love your neighbor
SUMMER IS ALMOST HERE, and churches ... slow ... down. Folks are planning for vacation. Staff are away. Pastors are away. It’s as if we take our status as middle-class bourgeoisie more seriously than our baptismal vows.
By contrast, in the summer the biblical texts pick up—in intensity, directness, drive. Pentecost falls on us like an avalanche of fire, teaching us languages we don’t know, names, places, people. The old joke is that war is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans. No, in the church, that would be Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowers people to preach who most say shouldn’t (in our texts that includes Arabic-speakers, women, unnamed prophets), and confounds those of us who think we “should.” Then Trinity Sunday, and all three persons of the triune Godhead are on the stage. We now know God as fully as God can be known by mere creatures. What we can’t know is not because God is tragically removed or far away. No—it’s precisely because God has come so unbearably close and is so unimaginably beautiful. That’s why we can’t take all of God in. So we praise instead of merely examine. And then Jesus sends out the disciples in mission to do what he does, or even greater things. Teach. Heal. Exorcise. Baptize. This doesn’t sound like a summer vacation or even a mission trip. It sounds like a new way of being in community for others.
That’s what the church is, in summer or anytime.
Sincere love during these times means offering sanctuary for the sojourner, risking our congregations, and even putting our bodies on the line — knowing that our true citizenship is in the Kingdom, where no one is illegal and all are loved.
Christians who refuse to break rank from their political tribes and social circles at the expense of refugees, immigrants, the sick, the poor, the uneducated, the maligned, and the outcast are prioritizing carnal hopes rather than divine promises.
ROBERT HARVEY had a problem. The church he pastors was vandalized after the election: “Trump Nation. Whites only” was scrawled across its sign. His congregants, nearly 85 percent of whom are immigrants from West Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, were shaken.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 1,094 bias-related incidents across the country in the month after the election. The greatest number of these types of events are against women in public spaces who are also immigrants, Muslim, or African American. These are assumed to be a “small fraction of hate-related incidents,” as the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported.
Harvey, rector of Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Md., decided to take action. First, he reached out to the local community and other religious congregations. Second, he signed up for a nonviolence and “active bystander intervention” training.
To understand how to be an “active bystander,” one must first understand the “passive bystander” effect. Research shows that when someone needs help and they are in a crowd, bystanders are less likely to act. The more bystanders there are to an event, the more each one thinks someone else will help.
The draft text of the order, like much of Trump's campaign rhetoric, uses the language of domestic security, couched in tear of terrorism. This is dramatically out of proportion with the actual statistics on crime among immigrants and refugees, when in reality, newcomers to the U.S. commit far less crime than those born here.
I grew up in Northern Ireland. I lived through very little of “the Troubles,” in large part because of the huge efforts of those on both sides seeking peace. I remember the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and experienced the stability of the years that followed. So my heart sinks when I think of leaving the EU — of the border controls we would build to stop freedom of movement through the U.K.’s only land border with an EU country, and of the smouldering tensions this would fan effortlessly into flame.I grew up in Northern Ireland. I lived through very little of “the Troubles,” in large part because of the huge efforts of those on both sides seeking peace. I remember the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and experienced the stability of the years that followed. So my heart sinks when I think of leaving the EU — of the border controls we would build to stop freedom of movement through the U.K.’s only land border with an EU country, and of the smouldering tensions this would fan effortlessly into flame.
Will we sit and listen to a refugee mother talk about her family’s horrific life in her war-torn country, and realize we’re no longer afraid of her? Will we talk to the gay couple that needs a cake and hear their love story, and feel a bond because it reminds us of our own love story? Will we look into the eyes with the homeless person begging just outside our car window and see another human being in pain, and suddenly feel an urge to help them? Will we make ourselves divinely vulnerable?
In that moment, we reach beyond our fear. We’re finally freed by love. No longer hiding in a tiny room behind a locked door. That. We all need more of that.
If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor? If it does, we do it; if it doesn’t, we don’t.
We evaluate candidates based on that. We evaluate public policy based on that. And that has nothing to do with whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, liberal or conservative. It has to do with if you say you’re a follower of Jesus, then you enter the public sphere based on the principle of love which is seeking the good and the welfare of the “other.” That’s a game-changer.
God’s been telling the story of restoration since Genesis when we were created selem Elohim, in the image of God. We were created into perfect communion with God. From Genesis 3 until the end of the Old Testament, we see a narrative of a people in exile and God giving opportunities for reconciliation and restoration of relationship that humanity is incapable of accepting. Reconciliation is an exchange of something worthless (our condition of sin) for something immeasurably worthy (communion with God).
In the New Testament we see a biblical narrative through Jesus of now-but-not-yet restoration. In Jesus we see the coming of the Kingdom of God and get to be reconciled back to God. We even get a glimpse of an eternity where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
If we truly believe we are the image of God, it changes how we approach the image of God in the world. Our call then is to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere.
Who your neighbor is and how you should treat them were topics addressed by keynote speaker Lisa Sharon Harper at Saturday's Summit on Race, Poverty and Inequality held at the Henderson Fine Arts Center.
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
Too often, perversions of our world’s religious traditions make the daily news for their violence, corruption, greed, and prejudice. Meanwhile, authentic representatives of those traditions are often busy doing good — good that goes largely unnoticed. That’s why I’m glad that a diverse group of religious leaders are sharing about seven ways authentic people of faith can work together to make a better world.
I served as a progressive evangelical pastor for 24 years, and during those years, I saw the evangelical movement struggling with its identity. The best versions of evangelicalism, whether they were labeled conservative or progressive, always took seriously passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Those verses continue to inspire evangelicals of all persuasions to engage in life-giving mission — and in particular, to engage constructively in the world in seven positive, reconciling, and healing ways.
If you invest just a few minutes over the next seven days thinking and speaking up about these seven ways to participate in our world, I believe by week’s end you will be moved to action and in it find a richer, more faithful life:
In the realm of biblical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, I’ve always found one — “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” — to be particularly weak.
After all, Jesus also never said anything about rape, molestation, bestiality, torture, cyber-bullying, insurance fraud or elaborate pagan rituals involving self-mutilation and child sacrifice. That does not, by default, earn any of those things the Lord’s unconditional seal of approval.
What’s more, I’m not sure if the argument’s underlying premise is even true. Because, in the Gospels, Christ may indeed have failed to specifically broach the topic currently preoccupying the American Evangelical church, but he did address the subject, in a manner of speaking, in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.
In those two brief, but pivotal, passages of scripture, Jesus captures the essence of the Christian ethic, mission, calling and faith in an incredibly simple and beautiful way. And he did so, interestingly, not as a standalone teaching, but in answer to a question from his critics.
It starts when a group of Pharisees, taking the tag from the Sadducees — who had been silenced in the previous back-and-forth — descend on Jesus, with the goal of ripping open a can of good, old-fashioned pwnage, first-century style.
Yesterday morning at 5:30 I woke up to a disconcerting email:
Suspicious Sign-In Prevented. Please check your Google activity immediately.
In my half-asleep bleariness, I clicked the link and filled in my password.
Then I realized I'd been scammed.
"Recognize" was spelt "recognise" — and the account email was from Googlemail.com, not Google.com. Otherwise, the email was identical to those I'd gotten from Google in the past.
The next two hours were spent frantically re-securing my life. Changing passwords, adding two-step verification, application passwords.
I suddenly realized how much of my life was online. My Facebook page was a chronicle of my wedding, my jobs, my son's first 2 years of life.
Most people my age are the same way. Sometimes it's easier online.
The first people to find out about my pregnancy three years ago, besides my husband, were members of an online birth month group at WhattoExpect.com. Weeks before we told family or close friends, we shared intimate details about morning sickness, headaches, and faint lines on pregnancy tests.
Why do we do this? Somewhere, all of us, in Fantasy Football groups and pregnancy groups and dog lover groups and gluten-free groups: we're longing for Real Community.
Let me tell you about Steve the neighbor.
When my sister and her family moved some years ago, they quickly learned that they had a lot of retired people as neighbors. Steve lives next door, a former postman who had to retire because of a balky hip. Big and strong, a little rough with the language — all part of his charm.
Steve and two retired buddies on the street spend a lot of time together, grilling together, helping each other through the many challenges that come with getting older. And if anybody needs assistance with anything, they are there to help.
They often say: “We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.“
Steve knows when my sister’s children get home from school, so on snowy days, he’ll rev up the plow and clear her sidewalk and driveway so they can get through without getting stuck. He does it without prompting. Anything else I can help with? The garage door is shimmering? There’s a shrub that needs to be dug up? Be right there with my buddies.
You know those people who make you feel better just because you’re around them? How their upbeat attitude rubs off on you? You leave them with a smile on your face? That’s him.
As my brother-in-law puts it, Steve is a perfect neighbor. Concerned, but not nosy. Willing to help, but never pushy. No payment is accepted. The feeling that they’ve helped someone is thanks enough.
They’re neighbors. It’s what they do.
A coalition of United Methodists has decided not to host an event planned for the summer 2015 in Atlanta due to "racially offensive practices" of the Atlanta Braves.
The Love Your Neighbor Coalition consists of ten “official” and “unofficial” caucus organizations of The United Methodist Church, including the Native American International Caucus of United Methodists, Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBTQ Concerns, and Black Methodists for Church Renewal, among others.
The group sent letters to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s Communications Office received a letter (via email) from the Love Your Neighbor Coalition explaining why their coalition of ten United Methodist-related caucus groups have changed initial plans to hold an event in Atlanta in the summer of 2015. Members of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Braves Executive Offices also recieved emails.
The letters included this message:
“While we give thanks that the Atlanta Braves organization has changed its mascot from ‘the screaming Indian, Chief Noc-A-Homa’ to ‘Homer,’ we also note that they have not done anything to remove the offensive caricature of “Chief Noc-A-Homa” from screen savers and Facebook pages that still connect it directly with the Atlanta Braves. If recent news stories about racism within sporting organizations have shown us anything, it is that organizations can attempt to outwardly placate the public while systemically continuing to promote prejudice and racist attitudes through their words, actions and deeds. The use of the name Braves and the symbols of the tomahawk and ‘tomahawk chop’ do nothing but offer up racist and demeaning images and stereotypes of our Native American citizens and friends.”
I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty, and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman.
Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.”
After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family.
Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60 percent of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border), and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.
We clearly live in a world that is filled with risks and dangers, and because the increased availability of modern technology allows for harm to occur at unprecedented rates and levels, one can argue that we live in one of the most treacherous eras of human history. However, while the need for protection from harm is both natural and commendable, we are forced to consider whether protection itself can eventually become harmful, unnatural, and even condemnable. In other words, with such extensive resources invested in the pursuit of safety and security, one is forced to consider: What are the consequences of such “protection?" And what happens when so much time and effort is dedicated toward protecting ourselves from our neighbors that we eventually lose sight of who are neighbors actually are? At what point does the heightened priority of protection lead to the increased inevitability of isolation and ignorance? And finally, in our efforts to build impenetrable walls of protection (often in the name of freedom), do we not eventually incarcerate ourselves from the rest of the world and thus limit what it actually means to live free?
Beyond the realm of churches, religious blogs, and bible colleges, nobody really cares about theology. What does matter is the way you treat other people.
Within Christendom, we’re often taught the exact opposite: that doctrines, traditions, theologies, and distinct beliefs are the only things that do matter. It’s what separates churches, denominations, theologians, and those who are “saved” and “unsaved.”
Historically, Christians have been tempted to categorize the Bible into numerous sets of beliefs that are either inspired or heretical, good or bad, right or wrong — with no room for doubt or questioning or uncertainty.
It’s easy to get caught up in theorizing about God, but within our everyday lives reality is what matters most to the people around us. Theorizing only becomes important once it becomes relevant and practical and applicable to our lives.
When I'm sick, and you bring me a meal, I don't care whether you're a Calvinist or Arminian