My Own Worst Enemy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 22; 148, Exodus 2:1-22, 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3, Mark 9:2-13

Identity is a funny thing. We think of it as an internally generated sense of self, but in large part it is externally imposed upon us. The world’s opinion of us does not change who we are, but it does change who we are allowed to be. Take Moses, for example. As a male Hebrew infant, he was considered a potential enemy and targeted for death by the king of Egypt. When the king’s daughter pulled him from the river where his mother had set him afloat in a basket, he became part of the royal household. Scripture doesn’t say how or when he learned he was Hebrew, but by adulthood he was sympathetic to the plight of his people. After he killed an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew, his position in Pharaoh’s house no longer mattered, and the king wanted him dead again.

Moses fled to Midian, where he met his wife Zipporah. Upon their first meeting she assumed he was Egyptian. His accent and clothes told the world he was one thing. Inside he was another … but what exactly? Never a Hebrew slave under the Egyptian whip, never a fully privileged Egyptian, always conflicted. How long was it – if ever – before he felt like a Midianite? Moses had to do the hard work of being an authentic person with no real example to follow.

To some degree, outside expectations limit us all. Culture, economic status, and other forces categorize us without regard to our true selves and needs. It’s easy to internalize those expectations and never challenge them, but there’s more power in growing from the inside out. Able to see both Hebrew and Egyptian culture up close but with an outsider’s critical eye, Moses was uniquely qualified for the service God would soon call him to. Unable to conform to any labels, he was able to transcend all of them.

Your life experiences – especially those that don’t meet expectations – prepare you for a unique role. Moses was the key God turned to free the Hebrews. What blessings are locked behind a door only you can open?

Comfort: Your differences are a gift to the world.

Challenge: When you feel like an outsider, find a constructive way to use that perspective.

Prayer: God of creation, thank you for the good and bad times that have shaped me. Help me to understand my gifts so I may use them in service to your kingdom. Amen.

Discussion: Have you suppressed any of your natural traits and tendencies to fit in better with a group?

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God out of Nazareth


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab or window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Genesis 4:17-26, Hebrews 3:1-11, John 1:43-51

Soon after Philip the apostle met Jesus, he found his friend Nathanael and said:”We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael replied: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Of course he was swayed once he actually met Jesus, but his initial skepticism is noteworthy.

The village of Nazareth did not have much of a reputation. It was small and relatively obscure. Suggesting the Messiah could emerge from Nazareth seemed ridiculous even to its own citizens, who repeatedly rejected Jesus and his teachings. Yet a Nazarene he was, defying all doubt and eclipsing all expectations.

It’s not fair, but the world pigeonholes people based on the circumstances of their birth. Inner city kids are thugs. Immigrants from the middle east are suspected terrorists. Women are less capable than men and men are less nurturing than women. Pretty people are stupid and nerds are lonely. Stereotypes  are endless. Like Nathanael we sometimes encounter someone who demolishes one of our biases, but many of them remain unchallenged. One might think that being subjected to a stereotype would make a person less likely to do the same to others, but it isn’t so. We all justify our own biases and the world is poorer for it.

Where is your Nazareth? It may be an actual place, like Detroit or Syria. It may lie in an opposing political or religious ideology. It could be buried in the pigmentation of someone’s skin cells.You may not be able to locate it easily, because it doesn’t necessarily stand out as a place you actively dislike, but perhaps a place you can casually dismiss. Nazareth is any place or circumstance you use as an excuse to invalidate a person or their voice.

Jesus overcame all the obstacles of his birth. So can we, because we are children of God. And we need to give others the same chance. Let us each work to examine and dismantle our prejudices so we can look at each other and see the face of Christ, Nazarene and Messiah.

Comfort: You are more than any label. You are a child of God.

Challenge: Ask a friend you trust what your biases are. Don’t argue with them about what they say, just listen with an open mind and heart.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to see you in all people, even when I don’t want to.

Discussion: What biases have you formerly held which you no longer hold?

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!

Invitation: Preemptive Strike


Earlier this week, I had a brief exchange with a stranger on Facebook.

He’d made a comment claiming that he couldn’t talk to liberals because as soon as they learned he was a Republican, they accused him of being a racist, anti-gay, hateful, gun nut. I responded that I am a liberal Christian and didn’t make any of those assumptions about him.

He replied, “Good for you for not being like all the rest of them.”

I don’t think he saw the irony of defending himself against stereotyping by promoting more stereotyping.

I’ve had similar online and face-to-face exchanges with people who claim Christians do nothing but promote intolerance and then dismiss countless examples of charitable and loving efforts as “exceptions that prove the rule” – which, by the way, isn’t really what that phrase means.

Right now we live in an atmosphere that promotes division. It encourages us to assign one label to a person – conservative, liberal, Christian,  atheist, feminist, socialist, capitalist, whatever – and assume they possess all the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of the most extreme people who claim those labels.

That there is some lazy thinking, and even lazier loving. It gives us permission to stereotype and perceive ourselves as victims of stereotyping at the same time. It even recycles language formerly associated primarily with racism, such as “That Joe is one of the ‘good’ ones.”

This kind of thinking is not fair or welcoming. We can’t express it in our churches and homes and expect anyone to take us seriously when we say all are welcome at Christ’s table.

On the flip side, we shouldn’t assume others are thinking that way. If you suspect someone may want to judge or stereotype you because they identify as liberal or conservative, don’t preemptively do their job for them by being pre-offended. Let them do their own dirty work of exclusion. Or – better yet – be pleasantly surprised that they don’t hate you because you’re different.

There will always be some people who want to deliberately exclude or oppress others, and we will stand up to such injustice.  There will be many more people – myself included – who will always be in a state of learning about how we can better relate to and learn from our fellow human beings.

At Christ’s table, we manage to put our differences on hold for the duration of a single, communal meal. One bite, one sip. Whatever else is going on in our lives, we find common purpose and need at Christ’s table. Can we take that moment and expand it? Throughout the week, can we preemptively assume we will accept and be accepted? We very well might do so and be wrong, but otherwise we will miss every chance to be right.

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

Follow the leader?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, 1 Samuel 5:1-12, Acts 5:12-26, Luke 21:29-36

Leaders, no matter how powerful or influential, are only human. Unfortunately, the more power they wield, the more their inevitable flaws are magnified. As Peter and the other apostles preached the good news of the resurrected Christ, many people flocked to them; “they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by.” The Sadducees – whose flaw was jealousy – had the apostles arrested and imprisoned with seemingly no thought to the people who were being cured.

After the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant, their leaders put it in the temple of Dagon. When over the course of two nights the statue of Dagon was first toppled then dismembered, did they rid themselves of it? No, they moved it to Gath where the inhabitants were then afflicted with deadly tumors. Then they moved it to Ekron, which fared no better.

Whether our government leaders are monarchs, clergy, or elected representatives their willingness to do right by the people usually extends only as far as their grip on power. That’s not to say they are bad people, just that they are as susceptible to the corruptions of power as any who seek it. Very few who scrape their way to first also desire to be least.

The people didn’t want Peter and company arrested. Ekron certainly didn’t want the Ark and a plague of tumors. Gath did volunteer to take it, but had no idea what was in store. When we experience the magnified flaws of leaders – especially those of a different nation, faith, or political affiliation  – we should be careful not to generalize those flaws across the people they represent.  The typical Christian is no better or worse a person than the typical Jew or Muslim. No political party has a monopoly on virtue or vice. Communists love and want what’s best for their children the same as capitalists.

As followers of Christ, we are called to love people not as a reflection of their leaders, but of ours.

Comfort: You don’t have to make enemies just because someone tells you to.

Challenge: Spend time seeking shared values, and it will be easier to manage differences.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see all people as your beloved children. Amen.

Discussion: Are there any groups of people you used to stereotype, but no longer do?

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!