Everything new is old again.


Today’s readings:
Psalms 84; 150, Jeremiah 9:23-24, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 2:18-22

Today’s readings are about a faith-driven revolution in thought and attitude. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of love, justice, and righteousness working in opposition to wisdom, might, and wealth. He said those who boast about wringing success and power from the lives of those who suffer defy God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote about God in Christ working through the foolish, the weak, and the despised to bring low those who “might boast in the presence of God.”

Who are these boasters? People who insist their power and wealth demonstrate how God has chosen them above others. They work to conserve the status quo not because it is just, but because it benefits them. After all, it’s easy to convince oneself the present order is just when examining that order too closely might undermine our comfortable position.

When Jesus reminded the Pharisees we can’t put unshrunk patches on old cloth, or new wine in old wineskins, he was telling them the old ways of doing and being couldn’t survive the new things God would do. The salvation story is not one of preservation; it is an epic of assumptions broken open to let in new truths and people. Salvation has a forward momentum.

So why does Christianity work so hard to stay in the past?

Tension has always existed between Christians who – like the Pharisees – are convinced the faith has nothing new to learn, and those who embrace the momentum. As a result, we have an uneven record of being on the right side of history regarding justice and inclusion. The Bible (or our current understanding of it) is not an excuse for closing our ears and minds to new and challenging things God might have to say and the people who say them.

Every revolution – industrial, political, theological – eventually becomes the calcified establishment and the corrupted empire. We forget that even conservative modern churches have evolved beyond what the earliest Christians would have accepted. The people suffering under the present circumstances are the foolish, weak, and despised whom God will use to bring the mighty low. If we use the past to justify their oppression and exploitation –particularly oppression and exploitation at the hands of the church – we ignore the future God reveals at our own peril.

Comfort: God is working in the world right now.

Challenge: Meditate on whether you cling to ideas because they are right, or because they are comfortable.

Prayer: Loving God, I will listen for your voice. Amen.

Discussion: Where do you find it challenging to balance tradition and justice?

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Questions Beyond Borders

Chain Link Border Fence

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post that started about the Handmaid’s Tale and ended up a reaction to the Attorney General using Romans 13 to justify the zero-tolerance policy implemented on our southern border, and by extension its effective separation of children from their parents. I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog (read into that what you will), but I did get a private Facebook message from someone.

This person – a childhood neighbor, fellow Christian, lover of beauty and creativity, and in my humble estimation an all-around good and generous egg – asked my thoughts on a couple questions.

  • What do think would happen if hundreds of thousands of Americans decided to enter some other country without “papers” (for lack of a better word)?
  • What if a child born in the United States (parents from another country) decided to leave the USA and take up residence in the Country of his or her parents?

These questions are sincere and important and immediately sent my mind spinning in a dozen directions. I want to answer (and expound on) them sincerely and respectfully. I am grateful to her for thoughtful engagement.


The author of The Handmaid’s Tale – the source material for the television series which was the genesis of my original sidetracked post – actually does tackle the idea of a sudden onslaught of refugees from the (former) United States into Canada. The Canadians accept anyone who can make it across the border. The hope of these refugees is to eventually to reclaim and resettle to their homes, but there is no indication that will be soon. However the question was what do I think would happen. Try as I might I can’t come to a more solid answer than … it depends.

But on what?

First, it depends on the destination country.

Different nations have different philosophies and policies around immigration, refugees, and asylum. The legal distinction among those classes is important. Germany, for instance, doesn’t admit just anyone outside the European Union as a migrant for economic or personal reasons, but it has been famously accepting millions of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East. Italy, on the other hand, has been less willing to accept such refugees. Both countries are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention – as is the United States, but only per amendments as of the 1967 Protocol which actually expands the definition of refugee – but all interpret their corresponding responsibilities differently.

Second, it would depend on the reason.

The United States is a wealthy nation offering more economic and personal security than most countries typically known for displaced refugees. Were that to change (a la The Handmaid’s Tale) due to natural disaster, civil war, economic collapse, or other circumstances, and if such changes created groups of people who were endangered with no recourse through the national government, U.S. refugees would probably be received as sympathetically as other refugees. But – and this is a big but – the last couple centuries of history of the U.S. as an extension of Western European development is that of the colonizer far more than of the oppressed. Native Americans brought to the brink of extinction, enslaved African Americans, and Japanese Americans interned during World War II would have certainly qualified as refugees from the United States under the definition of the Refugee Convention, but when we picture the possibility of “Americans” approaching foreign borders is that really who we’re thinking of? Under present circumstances, an approaching horde of Americans of Western European descent seems more likely to be seizing than fleeing. God forbid our fortune changes, but unless it does, people leaving the United States in droves is a far different scenario than people fleeing countries which have descended into violent narco-states ruled by murderous gangs.

Third, and this may seem like part of the first but I think it’s important enough to warrant its own consideration – what has been the extralegal, “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” history between the United States and the country in question?

Has it recently changed? For decades the U.S. has largely looked the other way when migrants from Mexico and other nations provided cheap labor to shore up industries like construction, hospitality and agriculture because no one wants to pay fifteen dollars per pound for apples picked at the legal minimum wage. As immigration authorities clamp down on such labor, many farmers are struggling to deal with labor shortages. This relationship has been symbiotic for many years. It hasn’t changed because of economics or danger, but because of politics. It seems to me the concern about “the illegals” has grown proportionately not with the number of Mexicans immigrating to the U.S. (the net is actually negative), but with the so-called “browning of America” – the increasingly large portion of legal, permanent (and native) Latinx residents as compared to whites.

It’d be disingenuous not to note the number of non-Mexican Latinx immigrants is increasing, but a large portion of those are seeking refugee or asylee status. If United States residents started migrating in large numbers to a country where we had been welcomed under the table for years and that country experienced an economic downturn, I expect we’d be far less welcome than we were when the country needed us to continue its flow of cheap products. Even if we weren’t taking the jobs people wanted, we’d be scapegoats. Xenophobia is ever only waiting for the right conditions to reveal itself. Populist movements in the U.S. and Europe are largely about the fear of foreigners changing the cultural and literal complexion of a nation.


I don’t necessarily have to speculate about answers to the second question. There are at least a dozen countries that will grant you citizenship if you can prove your parents (and in some cases grandparents) were born as citizens of that country. Other nations would treat you as they treated anyone else who wanted to migrate.

To me, the more interesting part of the question is how we think of borders.

Particularly the borders of the United States. When Europeans began settling North America, the continent was already populated with people and their established territories. Borders didn’t seem to matter much to us as we acquired land through war and genocide. When we annexed Texas and invaded Mexico to expand into territory they would not willingly cede to us, we weren’t too worried about the sovereignty of borders. Until 1882 – nearly a century after the establishment of the US Constitution – there were no immigration laws. There were requirements for citizenship and naturalization, but when we were expanding westward and needed labor, whether people crossed our borders didn’t seem to matter much to us. The first U.S. immigration law – the Chinese Exclusion Act – was not because we wanted the limit the total number of immigrants, but because of the fear of the “Yellow Peril” – that is, Chinese people overwhelming our European heritage – as if somehow Europeans were more deserving of the land we’d stolen than were the Chinese. Other groups were excluded for various reasons, including health, literacy, and anarchist political activity. But we weren’t so worried about borders: we were worried about non-white people.

It wasn’t until 1921 – 134 years after the establishment of the nation – that we began instituting immigration quotas which roughly resembled the ethnic composition of the country at the time. (As an aside, that means anyone claiming their family immigrated “legally” before that time is making a moot point; everyone but Asians were allowed in through established ports of entry).

So what changed during those years?

There are many reasons for secure borders, but those didn’t change. What did change was that we outgrew the sense that we were in a state of constant expansion and unlimited resources. Stretched from coast to coast, bound on the North and South, we realized our limits of geography and resources and decided we didn’t want to share them with just anybody who showed up on the continent.

We basically shut down immigration during the Great Depression, and actually coerced hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens to repatriate to Mexico. Not the Irish or Germans or English mind you – only the people who were native and who’s ancestors were here before the Europeans and just happened to involuntarily end up on our side of the border after the Mexican-American war.

People wanting to come to America were no longer seen as fellow pioneers in the Great American Experiment, but as threats. The quality of people outside our borders had not changed, but our jealousy of our resources had. Outside a slight concession to refugee resettlement in the 1980s, the focus of our immigration policy has been on maintaining employment and ethnic mix.

Now that we’ve got ours, borders matter to us.

Of course the economy is of national concern, but we need immigrants to maintain the economy. That makes the deciding factor ethnicity. There are plenty of successful people from countries which are mostly non-white, but in my experience proponents of “merit-based” systems rarely use them as examples, and are instead quick to point to mostly wealthy white countries which people have little desire to leave anyway. Our quotas and other immigration policies make implicit judgments about worthiness based on where people are from. Our talk of “merit-based” immigration is also disingenuous to the American ideal: no longer are we here for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free… but come on in if you’ve already made it big!

To me that doesn’t seem very “all men are created equal.”
It doesn’t seem very Christian.
It doesn’t seem very American Dream.

How many of us are here because our ancestors fled something?
How many wouldn’t make the cut today under the same circumstances?
How many railed against the discrimination and persecution they experienced here?
How are we more deserving of this stolen land than people facing the same situations?


Thinking about immigration as a matter of justice requires thinking about a much larger story than what is legal or illegal, convenient or inconvenient, or profitable or not profitable at this moment in history. Before I get to what I think is the big question behind the original two questions, I want to make a few things clear:

  • I don’t believe in lawless, open borders; I don’t personally know anyone who does.
  • I do believe we need to recognize the basic human dignity of everyone – not just citizens.
  • I don’t have a problem with prosecuting and deporting criminals.
  • I do have a problem with indefinitely separating and/or detaining children and families.

That last point shifted the focus of my prior blog post, which in turn raised the questions addressed in this one. My post was about exploiting scripture to defend the indefensible, and how that is neither conservative nor liberal but dangerously fundamentalist. I specifically didn’t advocate any policy, yet it raised policy-related questions for at least one reader. And the connecting thread between these questions was a deeper question…

What would other countries do?

My short answer to this question behind the questions is: I don’t think it matters.

I want us as a nation to do what is right and merciful, regardless of whether other nations would reciprocate. I’m not going to pretend I personally have the prescription for what is right, but it’s certainly something better than what we have now. As a Christian – as a human being – I can’t look at something as artificial and shifting and arbitrary and historically cruel as a border to restrict my compassion. I’m not advocating for some liberal theocracy (that would be hypocritical), but I think if Christianity does influence American politics it should be through values like mercy and sacrifice.

Make no mistake, I love my country. Heck, it allows me the freedom to write critiques of it, which in this world is no small thing!  But loving something doesn’t mean excusing everything it’s done or is doing. That’s flag-waving tribalism, which leads to stagnation, collapse, and – at its worst – genocide. We need to be vigilant about avoiding tribalism, about valuing or devaluing others based on their ethnicity, and about dehumanizing notions à la Manifest Destiny.

We may not have any more opportunities for geographic expansion, but we can still be pioneers of justice and dignity, even when it requires sacrifice. At its heart, that will be what keeps us a nation worth seeking.

Note: Regarding the history of U.S. immigration law, I drew heavily from this Wikipedia article. Yeah it’s Wiki, but they’re all sourced.

The Promise of History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Numbers 20:1-13, Romans 5:12-21, Matthew 20:29-34

Despite leading the Israelites through the desert for forty years, Moses was forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. Why? At Meribah the people had quarreled with Moses because they lacked sufficient food and water. The Lord had commanded Moses to speak to a rock, and waters would gush forth. Once before God had produced waters from this rock and had instructed Moses to strike it. This time, instead of speaking, Moses struck the rock with his staff twice, and seemingly took credit for the miracle.

Some people believe this direct disobedience caused God’s rebuke, though all things considered this seems like a pretty minor infraction. God is entitled to do whatever He wants, but He is not petty. Thirty-eight years earlier the Israelites had balked at God’s orders to enter the Promised Land, and instead sent spies ahead to make sure it was worth the effort. In His anger God decreed none of the current generation – including Moses – would enter the Promised Land. Their children would see it after their deaths.

Our sense of history can be short. When we experience a painful event – a revolution, a shooting, a divorce, a riot – we tend to look to recent circumstances to explain it. We find comfort in assigning blame to the easiest – and usually closest – targets, but we frequently do so hastily, lazily, and mistakenly. The roots of our troubles often run deep in time: generational poverty, unredressed discrimination, legacies of domestic abuse, complicated political histories, etc. Understanding the world is difficult work, but willful ignorance leads to yet more difficulty. Even if we can’t solve these problems in our lifetimes, we should reject quick-fixes and easy answers and provide thoughtful, faithful leadership to deliver the next generation into the Promised Land.

Comfort: The world is a complicated place. You don’t have to form quick opinions about it.

Challenge: Few answers are both easy and correct. Don’t settle.

Prayer: Eternal God, grant me wisdom and patience to be a steady, healing presence in a sometimes thoughtless, broken world. Amen.

Discussion: What opinions about the world have you had to revise based on more evidence or better understanding of history?

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God of History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Exodus 13:3-10, 1 Corinthians 15:41-50, Matthew 28:16-20

God visited ten plagues upon Egypt before Pharaoh freed the Hebrews. Scholars estimate these plagues unfolded over a period anywhere from a month to a year, but even a week of boils, locusts, and other disasters must have felt unending. The last and worst one – the death of the firstborn of Egypt – was so terrible that God assured Moses Pharaoh would finally relent. It would be so effective the people would need to be ready on a moment’s notice, without even enough time to let bread rise. The Lord commanded them to prepare unleavened (yeast-free) dough, and they took it with them when Pharaoh ordered them to depart. Baked in the wilderness, this unleavened bread was literally their first taste of freedom in four centuries.

In Exodus, the Lord gives explicit and emphatic commandments about observing Passover properly. During the Passover Seder meal, Jews recount the story of their flight from Egypt. Maintaining such an observance has helped them preserve their identity across thousands of years. For all of us, remembering where we come from – both the good and bad parts – makes us wiser about where we are headed.

A workplace phenomenon called “drift” – which occurs when someone becomes overly comfortable with a duty and cuts corners – causes many avoidable errors. Many people who reach weight-loss goals find the pounds creeping back on because success has made them lax in their diet or exercise regimens. Western Christians leading comfortable lives can easily forget the Gospel should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When we forget the past, we fail to understand the meaning of the present. Memories – personal, family, and cultural – need to be preserved lest we begin to think we are entirely self-made.

Edmund Burke said: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Living as if our present situation was inevitable will lead us to take it for granted. There’s no Passover without bondage in Egypt. We can’t be a resurrection people without a crucifixion. Let’s remember the bitter taste of our failures to stay on course, and our sweet successes to keep moving forward.

Comfort: Our pasts – overcoming the bad, benefiting from the good – inform who we are today. Your story is important.

Challenge: Read about the meaning of the Passover Seder.

Prayer: God of History, thank you for the lessons of our spiritual ancestors. May my words and deeds honor those who have gone before, especially Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What important parts of history do you think get neglected?

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The Rest of the Story


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Exodus 12:28-39, 1 Corinthians 15:12-28, Mark 16:9-20

The phrase “history is written by the victors” is usually attributed to Winston Churchill or Walter Benjamin. The implication is that each culture or civilization gaining prominence rewrites history as propaganda flattering itself. Some facts may be inconvenient or unavoidable, but over time the need to define ourselves as the good guys spins them; consider recent proposed textbook revisions redefining slaves as “immigrants” and the slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade,” or Canadian First Nations peoples mutually agreeing to “make room” for European settlers.

Could this idea influence our reading of the Passover story in Exodus?

Moses had been trying to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave captivity to worship in the wilderness. Every time Pharaoh refused to free them – the text says God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” – God sent another plague upon Egypt. These escalated in severity until finally, in the dead of night, God slew all the firstborn of Egypt. Through Moses God warned the Hebrews to mark their doorways with blood, so their houses were passed over for death. As grief devastated Egypt, Pharaoh finally relented.

Exodus was written by the Hebrew people for the Hebrew people. Of course they are its heroes … but God also created the Egyptians. They were estranged from Him and worshipped other Gods, but surely He took no joy in slaughtering His children. Our Christian story traces its roots through the history of the Hebrew people, so we celebrate this victory, but can we imagine the horror of this story from the perspective of an Egyptian peasant family losing their only son?

In numerous biblical passages, God forbade the Jews to return to Egypt. Yet when the infant Jesus was in danger of being killed by Herod, God instructed Joseph to flee to Egypt, where he and his family stayed for years. Moabites, Uzzites, and Samaritans were similarly vilified, but God raised heroes from them and Christ spoke freely with them. When we wrestle to reconcile texts like the Passover narrative to God’s loving nature (and we should), we should also be wrestling with our own attitudes about personal, cultural, and historical enemies. People on the losing side of history have stories too.

Comfort: It’s OK to think critically and ask questions of difficult Biblical material. God will always be able to handle your questions and doubts.

Challenge: Do some research into history as relayed by people who didn’t fare so well.

Prayer: God of the past, present, and future, guide me so my contributions to the story of humankind are just and merciful. Amen.

Discussion: What parts of your national history are subject to “whitewashing?”

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Rewriting History


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Joel 3:1-2, 9-17, 1 Peter 1:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12

You’ve probably heard the phrase “History is written by the victors.” It means the winners of a conflict are generally the ones who get to define history by putting their spin on it. The winning side remembers and records its heroism and bravery, but downplays or outright ignores its own moral failings and shortcomings. History books may be biased, but history itself doesn’t change – and there are often people who remember what the winners would rather forget.

Evolving attitudes towards Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are relatively recent examples of how the parts of history we celebrate never quite bury the parts we’d rather forget. Indigenous peoples of the Americas have been working for years to raise awareness about the horrible price they paid for the European colonial dream. Every culture which subdues another portrays itself in a favorable light; nobody wants to be the villain of their own story.

This type of revisionism is not limited to military history. Without in-depth study, the history of the church can also be murky to us, and what we consider fundamental may be a more recent development than we’d like to admit. For example, when the Pharisees challenged Jesus on the legitimacy of divorce, Jesus responded with a more conservative answer than they expected, saying anyone who divorced and remarried committed adultery. When they argued Moses himself set up the conditions for divorce, he said, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” In this case divorce was the “winner” and people seemed to have conveniently forgotten it was not always so.

The church of today is very different than the church of a thousand years ago, which was very different from the church a thousand years before that. Even the church’s more fundamentalist branches, which style themselves as a return to the basics of Biblical faith and teaching, are a relatively modern phenomenon which approaches scripture and church community very differently than did earlier Christians. As the current “winners” of history, we are compelled to justify our present by reinterpreting the past. The danger in this is feeling the need to deny the truth when it returns to haunt us.

As important as tradition and doctrine are to understanding our faith, it’s just as important to understand the reasons behind them. Sometimes, like the Pharisees’ take on divorce, they are justifications for our failures. Not every change to how we understand faith and scripture – not every tradition we reevaluate – is a step away from “authentic” Christianity. Some of them may be a step back toward it. Those who define the church today are history’s winners. If the first really would be last, it might be a good idea to listen to the buried and forgotten truths we need to hear from the losers.

Comfort: Truth is a promise, not a threat.

Challenge: Do some research on how the Bible came to be.

Prayer: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.  (Psalm 62:1-2)

Discussion: Have you ever learned something you thought you knew about history wasn’t correct?

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Past Tension


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Ezra 3:1-13, 1 Corinthians 16:10-24, Matthew 12:22-32

After the Persians conquered Babylon, King Cyrus began to release the Jewish people from exile and captivity to return to their homes. The Book of Ezra tells the story of how they began to rebuild the home they had lost, including the temple. Cyrus had also returned many of the holy items from the original temple, so this second temple was a mix of the new and the old. This new temple elicited a mixed reaction from the people:

[T]he people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house […] so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.

Why did the older people weep? Some scholars believe it was because the new temple could never match the remembered glory of Solomon’s original temple. But perhaps it’s more complicated than that; the taste of nostalgia is bittersweet. These older people not only mourned what they had lost, but mourned what never was. The sight of a more humble foundation for the house of the Lord was a reminder of the unfaithfulness and corruption that made God willing to let them be taken into exile in the first place. The home they rebuilt needed to be one of substantially different character from the one they had left, no matter how fondly they remembered it.

How do we remember the past? Is it all “the good old days?” Or is it really just a longing for a time of innocence before we knew what we know now? Just as the widows and orphans who’d been cast off instead of cared for probably didn’t think of Jerusalem’s pre-exile days as especially good, many women, people of color, disabled people, and others may not be so enamored of a past which marginalized them. We are increasingly aware of violence, but violence in the U.S. and most of the world has been trending downward for years. People on the whole are healthier and live longer.

So what is it we hope to recapture?

Perhaps what we can do with feelings of nostalgia is try to recreate the world, or at least our tiny corner of it, with the beloved values we think we remember. Neighbors caring for one another – but with an expanded definition of “neighbor.” Feelings of safety – but with a better understanding of the violence that happens outside our particular social circle. A sense of family – but with the combination of joy and weeping it really is instead of the idealized version that never existed.

Every one of us in exile from the past. It’s how we rebuild the future that matters.

Comfort: Whatever your past, Christ ushers you into a better future.

Challenge: Talk with you family and friends to see if they remember your shared history the same way you do.

Prayer: Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. (Psalm 6:4)

Discussion: What are you nostalgic for? What are you glad is part of the past?

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Collateral Mercy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, 1 Kings 18:1-19, Philippians 2:12-30, Matthew 2:13-23

Many action and suspense movies have something in common which, when you think about it, is pretty disturbing. As they follow the hero or heroine from one dangerous situation to the next – be it natural disaster, shootout, or car chase – the body count of disposable and background characters climbs. As long as our main character (and perhaps a love interest rendered increasingly inappropriate by the mounting death toll) survives to the end, we’re meant to feel good has triumphed. Granted these movies are fictional, but doesn’t entertainment reflect our cultural priorities?

Of course this trope was well established long ago. When God inflicts three years of drought and famine on the land to punish King Ahab, the story focuses on the prophet Elijah and the one widow who survives to shelter him while countless unnamed people (who neither married Jezebel nor worshipped foreign idols) die miserably. And after the magi decided not to tell Herod where the infant Jesus was, “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” But Joseph has a dream to flee with his family to Egypt, so Jesus survives so … that ended well?

For the most part history remembers generals and not foot soldiers; sole survivors and not the unfortunate and numerous departed. You and I are probably going to die uncredited characters from central casting.

But the adult Jesus – the Jesus who ate with the drunks, the sinners, and the disreputable – had some good news for us extras: God loves us just as much as the featured players. Heck, he says it’s the least of us who will be first in the kingdom. The collateral damage and slaughtered innocents? God suffers along with every one of them. Does that make their suffering more fair? Not by human standards at least. But it does make it remarkable. Christ reveals (or possibly just reminds us of) a God whose mercy and compassion operate on both the largest and smallest of scales.

Whether we shape the fate of nations or barely survive day-to-day, God is with us.

Comfort: You and your suffering are not insignificant to God. 

Challenge: In entertainment and news, pay attention to who is affected but neglected.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for loving the least of us as much as the greatest of us. Amen. 

Discussion: Most of the time do you feel like the hero/ine of your own story, or a player in someone else’s?

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Who Built That?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Deuteronomy 6:1-15, Hebrews 1:1-14, John 1:1-18

Shortly before the Israelites ended their forty years of wandering in the desert, Moses spoke to them about how they were to live in the promised land. These sermons, which make up most of the book of Deuteronomy, were good news for the Israelites, but not for the Canaanites – who were already living in the promised land of Cana. Moses warned the people of Israel:

“When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors […] — a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant — […] take care that you do not forget the LORD.”

How easy it is to believe we have received all the good things in our lives through our own merit, and to forget how much of it is due to the people who came before us. These people are not only direct ancestors, but those people who shaped our lives and societies through victories – and sometimes more poignantly through losses. Financial inheritance, good genes, a strong work ethic, economies stable enough to support business, roads, an education, natural resources beyond measure, civil rights: all these things which contribute to our success and survival were provided by others who either gave them or had them taken away. No matter how hard we’ve worked for what we have, we didn’t do it alone.

Our sense of gratitude is tied to our sense of history. Each person’s life is built on the bones of those who voluntarily and involuntarily contributed to it. Our sense of justice is also tied to our willingness to remember history. All societies, past and present, are a mix of what we’ve built, what we’ve been given, and what we’ve taken. When the Israelites remembered how God had delivered them to their homes, they also had to remember the people of Cana. When we give thanks for what we have, let’s also remember where it came from.

Comfort: We are all part of an ongoing story.

Challenge: Give thanks for the people who have helped you become what you are.

Prayer: God of history, help us to understand and honor the past so we may practice reverence in the present. Amen.

Discussion: Some people complain about being made to feel “guilty” about privilege. Guilt is inwardly focused and rarely constructive. What is a better attitude toward our own privilege?

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