Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve been cleaning stuff out today and stumbled upon the only picture I kept of our daughter’s sister (whom we affectionately refer to as Magnolia). For months after meeting her, I kept everything as it was and didn’t touch anything. Then once that time had passed (much to my now regret), I got rid of every picture and item except for this picture.

I was up until about 2 in the morning a couple nights ago, listening to sermons and crying over the division in the world, and Christians alike, over the racial problems that still exist in the world today. My eyes (and heart) were opened when we spent those couple weeks in Wisconsin. Much of our time was spent in the black and brown neighborhoods up there. I saw differences like I have never seen in my small town Kansas.

I still sometimes question why we went through what we did with Magnolia. And when I was up late that night, it came to me that maybe it’s because that experience shaped something in me that’s irreversible. It makes me sad because I feel this situation is a great opportunity to love others and have conversations. I also feel that a good discerner of a Christian heart is how much they love. “God is love, and all who live in love live in God”, after all. (I didn’t make that up, it’s from the Bible).

Then this morning I was thinking about the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke. The priest walked by a person who had been beaten and left on the road. (If you didn’t know, if someone helped a person like that in those times they would be considered unclean by cultural standards). The priest lacked compassion for this neighbor of his, even though he had all the theological training to be a priest. Then a Levite walked by, and did the same. But a Samaritan (you could say Half breed), walked by and helped him. He didn’t question what he did to get himself in that position. He didn’t pepper him with questions about his life, he just helped.

It doesn’t help the person on the road (or in the sketchy parts of town) to love them at arms length. Or to yell some Bible verses as you pass by. It’s going to get messy. It’s going to be costly.

But, according to Jesus, this was the answer when asked “who is my neighbor”. So I’m going to do the messy work…gladly. Because there’s a girl I loved the moment I saw her and while she didn’t end up being my physical child, she’s my neighbor.

Henry’s Christmas Bells

I’m sure many of you have heard the Christmas Carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It has been performed by many different musicians throughout time. The song is actually based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the 1800s.

Longfellow was already a respected writer when he wrote this poem, but what makes this poem so astonishing are the events that led up to his publication of this poem. He was in a dark place following the death of the love of his life, Fanny. She died following a horrendous accident in which her nightgown caught on fire by a candle. Henry was heartbroken, grasping for strength to carry on for their 5 children.

During this time, Civil unrest was very present in the United States as the South was trying to secede from the Union. War was beginning between the North and the South with slavery being a main point of emphasis. Henry’s oldest son, Charley, much to his dismay, was in the military-fighting for the Union. (Henry preferred his son to stay out of battle).

Charley was wounded in battle with a prognosis of possible paralysis. It was while Charley was recovering in the Longfellow home that Henry was walking outside, and heard the church bells and felt compelled to pen his poem.

The parallels between his feelings at Christmastime in the 1860s and mine in 2020 are not lost on me. Towards the middle of Longfellow’s poem a selection reads “Then from each black accursed mouth, The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned, Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” He can’t even hear the chimes of peace on earth, good-will to men because of all the explosions and noise going on in the Civil War happening around him in his day to day life. It’s hard for us to ignore the Civil unrest we are facing today as well, isn’t it? Lest we get close to forgetting, all we have to do is long onto the internet and we are quickly acquainted to it.

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, And mocks the song. Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

He looked around and didn’t see peace anywhere. That’s easy for us right? Covid. The Election. The race discussions that have once again become paramount. It’s easy for us to feel depressed and overwhelmed right now. It would be justified if we didn’t feel too much in the Christmas spirit this year.

But I love how this poem ends:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

We have hope for brighter days. God does not sleep, nor does He slumber. One day, all wrongs will be righted. The righteous will one day prevail. In the midst of Longfellow’s unhappiness, the bells reminded him of that truth. I hope you take a moment to listen to the tune, or even read the poem-and take a minute to be reminded yourself.

I am not Against Cops, but I do believe Black Lives Matter

I don’t believe systematic racism is a myth. I do believe our culture has conditioned us to be fearful of blacks, regardless of whether or not we realize it. But I also believe majority of Cops go into the position hoping to make a difference and not to wrongly harm others. There are Cops I know who I would absolutely trust with my life. I don’t want my kids to fear Cops if they are ever in a place of danger and need help.

That being said, there is an undertone of systematic racism that has colored our history. I don’t think most people even realize they harbor feelings of it in themselves. I didn’t. Being raised in a small town, with little diversity, did not prepare me for becoming a multi-racial mom. I was bombarded with my own prejudices, prejudices I didn’t even realize I had.

I know I’m not the only one, and I do believe people of all occupations have the same prejudices as well. The black community is not safe until we address and change those prejudices. Prejudices that exist because we still take pride in the side of history that fought against equal rights of all persons in the United States.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize that even though everything right now is unstable, God is still good. He is still good when all that we count as comfort (or maybe just norm) has been ripped away. He is still good even though we are still having to address racism 60 years later. He is still good when uncertainty lingers and everything feels broken. George, Breonna, Ahmaud, and countless others, who have lost their lives due to racial injustice have ultimate hope that doesn’t lie in me or you.

Until then, we have been given a command to mourn with those who mourn. (Including the Cops trying to do right). And to stand for righteousness and justice, regardless of popularity.

Social Justice is a Christian’s worry

“Let us examine together the Word of God, and then you will know what has moved me to sacrifice property and friendship, and home and reputation.  With Christian patience and Christian love, give me your attention to the end of this letter, whilst I endeavor to show you that the Holy God disapproves American slavery.” –William Brisbane, Abolitionist

As I learn more about history, it always surprises me how much history repeats itself.  As a Christian, who has adopted and fostered and has a multi racial family, it has surprised me how many people (some Christian) have thought I’m speaking up for things that aren’t actually a Christian’s concern.

While slavery isn’t the known social injustice in today’s time period, there are many other prevalent social injustices still evident.  You may be someone who chooses to put your head in the sand and say “that’s just the way it is”.  That doesn’t stop it from existing.  People made excuses for slavery, but that didn’t make it right.  If you are a Christian, especially, you have a duty to speak up for the marginalized and the down trodden.

For one, we have to be careful to try to not break our lives into “categories”.  It’s a dangerous thing to say “God belongs in this part of my life but not that part of my life”.  God is ruler of the world and that does not exclude the entirety of your life.  Every single part of our life is meant to bring honor and glory to God, no area being excluded.

We also can see in the Bible that Jesus was very much involved in breaking social norms while he walked the earth.  We see him giving respect to women (which wasn’t done often in those times).  They were seen as people that didn’t really have a voice and should just do what they were told to do.  He sat with “publicans, harlots, and sinners”.  People complained when Jesus went to Zacchaeus’s house because they didn’t think he was worthy of entertaining the presence of Jesus.

We should be a voice for all injustices in the world (as they accord with the Bible).  We need to not be so concerned with popularity, our reputation, or our own things when it comes to giving a voice to what is right.  We need to believe that we are all part of one family and act as such.