Mismatched

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Last Sunday I put on a stunning outfit–an expensive hand me down top (from a friend) with a pair of pants from my closet–and I walked out the door proudly. I taught adult Sunday school at church, and even led the children’s sermon. It was not until coffee hour, when I realized that my top did not match my bottoms. The mismatch was glaringly obvious in the sunlight.

My spirits dropped. How could I have been so blind? I recalled how dark my bedroom was. It is safe and comfy—my favorite place of refuge. But the light has never been adequate. I had never noticed how that affected my vision until then.

A very sweet woman came up and said that I looked beautiful. I thanked her, and said, “Even when my clothes are mismatched.” She laughed and said, “I do that sometimes too. The light in my room is totally different than the light outside where I see the true colors.”

That event has stayed with me all week. It started me thinking…how many other times in my life have I been blinded by the dark cozy security of my room? And I’m not just talking clothes.

I select the right top (thought/belief system) for each occasion. And then I put on the bottoms (actions) to match. Now, on most days, the window’s light in my room allows me to look good. I am well integrated—what I say I believe matches how I act. But on other days, wow! I really blow it. When I walk into the sunlight, it’s disturbing how mismatched I am. And people can see it.

It’s like what I see happening in our present political situation. If our top is being a good Christian American, then our bottom needs to match. If we say we are a Christian nation, then we need to stay consistent. Jesus’ words in Matt. 25:34-40 clearly say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” The scriptures are filled with decrees about the poor, alien, stranger, and oppressed (all which apply to refugees and immigrants) (Jeremiah 22:3-5Zechariah 7:8-10Isaiah 16:4Matt. 25:34-40Heb. 13:1-2James 2:5).

Now, I know it’s hard to determine what the “Christian” thing to do is in certain circumstances. The Bible can be complicated. But perhaps its because we are dressing in inadequate light. So let’s simplify it. Let’s keep the words and actions of Jesus as the light to guide our way. We say he is our savior. We say our lives should be a reflection of his, so at the risk of being called a Bibliologist instead of a Christian, let’s keep Jesus at the center.

I understand we need to take measures for security. But at what cost?

Make no mistake: the world is watching. Our children are watching. Our nation has always been a beacon of liberty, freedom and justice for all people. Our statue of liberty holds a torch that illuminates the world. Her bottom has engraved “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….But let’s admit it, at this time in history, our clothing is ill-fitting, mismatched and filthy. We may feel safer, but is it at the cost of thousands of lives fleeing retribution and injustices from the same people we are fighting? At the cost of alienating our allies or creating even more enemies.

We have lost the basic thing that made us who we are—a land of immigrants, a melting pot–where all are treated equally, with the same unalienable rights by our Creator for the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our court system’s foundation is “innocent until proven guilty”.

We have lost the very compassion and embracing arms of Jesus who said in Luke 4:18 “The Holy Spirit has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor,

freedom for the prisoners,

recovery of sight to the blind,

to set the oppressed free, and

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That sounds pretty close to refugees and immigrants to me! Those are who he came to free. And if we are not standing for them, then we are not standing for Jesus.

If we are more concerned about our own survival, security and comfort than we

are for the very people that Jesus says he came for, then our clothes are horribly mismatched.

The wardrobe we choose right now as a nation will represent us beyond our lifetime. I see us putting on suspicion, division, hatred, and bullying, and I ask: Are those our true colors? When we build walls to imprison others, are we doing that to Christ? (Matt. 25:40) Again, I ask you, do you think our America’s wardrobe is matched? Are we dressing in adequate light?

It seems to me our new administration is choosing the wrong wardrobe for all that I believe Jesus and our Constitution hold dear. I’m not sure how to proceed. I’d like to be graceful like the lady after church and say, “You look beautiful today.” But frankly, I can’t keep quiet anymore. We do not look beautiful or radiant.

America, our children are watching. Our world is watching. We may be working toward someone’s definition of “Great Again.” But at what cost? I say it’s time to shine a light in our closet.

Let’s come to the table to discuss Jesus’ words. Let’s analyze our mismatched clothing, admit our distorted vision, and make some changes. I’d love to come to a Table of Hope to discuss these things civilly, and I encourage you to do the same. But please, with the guidelines we use at our Table Talk Theology program at our local pub. 1) Listen more than you speak. 2) Seek to understand more than to be understood, 3) Speak as if Jesus is in the room, because he is.

Perhaps we need to take off some garments first (and be vulnerable). Let’s lay down our animosities. Let’s walk into the light and humbly ask how Jesus would proceed. When asked what the greatest commandment of all was, Jesus said, “Love the Lord, God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I believe Paul said it best in Col. 3:12-17. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. “

When we put on love as our clothing, our vision changes. Our bottoms match our tops. And when they match, the people/communities who wear them bring light into the dark closets of life so others can find their way (and appropriate clothing). That’s what the statue of liberty’s torch stands for…illumination for the world.

Perhaps if we step into the sunlight, we can see the true colors that our country was built upon. Perhaps we can come to the table with new ideas like: instead of building walls and keeping people out, we could be using the same money to hire more INS workers to vet and process all the ones who want to come in. The sooner they are processed, the sooner they can become part of this already great nation–paying taxes in exchange for a rich community just like we enjoy.

Let lady liberty’s light shine. Let Jesus’ light shine. Walk into the sunlight, America!

What’s Your Sign?

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god's table

“What’s your sign?” In the 70’s that question opened up a lot of conversation. What is your zodiac sign? Were you a Libra, Capricorn or Cancer? It was a connecting question, one that supposedly determined your character traits, and propensity for relationships. “What’s your sign?” was a question that revealed a curiosity, and offered an appetizer of conversation away from the political tensions raging at the time. I am a child of the 60’s, so I grew up among astrological signs, peace signs and smiley faces.

I am sad to say that today we are inundated with signs as well, but signs that are quite the opposite. Today’s signs are neither happy, inviting, nor conversational. We see them everywhere—Confederate, gay pride, and American flags being waved on courthouses and social media as a statement. I am saddened by how the symbols we choose to define us have segregated us. We turn off our listening ears and turn on the name-calling: racists, homophobes, communists, socialists, bigots, and idiots. The list goes on and on.

And so instead of using our signs as guideposts that empower and unite us, we use them as weapons against each other.

Today, we too are at the crossroads. Racial tension is heightening. The Supreme Court has made a ruling for same-sex marriage that has cut to the core of what many hold near and dear. It affronts their understanding of “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous.” And so we take out our signs; we wave our battle flags and we take our battle stances. Finally, people are realizing that there is a war of justice and Godly principles. The battle is on.

Luckily, last time war raged on our land (the civil war) we had a president that believed that “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address was a call for justice and reconciliation after a time of civil war.

He said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”   His was an amazing response to a nation that was eating itself alive, when hopelessness and despair were its bitter fruit. Sound familiar?

Now anyone who shares Mediterranean roots like mine knows that our ancestor’s remedy to everything was my grandmother’s favorite word, “Eat, eat, eat!” The table is where we hot-headed Mediterraneans lay down the tools, the signs, and the weapons, and share the savory delicacies that define us. With grape leaves and cabbage rolls dripping from our lips, we vet the day. We listen to each other, with curiosity, we ask questions, and make sure that everyone is involved in the conversation.

I wonder what would happen if everyone were invited to the table today. I know it’s hard to imagine, because we are so divided. And I can see why. We are a passionate nation, built on Biblical principles. And those principles are what God expects us to defend. But which Bible passages are we defending? When we say that our country is going down the drain because of the lawlessness of its people, which Biblical laws are we upholding?

Is it Exodus 22:21-22? “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.”

Perhaps it is Leviticus 19:34? “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Are we upholding Amos 5:10-17? “You levy a straw tax on the poor, and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them…For you oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”

I wonder about Micah 6:8. Are we living up to what the Lord requires? “To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

Which Biblical principles do we choose to follow? We get entangled because we each have our sign, our banner, our cause that is important to us—state’s rights, gender equality, immigration, or healthcare.

Which Godly principles do we claim as “true and righteous”? Those who oppose Shariah law forget that it is directly from the Old Testament. And if we reject the Old for the New Testament, we have a 33-year-old prophet who hung out with tax collectors (modern day thieves), lepers, and prostitutes—not exactly law-abiding citizens.

Yet, Jesus included everyone. He invited all to the Kingdom table. If we keep people from the table (or from marriage) because they don’t follow God’s principles, then face it—we are keeping ourselves from the table too. Who is fit to come? None of us follow all of those principles.

But Jesus keeps inviting us to the table…

 There is no longer Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

“I no longer call you servants I call you friends because a servant does not know his master’s business. I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.   Then the father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. “ John 15:15

When you are invited to the table you are cherished, respected and heard.   Once at the table Jesus points each of us toward God and urges us to examine ourselves daily in light of God’s love. Even Judas, his betrayer, was at the table given dignity to the end. “Do what you came for, friend,” were Jesus’ s last words to him. And what is Jesus’s ultimate command? To love each other! And in so doing, we will bear fruit.

What is the fruit we are to bear—the fruit that will last?   They are none other than the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

In working with youth, I urge them daily to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” We, as a church group, have admitted together that we have difficulty figuring this out. When the battle is raging and fear and doubt are at every corner, we need a table, some friends, and a guidebook to consult. That is why we meet together regularly. To hold each other accountable—are we bearing fruit?

Some may even want to bring signs. I am one of those. I love my signs. But at this juncture, it is my hope that we choose our signs carefully. And that IF we bring out our signs, we bring them to the table with a heart of listening, learning, and leadership so that the fruit we bear may last.

And let’s remember the words of our wise forefather:

“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Again I ask, “What’s your sign?”

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