Discrimination

Vantage Point

Romans 12:15-16a

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…”

The other night, I re-watched the movie, “Vantage Point.” The movie portrays a terrorist attack, but from about nine different points of view. There’s a Secret Service member, a local police officer, a spectator, members of the media, and even a couple of terrorists. What’s interesting is that we, as the audience, had no real idea what was going on until the end—after all of the vantage points had been pieced together. Granted, by the end of the film, there were still a couple of questions remaining, but for the most part, the plot was resolved.

I think this film actually provides a relevant comparison for some of the major discussions and events going on in our country and our world today. I think we are experiencing a lot of uncertainty, confusion, separation, division, self-righteousness, anger, resentment, disparity—and the list goes on.

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But I believe that much of it stems from (or is at least aggravated by) our limited vantage points, our myopic perspectives, and our self-righteous agendas. We have refused to acknowledge and empathize with the positions and perspectives of others around us, in particular those who are not like us. We have elevated our own needs, desires, and comforts above those of others. We have denied or ignored disparities and injustices. And Romans (among other passages in the Bible) makes it clear that this should not be.

Instead, we should rejoice with those who rejoice AND mourn with those who mourn. A huge step in that direction is for us to actively and intentionally adopt—even momentarily—the perspectives and the vantage points of those with whom we are at odds. It may be that we would find ourselves in greater awareness, understanding, and even agreement with one another. This might well allow us to feel greater empathy, express greater compassion, and extend greater assistance to our fellow human beings. In short, we would be that much closer to living in the harmony that Paul calls us to in Romans. What do you say? Shall we give it a try?

 

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One of These

Mark 9:36-37

“He took a little child whom he placed among them.
Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

At church this morning, Pastor Dave was talking about how God’s economy differs from ours, and how His view of success also departs from the benchmarks this world sets. His message focused on Mark 9:33-37, but I found myself drawn especially to his comments on verse 37. As I listened to him read the familiar verse, it gave me pause. Like so many verses and messages, I first tied it into my thoughts on adoption, and whether God could be calling our family in that direction.

But that wasn’t Dave’s focus, and it may not have been Christ’s, either. Specifically, Dave stated that Jesus had chosen a child for this illustration because in that time, children were not treated with much esteem or paid much attention. It was a kind of revolutionary teaching to suggest that children held so much value in the eyes of God. I suppose it’s always that way—that acknowledging the immense and inherent value of any marginalized individual or group of people would raise some eyebrows.

Dave was talking about what it means to be successful in God’s eyes, and he gave this advice: “Don’t be threatened by others’ success, and don’t be encouraged by others’ failures.” As I logged onto my Twitter account to share this “tweetable” statement, I was bombarded with messages relating to the mass shooting in Orlando that you’ve no doubt heard about by now. As I read the tweets and the headlines, the relevance of Mark 9:37 to this tragedy was not lost on me. I saw outpourings of love, sympathy, and prayers. But I also saw a couple of comments suggesting that this tragedy may have been ordained by God. I think not. At least not the God of the Bible.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children”—one of these marginalized, one of these pushed aside, one of these mistreated, one of these ostracized, one of these disregarded—“welcomes me.” –Jesus

May we—like Jesus—welcome, invite, and value our fellow human beings, for whom He died, just as certainly as He died for you and me.

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Who I Am–Part VI

Matthew 6:7-8

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans,
for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them,
for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

A while back, about a decade ago now, I spent some time in northern California, making some great friends, great memories, and great self-discoveries. I will always remember those times, and look back on them fondly. Indeed, I’m long overdue for a visit back—but that’s another story. For now, I want to tell you one story in particular that relates to tattoo #6.

At a friend’s, I noticed a stone sitting on a coffee table with a symbol chiseled into it. I liked the design a lot, and wondered if it would work as a tattoo. But when I asked what it meant, my friend replied, “Om.” Om—as in, a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra [appearing] at the beginning and end of most Sanskrit recitations, prayers, and texts. Hindu culture considers it to be the root of the universe and everything that exists and it continues to hold everything together.

“Oh,” I replied in obvious disappointment, “I guess I can’t get a tattoo of it then.” I mean, its meaning certainly wasn’t in keeping with my Christian faith, right? But my friends described it in a few different ways, trying to clarify or maybe qualify its essence. And finally, one described it this way: “It’s kind of like prayer without words.”

That stopped me in my tracks. “Oooh, I like that!” I thought about it for a few months; I pictured it in my mind. I thought about that last meaning, prayer without words. We know, as Christians, that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that we can’t even comprehend when we say the wrong things, or when we have no earthly idea what or how to pray at all. There are times like that. In those moments, it seems like the idea of prayer without words would bring peace and comfort.

Besides, I reasoned, it will be a reminder to pray for people of other nations, cultures, and religious beliefs. I’m loathe to admit, though, that its placement on my lower back is not always conducive to my seeing it and remembering to make those prayers and petitions. I need to work on that.

It seems like we hear and see “Om” all over the place now…at the natural food co-op, on the window outside the yoga or massage parlor, in the movies, everywhere. Perhaps now it will serve as a reminder to you of the importance of praying continuously, and of praying even without words. Or perhaps you’re like me and you need the reminder to pray for those who are not like you—no matter the source of those differences. God most certainly sees and loves us all, and will honor our efforts to better love Him and our fellow man.

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Jesus Said, “Love.”

There, but by the grace of God, go I.

I don’t know a lot about world news. Let’s be honest, I don’t know much about national or local news either. Ever since I switched to Outlook as my e-mail platform, and no longer regularly see the Yahoo! News postings, I’m pretty much in the dark. And yet, it didn’t escape my attention that last Friday, Paris fell victim to multiple terrorist attacks. I knew because the media coverage of events was nonstop. I knew because Facebook friends near and far changed their profile pictures in solidarity, and posted prayer requests and sympathy notes. My first inkling that something had happened was actually a status update from a friend in Paris, letting us all know that she and her family were safe. Praise God!

But then, a bit later, I saw a post that convicted me (https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/14/paris-attacks-highlight-western-vulnerability-and-our-selective-grief-and-outrage/). In this post, Chris Graham accused the Western world of selective outrage, stating that, “Meanwhile, in a brown part of the world, as the attacks began in Paris, Lebanon was just emerging from a National Day of Mourning, after 43 people were killed and 200 more were injured during a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Beirut.” He also highlighted an attack 11 months ago, in which “Boko Haram razed the town of Baja in Nigeria, killing more than 2,000 people.” He went on to tell about several other heinous crimes against humanity that received very little popular or media attention. And then he asked a poignant question: “How do we explain our indifference to the suffering of people we perceive as different, Lebanese, African, Hazara, Muslim…. Brown people?”

The sober answer is, “I don’t know.” But I know it’s wrong. Sure, France is an ally—a friend. Sure some of us have visited there, or have friends who live there. But are we justified in dismissing suffering just because it happens in a place we’ve never been before? Or in a war-torn country where it “happens every day”? You know, many of the people killed in these terrorist attacks in the non-Western world are innocent civilians, casualties of war. But even those who are not, even those whose hearts and actions are bent on malice, even those are among the fallen humanity that Jesus died to save. We should pray for redemption and salvation for ALL. And we should see and be heartbroken over ALL suffering. Period.

After all, “God so loved the WORLD, that He gave his only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Go in Peace

2 Kings 5: 18 – 19

But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

These are times of great change in our nation and our society. Some see these changes wonderful and progressive, and others see them as an almost personal affront. Truth be told, many Christians fall into this second group. We tend to have strong beliefs and convictions about what is right and what is wrong, in God’s eyes and in our own. We then hold the rest of the world to those standards, often disregarding others’ beliefs and convictions. We make it our business to transform the beliefs systems of others, or at least to enforce our own upon the masses.

But in all honesty, others’ decisions and actions are not our responsibility. Free will applies equally to all. We say that we don’t want to celebrate or facilitate sin. We say that we don’t want to water down the weight of others’ iniquity—even though our own has been washed away entirely. We claim righteous indignation, but we display plain old self-righteous hypocracy. We use our convictions as an excuse for discrimination and even hatred. For most of us, this is unconscious. But if we look at the way our convictions influence our choices, our relationships, our Facebook posts—it’s much less deniable that love is NOT our motivation after all. Nor is grace, mercy, or reconciliation.

The fact is that we have no business sitting in judgment against our fellow fallen humans, deciding which sins are ‘more grievous’ than others. We have no business refusing to work with or for another person, simply because they don’t subscribe to our beliefs and convictions. We certainly have no business refusing to SERVE them. For crying out loud, Jesus Himself said that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What in the world? Where do we get off? The more I think about it, the more I read about it, the more I realize just how absurd we’ve been, as a people—and as a Body.

So how do we reconcile our beliefs and convictions with those of others, while being true to our faith and to our God? I personally have been incredibly blessed by the account presented in 2 Kings Chapter 5. Our pastor shared this scripture a few months ago, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly since then. Long story short, Naaman, who is an aide to a king who worships false gods, suffers from leprosy. He learns of a prophet of God (Elisha) who can heal him of this affliction, and travels to see him. Upon being healed, he recognizes the power and sovereignty of the one true God, and vows to worship Him only. But one of his duties as aide to the king of Aram is to assist him in visiting the temple of Rimmon, a false god. And the king must lean on Naaman’s arm to bow down, and by extension, Naaman must kneel next to him. I love Elisha’s response when Naaman asks God’s forgiveness for this one thing: “Go in peace.”

Go in peace.
Love.
Serve.
And go in peace.

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