Dare to respond

Well, I’m too-many-years-old. At least too many for the places I find my heart and my soul. Not in a bad way, just in a curious way.

Most of you know I “grew up born again,” meeting and following Jesus very young. You might also know I have often thought how much more dramatic and memorable it would have been to be “saved” from a wild and raucous life… instead of a more mundane Saturday night as a seven-year old, responding to Billy Graham’s altar call on a tiny black-and-white TV set in a tiny, unincorporated, suburban living room.

Nevertheless, I am forever and ever grateful I’ll see the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me, meeting the faces and hugs of people I miss so much with tears of happiness (yes, I believe in the beauty of tears in heaven).

But I’m telling you, at my age, finding the dark holes and burnt edges of a faith I’ve held so dear for so long has been both difficult and like a breath of fresh air. Opening my eyes to the blurry parts of things I was told were absolute truth, without room – or need – for question or debate has brought me to a place of unexpected grief and remarkable peace all at the same time. Things like…

  • how we treat and regard people of color, people who are different, people we don’t understand
  • the complicated nature of sexuality and who we love
  • politics and its relationship with churches and the Church
  • our obligations to the marginalized, underserved, and vulnerable

The basic truths of Jesus are not usually what gets us hung up – they do not lead to division and contention. We see very little argument when it comes to what I call the non-negotiables:

… “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.” (John 14:6)
… “Love Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Luke 10:27)
… “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:33)

And although I have somewhat less-than-gracious, unspoken suspicions about a few friends, acquaintances, and celebrities who claim to share my faith, it is far above my pay grade to determine who is and who is not a true Follower. I have only your word that you took a leap of faith into the arms of Jesus, but I’m good with that.

No, that is not where the harsh, even ugly divisions stem. They come as we live or fail to live out the fruit of the Spirit:

love
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

And now a word from our sponsor:
Please note how Paul wrote (to the Galatians) that the list of nine is just one fruit. In the words of songwriters James van Heusen and Sammy Cahn (with a nod to Frank Sinatra), “You can’t have one without the other.” We can’t claim love and show no patience. We can’t be faithful without self-control or peaceful without gentleness. The fruit of the spirit is a package deal.

Galatians 5:22-23

Back to our regular programming:
So we don’t find our differences with the basics – although there might be a little bit of stumbling and mumbling about what constitutes “loving your neighbor.” And we have been, by and large, content with the rather bland Praise the Lord for answered prayer and God loves you no matter where you are in your spiritual life. We carry on for the sake of carrying on, reluctant to rock our Bible-study boats.

But so often, in this world of “my way or the highway,” our somewhat unfiltered outer voices leak out, revealing the authentic beliefs of our inner selves. Our conversations, posts and comments, and the flags we plant tell the true story of how we …

  • treat and regard people of color, people who are different, people we don’t understand
  • understand the world of sexuality and love
  • discern the difference between
    • following Jesus as we participate in the political process and
    • being a political follower who claims to love Jesus
  • serve the marginalized, underserved, and vulnerable

If you had gotten to know me only ten years ago, I fear you would have sensed an unattractive aura of smugness lingering about, a glib cockiness about faith and politics, the love of God, and what church should look like. I’m sure that fragrance still lingers – and for that I wish I could just have a clean slate.

But right now, my lovelies, each one of those markers and measurements of love and kindness is facing painful scrutiny and disconcerting realignment deep within me, as I consider what my life has reflected and what I hope it will reflect between here and Heaven.

I am more open to discussing serious issues – with the clear understanding that I am also miles away from having sound answers to any of the issues and questions posed here. Again and thank goodness, not up to me.

I approach encounters like that more carefully these days, too. When I dare respond as difficult issues arise in conversation and social media, I pray I step with gentleness and search for common ground, however small a patch that may be – perhaps a space not even big enough for us both to stand – so small that we must step gingerly, one toe at a time. I pray I am generous with grace… that I offer unlimited patience to those with whom I do not agree, and reflect at least some measure of joy at all times.

But be patient with me, good friend. I remain frustrated and sad because of the mean-spirited and “me first” world in which we live. I am tired of name-calling and grandstanding. I am so done with so much.

Thankfully, the promise and hope of a better day – not the same but better – keep tapping on my heart. And the warriors of the faith continue to encourage me and my too-many-years old self to persevere and love on.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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