But when someone is hungry or hurting, we should transcend our grievances to feed and care for them. We can’t fix people – they need to initiate that themselves – but we are called to show mercy to the broken, for we ourselves are broken and beneficiaries of the mercy of God.

Jesus didn’t instruct us to parent everyone. He did instruct us to forgive and love. A crust of bread offered to a starving thief doesn’t condone thievery; it says we trust in something greater we hope to share. Whether he hears that is not up to us.

Comfort: You aren’t responsible for parenting the world.

Challenge: When you feel like someone needs to suffer consequences, ask yourself why.

Prayer: Merciful God, guide me as I seek the balance between mercy and justice.

Discussion: Mercy is a personal matter, but it can seem at odds with civil justice. Have you struggled with this tension? Or do you disagree with the premise?

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Why Thee?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Numbers 3:1-13, Galatians 6:11-18, Matthew 17:1-13
Evening Psalms 125; 90

Psalm 90 – the only psalm attributed to Moses – is written from the perspective of someone trying to make sense of it all at the end of a long life. The psalmist doesn’t sugar coat life’s difficulties. He prays the good days might at least outnumber the bad, and acknowledges that the lucky get 80 years of toil and trouble. Yet he prays for God’s work and its meaning to be manifest in the community.

The wise do not wait until the end of their lives to contemplate the meaning of work and suffering, nor do they wait until suffering is upon them. It’s tempting to keep the suffering of others at a certain emotional distance because identifying with it too closely forces us to admit it could happen to us. Distance feels safe, but leaves us ill prepared when God does not exempt us from disease, infidelity, loss, or other tragedy. Suddenly what we saw as part of God’s plan for another person becomes a crisis of faith in our own lives.

If we spend time now asking “Why them?” and “How would you have me respond?” we are less likely to be spiritually devastated when it’s inevitably time to ask “Why me?”

The psalmist doesn’t offer concrete answers to his questions, but the context gives us some clues about where those answers may lie. The questions are universal, and he asks them not about anyone in particular, but about the community. The work is not the work of any one person, but of the community. The meaning of the work transcends any single life or generation. Despite all Moses did to lead the Israelites, he never set foot in the promised land. Any satisfaction Moses gained from his efforts came from the knowledge he had played his role in the greater plan.

When it’s our turn to suffer – and we’ll all have our turn – the question “Why me?” overwhelms us if we can’t see ourselves as but one part of the whole of creation. If we’ve lived a self-centered life divorced from the story of the community, meaning will be difficult to find. Like words chosen by a skillful poet, each of us is complete, important, and beloved by God, but part of a greater work.

Comfort: You are an important piece of your community, supported by and supporting all the other pieces.

Challenge: See above.

Prayer: Loving God, grant me the patience and wisdom to encounter suffering with a heart of mercy and solidarity. Amen.

Discussion: What types of suffering do you identify with? What types do you find difficult to deal with?

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Overcoming the Limits of Empathy


Bumper Sticker Wisdom

A few days ago while sitting in traffic I saw a bumper sticker that gave me pause. It read: “There’s only one race: the human race.” On most days I probably would have read it and nodded in agreement with its message of solidarity, but my audiobook had just ended and I was alone with my thoughts.

The basic sentiment was true enough, but does its oversimplification contribute anything substantial to our social discourse? More than once when I’ve engaged in conversations about racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism or other systemic ills, some well-meaning soul or other has offered up a comment like: “We’ve all been picked on or bullied for our looks, or intelligence, or weight, or something. We need to acknowledge everyone’s pain and love each other for who we are.” And again, on the surface that is true enough, but it’s a conversation-stopper. Specific forms of discrimination have specific causes, specific effects, and specific solutions. Not every unkind word or instance of bullying has its roots in systematic oppression; sometimes people, individually and in groups, are just mean. An inability or unwillingness to see the difference is not enlightenment, it’s self-indulgence.

Woke or dreaming?

Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t see race?” It’s almost always intended to be supportive of racial equality (though most of the time I cynically suspect it’s begging the rest of us to notice how woke the speaker is), but in practice it erases the experiences of people of other races. You or I may claim not to see someone’s race, but that person doesn’t have the convenience of forgetting about it; they have to live with the 24/7 reality of all the people who do see their race and treat them differently because of it. Truly seeing someone means acknowledging hardships they experience but we don’t, not pretending we’ve all had the same hardships and opportunities simply dressed up in different clothes.

Another example of erasing someone’s experience is woven throughout some men’s reaction to the #metoo movement. Right away we saw responses like “not all men” or “men are sexually assaulted too.” Both true, and neither is helpful to the situation being addressed. The first dismisses women’s experiences in favor of comforting men who can’t separate their defensiveness from the actual problem, and the second derails the conversation away from behavior that has become largely normalized and tolerated by equating it with behavior that for the most part is already unacceptable.

The Worst Offense is a Bad Defense

In a culture where we are encouraged to empathize with others, we need to recognize the boundary between empathizing with someone’s story … and trying to make it our own story. When someone tells us their story, we don’t need to figure out how to relate to it, we need to listen. By all means develop a strong practice of empathy – but also recognize its limits.

As uncomfortable as we might be with discrimination, when someone tells us it has happened to them, let’s suppress any initial instinct to discredit that claim (“oh that happens to white people too” or “maybe you’re being overly sensitive”). Of course we can and should think critically about the situation and information, but here’s an example where empathy applies: how do you feel when someone tries to tell you your interpretation of your lived experience is wrong? So how should people feel when you do it to them? Other people understand their own experiences as well as you and I understand ours, so let’s stop trying to tell them (and ourselves) otherwise.

We don’t necessarily launch these reactions from a negative place. Perhaps our intention is to be impartial. Or maybe our intention is to learn. Or to be an ally. Or something else that seems positive to us. The hard truth is, in interpersonal relationships, especially those entangled in the realities of discrimination, intentions might not matter. We feel like they should, but if the practical result of our reaction is that someone feels further alienated and tells us so, does it cause us any harm to consider how we might be wrong? If a conversation that starts with someone’s experience of discrimination ends in a discussion of our hurt feelings about their reaction – that is, if we need comfort because someone else has spoken about being oppressed – the empathy train has gone off the rails. And we have to own that.

The Bigger Story

Not every story has to be about or even relatable to our own story to merit compassion.

I’ve learned this the hard way, because I’ve been guilty of some flavor of pretty much everything I’ve mentioned. The one thing I’m wise enough to know is that no matter how “woke” I think I am now, there’s always more to learn, and that’s done by listening, not by explaining and defending.

As Christians, we are obligated to listen and to be compassionate because every human being is part of Christ’s story. Isn’t that what it means to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet? And isn’t that idea so much bigger and better than our own tiny story?

Let’s find commonality where we can. And where we can’t find commonality, let’s find Christ.

Idol Tales


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, Luke 24:1-12

In Luke’s telling of the story of the first Easter morning, several women who followed Jesus from Galilee – not just the two Marys – visit his tomb to finish preparing his body for burial with spices and perfume. Instead of Christ’s body they find two men dressed in dazzling clothes (presumably angels) who tell them Christ has risen. The women return to the remaining eleven disciples to deliver this astonishing news, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”


Several recent studies have shown the male brain processes male and female voices differently – essentially tuning out the latter. Unfortunately, the preponderance of responses to this study are about how women can help men listen better by altering their voices. Few if any responses (full disclosure: didn’t find one) teach men how to listen better to women; on the contrary, it almost becomes an excuse. How often do we dismiss the firsthand experience of others because they don’t communicate in our preferred manner? In the case of the women disciples, their firsthand experience was dismissed until it was verified by a man (Peter). People with disabilities, transgender people, ethnic minorities, and many other groups outside the “norm” know what it’s like to have their stories ignored or declared lies until someone from the “right” social group corroborates them.

It’s easy to dismiss someone’s story if – like the eleven – your frame of reference is a bunch of people sharing your worldview and hiding away from facts which contradict their assumptions. If we treat someone who begs us to listen as weak or a victim, we may be denying a prophet. When someone has actually been in the trenches perfuming a corpse, deciding which restroom won’t get them beaten up, or navigating a wheelchair through city streets with no cut-ins … we need to listen to the truths they tell, not sweep them aside until we can find a reason to personally relate.

The faces of the poor and oppressed may change over time, but Christ calls to us through them in the same voice across the ages.

Comfort: Listening to people who have different experiences than yours helps you to better understand the diversity of God’s creation.

Challenge: Learn about the struggles of people who suffer from hidden disabilities.

Prayer: Grant me, O Lord, ears to hear and eyes to see the stories of your children who struggle unnoticed. Let me never ignore the voice of Christ calling for justice. Amen.

Discussion: Whom are you prone to ignore or dismiss because of their social group?

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World Piece


In the cafeteria at work, there’s always a jigsaw puzzle in process on one of the tables. It’s there for anyone who wants to work on it. When one is finally complete it remains on display for a day or two, and then it’s time for the next.

I know – as a metaphor, the jigsaw puzzle has been played out. “We all have a unique role, life is a team effort, every piece is necessary, blah blah blah.”

What struck me recently wasn’t the metaphor of the puzzle itself, but of how we approach putting it together. Specifically, I was pulling together some pieces that looked like they would complete a tiger (they always seem to be “nature” puzzles with animals socializing in very unnatural harmony) when a co-worker commented, “We’re still working the edge pieces.”

That’s the most common approach, isn’t it? Finding the edge pieces, defining the shape of the thing. We like knowing the boundaries and limits in which we are expected to operate.

I believe that the human condition involves life breaking us into pieces and us putting them back together. Of course the number, shape, and size of the pieces vary by each person’s life experience. Most of us start reassembling ourselves by focusing on our borders – the exterior that assures people we know what shape we’re supposed to be. Doing so comforts us and comforts others. Maybe it comforts us in large part because it comforts others and reduces tension between us.

But not everyone is able to start with the borders.

Sometimes our box has been torn open so recklessly that pieces have been flung all over the place and we have to start with what we can find; years can be wasted burrowing under the couch cushions and clawing behind the dresser thinking we have to have all the pieces before we can start assembling any of them.

And sometimes there’s a moment of recognition and clarity – a chance to tame those tiger bits and reduce the chaos – that’s too good an opportunity to resist. Somebody is going to urge us to finish the border first (or even start working on it for us) because our progress doesn’t unfold like they want it to.  Yes it might be more socially acceptable to meet expectations, but better to fix what we can when we can than to ignore the tiger and lose the opportunity for who knows how long.

Of course this all assumes we know something about solving puzzles. Most of us cut our teeth on those four-piece jigsaws for toddlers. You know the kind – large, easy to handle pieces and simple pictures. Probably covered in drool. Our parents gift us with simple challenges so we can practice and work our way up to the hard stuff.

Not everyone is so lucky. Maybe no one ever taught you all the pieces were actually meant to be integrated into something bigger. Maybe they didn’t provide you (or accidentally or deliberately destroyed) a picture of what life should (or could) look like, so the outcome is a mystery. Maybe they were careless and some pieces are torn or damaged or lost or burned … and gone forever. Maybe you drew life’s short straw and your first puzzle is five thousand pieces all the same color with no edges; surely there are some puzzle enthusiasts who would love that, but most of us aren’t up to the challenge.

If we are unfortunate enough to start out with one of those really tough puzzles and no training, it may take a long while of handling those pieces one at a time before realizing they are incomplete parts of a greater whole – a whole we might not be able to begin to envision, let alone start putting a border around. To other people it might look like we’re sifting aimlessly through a pile they’re sure they could easily begin to solve. If they take the time to learn about the challenges of our particular puzzle, will they walk away? Fix it to their own satisfaction while leaving us still bewildered? Or do the hard work of helping us help ourselves?

So start with the edge pieces. Or the tiger. Or just by figuring out that a solution and strategy are possible. And for goodness sake don’t worry about puzzles that aren’t yours – whether to compare or to judge. Because once you get your puzzle together, you’ll discover it’s really just a single piece of an even larger puzzle. Whatever progress we make, there’s more to be made. It’s not only ourselves we’re rebuilding, it’s the entire broken world.

Peace by piece.

Love Equally


Readings: Psalms 122; 145, Amos 7:1-9,  Revelation 1:1-8, Matthew 22:23-33

Mosaic law contained rules about marriage which we consider unusual today. If a man died childless, his brother had to marry his widow. The intent behind this law was to protect the widow from poverty and disgrace as she would have no means of support. In a modern society, where women hold jobs and own property equally with men, this is an outdated and rarely practiced idea.

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect who did not believe in the resurrection as Jesus taught. Fearing his influence on the people, they tried to trip him up to diminish public opinion of him. They thought the following scenario would do the trick.

A man with six brothers died childless. Per the law, his brother married his wife. The second brother also died childless, and she married the third brother, and so on until eventually she had married  all seven brothers. Who, the Sadducees asked, would be her husband in the resurrection?

Jesus told them they were asking the wrong questions, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

That must have been a showstopper. Until very recently most people did not marry for love, but there have been rules about fidelity and ownership for a long time. The concept of women who did not need to rely on men was almost unthinkable. Jesus was saying, “I know the rules, but the current social structures are not the equality God ultimately has in mind for you.” While not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, it sent the message that once the world was made anew, women would be independent.

Today in the western world, the equality shared legally (if not practically) by men and women makes love-based marriage the norm. Viewing others as equals – as fully human beings – makes other types of love possible as well. Empathy requires us to identify with another person, and if we don’t think of them as equal, that empathy is stunted. The church has traditionally promoted the values of faith, hope, and love as described in 1 Corinthians, but the Greek word (agape) for the type of sacrificial “love” intended can just as legitimately be translated as “charity.” English doesn’t really have an equivalent word. Maybe that’s why we struggle with understanding current social structures as anything other than vertical, with the “haves” obliged to show charity to the “have nots.”  When we realize we are no different, giving and receiving charity are no longer sources of obligation or shame, but acts of sharing between children of God as any loving family might perform.

Empathy and equality release us from the slavery of convention into the freedom of love.

Comfort: God loves you equally to kings and paupers, friends and enemies.

Challenge: What groups of people do you have trouble empathizing with? Make an effort to get to know them.

Prayer: The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:9)

Discussion: What prejudices do you struggle with?

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Trickle Up Economics


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 122; 149, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18, Revelation 22:14-21, Matthew 18:21-35

A slave owed his king more than a half a million dollars. Because he could not settle the debt, the king was going to sell off  the man and his family to recover what he could. The slave pleaded for some more time, promising he could come up with the money. The king showed mercy. On his way out of the palace, the slave ran into a second slave who owed him about a hundred dollars. When the second slave pleaded for patience, the first slave had him thrown into prison. The king, angered the first slave couldn’t show mercy in turn, had him tortured until his debt was paid in full.

Swap out talents and denarii for dollars, and this summarizes a parable Jesus told about forgiveness. The message is that we have been given a tremendous amount by God, so we should be able to muster at least a fraction of that forgiveness in kind.

This parable also gets at the heart of an important reason we find forgiveness so difficult: we don’t see ourselves reflected in other people as often as we should, and when we do we are likely to condemn them for the traits we hate in ourselves.

Sadly there is no shortage of “family values” advocates caught up in scandal for engaging in behaviors they declare immoral and campaign to make illegal. There are also plenty of people identifying themselves as progressive who turn out to be closeted misogynists and racists. And for some reason, rather than humbly reach across the aisle to establish a dialogue about how we can love and work through the human condition together, we continue to point at specks and ignore planks … all the while trading in actual morals for a sense of moral superiority.

And if right now anyone is thinking about someone else who needs to hear this, instead of how they themselves might be lacking in empathy and extrapolation, respectfully they are missing the point.

All the time we spend declaring and condemning is time we don’t spend listening and understanding. Maybe we can honestly look at someone and say we wouldn’t commit that particular sin or mistake, but when it comes to what we’ve been forgiven, a dime is as good as a dollar. Jesus didn’t leave the casting of the first stone to “he who hasn’t committed adultery” but “he who is without sin.” He didn’t die for some, but for all.

A lack of forgiveness – which necessitates a willingness to see ourselves reflected in our fellows – is a rejection of the forgiveness we have received. It can be difficult to see humanity in others when we are scared, angry, or ashamed but those are the times we need to try the hardest. The king could have said “it was smart of you to try to collect so you could pay me back” but he valued paying mercy forward more. Ultimately all debts are settled through the Prince of Peace, so let’s be generous with ours.

Additional reading: For more thought’s on today’s passage from Matthew, see Love and Forgiveness and Seventy-Seven Times. For more on empathy and extrapolation, see Invitation: Extrapolation.

Comfort: Forgiveness has more reward than cost.

Challenge: Talk with someone you are having trouble forgiving. If you can’t yet bring yourself to forgive, try to just listen.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, may gratitude for your forgiveness fill my heart until it overflows into the world. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever condemned someone for something you were also guilty of? If so, how do you feel about that now?

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The Journey Home


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 57; 145, Ezra 7:27-28, 8:21-36, Revelation 20:7-15, Matthew 17:1-13

Do we recognize the distinction between technical freedom and equality and practical freedom and equality?

After King Artaxerxes decreed any Jewish people who wished to return to Jerusalem were free to do so – and to take with them an abundance of gold, silver, holy vessels and urns, livestock for offerings, and other supplies – the prophet Ezra led them home. Ezra did not ask for military protection because he’d boldly proclaimed the Lord would protect them from harm.

Over the next four months and nine hundred miles, the Jews did indeed manage to avoid enemies and ambushes and return to the city, where they began to rebuild.

How would we describe that time between the decree and the arrival in Jerusalem? The people were technically free, but they certainly weren’t yet an autonomous nation. They were surrounded by enemies and far from home. Almost certainly a few of them died before reaching the city. The joy of no longer being prisoners must at times have been muted or eclipsed by the dangers of freedom without security.

There’s a significant lag between the time people are legally decreed to be free or equal and the time it becomes a practical reality they can take for granted. The history of the United States is full of slow, jerky progress for many kinds of people. Slavery was outlawed over 150 years ago, but racial inequity persists to this day. Women are legally equal to men, but a long history (and present) of federal court cases are evidence the culture hasn’t caught up with the law. People with disabilities have legal protections, but struggle daily to be seen, heard, and accepted. One of our oldest guaranteed freedoms is freedom of religion, but people of all religions face discrimination to greater or lesser degrees. Undoubtedly you can think of numerous additional examples. That four-month, nine-hundred-mile journey seems short in comparison.

Just because someone has been declared free … doesn’t mean they are home free.

When someone who belongs to a group that has been oppressed or marginalized tells us they aren’t home free yet, instead of dismissing them with “you have equal rights” let’s be willing to listen to what is still wrong. Let’s listen to what enemies lie in wait to ambush them.

Artaxerxes was wise enough to understand he needed to make restitution to restore the possibility of opportunity to the Jews. Just as Ezra did not ask Artaxerxes to rebuild or even protect the Jews in their new freedom, communities still seeking full freedom and equality today only want what has been taken or withheld from them and the opportunity to build themselves up. The least we can do is figure out how to get out of their way.

Comfort: God desires justice for everyone.

Challenge: Make a point of listening to the experiences of people who differ from you, particularly people who have been historically oppressed in ways you have not.

Prayer: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)

Discussion: How diverse is your church? Your employer? Your dinner table?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!