Love Tough


Today’s readings:
Psalms 96; 148, Daniel 12:1-4, 13, Acts 4:1-12, John 16:1-15

Kindness is revolutionary, especially when it seems “undeserved.” Respond with kindness to someone who has wronged you, and people will think you are foolish, saintly, or up to something. Does it seem like we seek more excuses for unkindness than for reasons to be kind?

When Peter and John followed in Christ’s footsteps and (through God) healed a lame man, this kindness helped get them arrested.  The religious leaders feared Roman authorities might consider the enthusiastic response of the crowd to be rebellious and so threaten the relative autonomy of the occupied Jews. Peter, understanding the motivation of the religious leaders’ response, asked whether “we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed” – practically daring them to voice their opposition to mercy. People were excited over the miracle, but they were also excited over what it said about mercy.

In the United States, more than 70 cities have outlawed giving food to homeless people in public. In these cities you can hand a sandwich to your well-fed friend, but not to a hungry stranger. These laws are controversial and opposed by charities and churches who try to meet the needy where they are instead of where we’d prefer they be. Cities present various defenses for these laws, from food safety to not enabling the cycle of homelessness. Could it be we buy into these reasons because such laws help drive homeless people out of public spaces and out of sight to where we can forget they exist?

The problem of homelessness is not the homeless. It is a broken society, and that is more than we can comfortably wrap our brains around.

We find excuses to withhold kindness to the “undeserving” and give them names like “enablement” and “tough love” and “rule of law” because actual Christ-like kindness costs us, and we don’t want to admit how much kindness we have left undone. That line between charitable love and enablement is not a clearly drawn one. God has offered us all the unearned (and unearnable) kindness of forgiveness, yet even our churches can teach us to withhold it.

Jesus told the disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”

Our capacity for kindness terrifies authorities who would rather intimidate or pacify us.

Be revolutionary.

Comfort: Kindness is a sign of strength.

Challenge: Read this insightful article by a man who was homeless and addicted and broke the cycle.

Prayer: God of mercy, give me the courage to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: Do you ever make excuses to be unkind?

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  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!

Invitation: The Bow Lady

Every December, for about the last ten years, some friends and I spend a Saturday volunteering at a Christmas “store” run by a local church for families in need. Parents, grandparents, and guardians can select gifts for children and pick up a Christmas dinner while children do crafts and pick out gifts in another part of the building. Most volunteers are either wrappers or personal shoppers guiding the adults. Since I’m not comfortable starting conversations with strangers, and because I worked in a luggage and gift shop for years, I try to stick to the wrapping.
The first year there, I met The Bow Lady.

She was wrapping at the same table I was, but most of her efforts were concentrated on selecting exactly the right bow to go with the paper. Now every hour each table had to wrap dozens of presents that came in all shapes and sizes – from decks of cards to bicycles. The donated gift wrap was a mishmash of colors, styles, and quality and the bows tended not to stick very securely, if at all. Bows were not most volunteer’s highest priority. Sometimes, knowing they were going to fall off anyway, we just tossed a bunch into the bag to apply at home.

But The Bow Lady wanted exactly the right bow on every gift. Not just the ones she was wrapping, but on mine and everyone else’s as well. At one point she removed the bow from a gift I had just wrapped, and replaced it with one she thought looked better.

“Please don’t do that,” I said, feeling miffed.

She didn’t, but she kept making suggestions and nudging bows toward us before moving on to another table.

Over the years, The Bow Lady has remained consistent in her quest for the optimal bow for every gift. She never seems to stay at any table for too long. She doesn’t seem attached to any of the other little groups from the many churches and organizations who volunteer. I suspect she’s associated with the home congregation, but I’m not sure.

All I know is, she’s there every year insisting you could be better about your bow choices.

She hasn’t changed. But this year – about nine years too late – I have.

It occurred to me, I am somebody’s Bow Lady. I undoubtedly have habits and behaviors of which I am unaware that have irked people for years. Sadly there are also behaviors of which I am perfectly aware that seem baked into my fruitcake; they are unappealing, but I am as yet powerless to change them. Those are the ones causing that little bit of shame; a sense of not belonging. I don’t know whether The Bow Lady is aware of how her behaviors can annoy others, but it can’t be easy not having a table to call home.

All I know how to do is show up and be me, and The Bow Lady knows how to show up and be herself. And she has shown up. Faithfully. For ten years. It took me this long to realize the ministry of the Christmas store – like every ministry really – is about more than its stated mission. We can’t compartmentalize how we show Christ’s love to others. The Bow Lady is not an obstacle or quirk to performing the ministry, because every ministry falls under The Ministry. I need to love her better.

And please don’t get the idea I think it’s only me ministering to her. She has, for ten years, patiently asked me to be more thoughtful about gifts I am wrapping under the banner of Christ. Okay that one time it was not so patient, but never once has she been unkind. She is ministering to me also.

We are all showing up as ourselves, discontent but powerless against our own quirks and flaws, hoping to be accepted, and not as loving as we could be.

But there is a table we can call home. It’s Christ’s table. The gifts prepared for us on this table are perfect and timeless. Christ knows us – warts and bows and all – and welcomes us. And he asks us to welcome each other. Warts and bows and all.

If we can do at Christ’s table, we can learn to do it a little better everywhere. Every ministry is just part of The Ministry.

I hope The Bow Lady is there next December. I think Jesus would like it if I invited her to our table.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Dress for Spiritual Success


Today’s readings (click below to open in new window/tab):
Psalms 111; 150, 1 Kings 3:5-14, Colossians 3:12-17, John 6:41-47

Whether you leave your house dressed in a bathrobe, a suit and tie, or a wedding dress, it’s the same you underneath. Despite employer dress codes, you are no less competent on casual Friday than you are when dressed for a board meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. However there are times when what you wear is crucial. A nurse treating infectious patients must wear protective clothing. Hikers need footwear to provide both comfort and stability. Dancers are hindered if their clothes do not allow freedom of movement.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says they should clothe themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Some clothes communicate how we intend to interact with the world. Opposing teams and referees all wear different uniforms for a reason. Someone can say “I’m a professional football player” but until they’re suited up and on the field, they’re not playing professional ball. We can quote scripture and doctrine all day long, but if we haven’t put on a Christian attitude, why would anyone believe us?  Sure, meekness might itch a little and sometimes we can’t wait to slip out of that patience at the end of the day, but they are part of the dress code for the best job in the world.

The good news is, once you’ve broken them in, they are pretty comfortable. Kindness feels less like a tie choking off your breathing and more like a scarf keeping you warm. Humility changes from a girdle squeezing in your less virtuous bulges to a support that helps you keep your back straight and head high. None of us are able to display Paul’s list of virtues all the time, but the more conscious we are about putting them on, the more they become part of us, and the more prepared we feel.

These garments will protect you. They will provide comfort and stability. They will give you confidence to move freely in a world that doesn’t always understand what you’re doing. Dressing for success doesn’t have to cost a dime.

Comfort: Love of God and neighbor is the most beautiful thing you can wear.

Challenge: As you are getting dressed for the day, be intentional about putting on your garments of faith as well.

Prayer: Loving God, I will clothe myself in faith to please you and serve your world. Amen.

Discussion: What’s your favorite item of clothing and why?

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Human Kindness, Overflowing


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, 1 Samuel 25:1-22, Acts 14:1-18, Mark 4:21-34

David and his six hundred men camped in the wilderness outside Carmel, near the property of a wealthy man named Nabal. David sent men to tell Nabal that unlike some of the more dangerous characters roaming the wilderness they had harmed neither his shepherds nor his flock but protected them; therefore, would he spare them whatever food he could? Nabal, cranky and suspicious of runaway servants, declined. David returned with four hundred armed men, ready to kill all the males of the household.

Allowing that a refusal of hospitality was a much stronger insult in David’s culture, and that the text is clearly biased against Nabal … in this situation David is not a nice guy. Essentially he tells his troops, “Hey, boys! This guy who didn’t actually ask for our protection now refuses to compensate us for it so we’re going to slaughter his household.”

Today we call that sort of extortion a “protection racket.”

Ever heard of Nice Guy Syndrome? Simplified (maybe overly so), it’s the idea that some men who see themselves as nice believe this obliges women – especially women they’ve supported through relationships with men who are “not nice” – to consider them romantically. Less a virtue and more an objectifying strategy.

No matter how kind you are, no one (regardless of gender) owes you a date. Or a job. Or a meal. Or even gratitude. We appreciate these things. Being only human, we feel the sting of their absence. But if we feel it too keenly – if it punctures and deflates our impulse to be kind – perhaps what we value is not kindness itself, but the ego stroke of being perceived as kind.

True kindness is an expression of gratitude for God’s limitless love for us. It reflects God’s patience with our own imperfections and ingratitude. If we love only those who love us back, we do not love: we negotiate. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, love does not insist on its own way – including being returned “appropriately.” A kindness freely given is a gift to both souls, a balm which never runs dry.

Comfort: Your kindnesses, even unacknowledged, matter.

Challenge: Once a week, make a point of being kind to someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the many kindnesses you show me daily. Amen.

Discussion: David is an example of a flawed but basically good person. How do you deal with it when your heroes or loved ones fall short of your expectations?

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!