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Posts Tagged ‘grace’


Much has been written in social media and news outlets on the subject of George Floyd’s death while in custody of the Minneapolis Police.  What I want to discuss here are the broader related topics that permeate our culture in the United States of America and how we Christians living as the “fragrance of Christ” to the world might offer hope.

While I appreciate reading the varied perspectives currently peppered throughout social media, what seems to be missing is mutual respect for people regardless of their ethnicity or position on the topic being discussed.  I suppose that could be said for social media at large; but if reconciliation is truly the goal, every perspective represented must initially be treated as valid, even if it is incorrect, because it is based on that individual’s experience, learning, psychology, suffering, nurturing, etc.  Disagreement, even vehement opposition, is not legitimate grounds for mocking or silencing those perspectives.  Growth in someone’s perspective and understanding has never been accomplished by wielding inflammatory labels or a dismissive or insulting posture against them.  Engagement, active listening, respect, and dignity must be exhibited by all parties if growth is to be realized; and growth almost always occurs simultaneously to varying degrees in all parties who are willing.

While it is certainly true there remains inequity in the social systems of the USA, and that this inequity, combined with violent dispositions of human beings, frequently results in harm or death, I honestly don’t see how we emerge from this present agony closer to a healed, reconciled society while engagement and listening are minimized and provocative labels and terminology continue to be used.  Despite the persuasive and energetic arguments from those passionate about these topics that have recently produced pithy terms like “white privilege” to describe the inequity, this does injustice to the spiritual and psychological reality of human existence.  As a Christian, I believe from reading God’s word in the Bible that each human being, no matter how repulsive their actions, bears God’s image, no matter how obscured. Modern science and psychology have revealed that every single person is a complex being, not just those we agree with or like or find tolerable. Every person has intrinsic value, not only those we endorse or are in relationship with.  Every person is capable – indeed, desperately needy – of giving and receiving love, even and especially those it is so easy to categorize into binary terms or a meme because of a few words uttered in frustration, or foolish mistakes made or even acts of ignorance, violence or atrocity.

I must honestly ask myself: What is my interest here? What am I seeking?  If the answer is justice, my vision is very short-sighted and inadequate.  Pure justice is not enough, because pure justice can only be applied equally to all, and I must evaluate whether I truly want that for myself before answering too quickly.  Pure justice is mathematical; it does away with mercy.  I find it much too easy to cry for justice for others who offend and then plead for mercy and grace for myself.

I believe we must not put our hope for a healthier society merely in disruption, assuming we’ll somehow be at least a little better on the other side. This is fantasy. We also must resist joining the world’s urgent efforts to find some blamable symbol or person or group of people or political leader, all from a desire to discover a simple, rational explanation and solution.  This denies all we have learned of the complexity of human spirituality, psychology, emotion and reason.  There is certainly legitimate anger, confusion and scrutiny that arises when a person is flagrantly mistreated, even to death (especially by those in the role of protector) and the visual capture of that event is available to watch over and over.  Imagery is so powerful because it instantly shapes perception.  Visually observing one shocking, horrifying action gives birth to interpretation and then forms a knowledge, the imagery cemented in our minds as the truth of the event.  It’s not easy but it is simple, manageable.  Unfortunately, I have to admit, I’ve seen many things in my life and formed many opinions and passed many judgements on actions I wasn’t present for, words I didn’t hear and, worst of all, people I don’t know. And I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right. Each of us is susceptible to my error, especially when we are immersed in the kind of outrage erupting right now.  To deny that susceptibility is to choose arrogance and illusion.

Our grieving process as a society has been re-ignited, and that process is an essential prerequisite for true healing and reconciliation, but it does not constitute those.  Rage, additional violence, hatred, vengeance – though all are understandable, none of these bring healing but rather guarantee more suffering, agony, loss and division, pushing us all further from what we claim is our goal. Without dialogue filled with the humility to accept that we may not actually know enough about another human being to categorize their value and true nature, I fear we will circle in the grief, oddly savoring the pain, and curdling it until it is hardened and our society’s mindset is trapped, growth stunted once more until the next horrible act of violence to be visually captured goes viral.  This is an opportunity to breathe love and grace into pain and sadness.  We must keep the eyes of our hearts on the prize we seek:  reconciliation and healing.  The restoration of all human beings to each other and God, in the name of Jesus Christ and his love for the world.  That is where abundant hope waits to sooth our grief.

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It’s December.  It’s Christmastime.  The weather has changed, the final page of the calendar is open, and my thoughts center on the center of the holiday, the center of time, Jesus.

As I consider the heart of the gospel, namely a savior’s arrival, the Savior promised to all but also to you and me, my thoughts are occupied by Joseph, Mary’s husband, whom the fulfillment of God’s centuries-long awaited promise certainly placed in a disruptive, uncomfortable, even dangerous position.  Societies have expectations of their members, and Nazareth was no different.  An industrious man, making a living with his hands and skills, carrying hopes and dreams of a wife, a family, a life tends to be viewed positively by society, a contributor to the well-being of all.  He was man merely making his way in the midst of others equally poor and focused on surviving as Jewish people within the restraint and frequent oppression of a disinterested Roman government.

And then… without warning, his young wife-to-be, the gateway of his dreams, returns from a happy visit with extended family dramatically changed.  Apprehension, anxiety and joy mingling violently in her face and heart drown his thrill and anticipation of reunion.  She has already lived in an intimacy with God beyond any other woman in all creation, and it has caused her to gamble her entire being on God’s faithfulness and power; but Joseph knew nothing of her journey or her encounter with the angel or the Holy Spirit.  He only knew that this woman he was learning to love stood before him, evidence of sexual intimacy with another on display.   He was no doubt humiliated, betrayed, ashamed, angry, terrified and in despair.  The life and family he had imagined and worked toward appears now to be utterly scorned and ruined by the one to whom he pledged his heart and life and livelihood.

I can’t imagine the tumult churning in Joseph’s mind and heart.  All of his dreams were torn to pieces, and the wreckage of his life lay before him, awaiting his response.  Why?  had to be one of the questions on his lips.  Resentment, even rejection of the whole mess would be completely understandable; yet, he listened to God’s intervening voice.  Trust in these kinds of situations is so difficult and risky, yet Joseph received God’s encouragement, accepted Mary’s pregnancy as brought about by the Holy Spirit and chose to reject his fear and doubt.  He, too, risked his reputation, his living, his family’s safety and kept Mary as his wife, drinking deeply from the comfort and reassurance that God had poured into him through the angel.

I’m blown away.  I can’t pretend to understand the depths of Joseph’s warring emotions, the shock and disappointment at how his life had unfolded.  I hope so, but I don’t know whether I would have trusted God enough to embrace the insane path ahead.  And yet, in this moment, I can hear the Spirit nudging me to consider a different side.

For God’s promise to be fulfilled, a human boy had to be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, a virgin who descended from David.  But for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, that boy was also going to need to become a godly man, and it wouldn’t happen automatically.  He had to live a man’s life, and that meant:  learning masculinity, strength, kindness, generosity, courage and perseverance; discovering the gifts of laughter, humor, hard work, sleep, cold water on a hot day, a delicious meal; acquiring and honing the ability to reason, skills with his hands and discernment with his eyes, how to respond when he received what he wanted, how to respond when he was disappointed; working through what a godly man is to do with emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, worry, grief, joy, love.  And betrayal.

I’m beginning to see it now.  It felt like a curse, like a future ruined, because his faith was in the events, the feelings of fulfillment of his own vision, the way things were expected to, supposed to happen.  But God needed a man to raise his son, and a man focused on his own designs and plans would never be able to carry the burden, the unimaginable weight of knowing he was teaching, raising, shaping the very character of God’s only son, even the promised deliverer.  God choosing Joseph for Jesus’ human father was an equal honor to that received by Mary as his mother.  One man and one woman, chosen once for all time, to participate in this culmination of God’s plan to rescue his imprisoned image-bearers.  I’m floored by the immensity of the honor of God’s choice.

God turns my gaze toward my own children, and I begin to grasp the point.  My own life has not unfolded as I planned or expected or even desired.  Fractures I didn’t want and directions I didn’t imagine crowd my history, yet he has chosen me to be their human father – to raise them, teach them how to live, how to follow him, how to respond to happiness and sadness, gifts and grief, love and pain.  I have had a couple of decades to train them and prepare them, to enjoy them and offer them myself, to introduce them to the loving father who made them through me and my wife, and to begin to teach them how to walk with him.

And in this moment, I know the day that seemed beyond distant will soon be today.  I will open the door for them to step through and begin their own story only to discover it has already begun, and that I have been playing a role a bit like Joseph’s.

Why me, Father?  I don’t really know, but it doesn’t really matter because the honor drowns my thoughts, preventing more questions.  Just grateful, I weep.

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