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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

If we just call it a “sect” or a “faction” or even a “cult,” we can marginalize everyone within that group. These labels already carry negative connotations without anyone needing to know any actual beliefs or doctrines. It’s a technique for categorizing the world and justifying our actions.

Acts 24:5-6
We [Sanhedrin] have found this man [Paul] to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.
[Tertullus, the lawyer, speaking against Paul to Felix, the Governor, in Caesarea]

I have always been intrigued by labels. It’s something that humans do automatically. It’s how we “understand” what we are seeing or hearing. We look at an object and our brain identifies it as a chair or an animal or a tree. And then there are the sub-categories like particular designs of chairs or specific animals or breeds or types of trees. We do this with people too. They are categorized by how they look by skin color, body part shapes, hair color or texture, size, etc. People are also sorted by their sex, clothing, their neighborhood, their country, their language, and their incomes. And of course, they are classified by their associations, whether religious or secular.

But how do we understand or embrace something or someone new? How do we recognize it? If that thing or person does not fit into any of the normal designations, then what is it? Who is it?

I always thought the ancient prophets, whose writings and prophecies are peppered throughout the scriptures, were beleaguered with this categorization problem. They were seeing visions of a future they could not know. How would a primitive person describe an airplane, a rocket, or a space ship? How would they describe an atomic explosion? Are we any better at explaining or understanding miracles?

We use our limited understanding, our own frames of reference. We shove the unfamiliar into the closest or most familiar box. If there is no shape we recognize, we give it shape. We name it.

Jesus was outside the box. He was doing and saying things that made no sense to most of the people he encountered. Paul wasn’t much better.

Christianity of today evolved its own norms. It has taken the recorded words of Jesus and scrutinized, categorized, dissected and analyzed them to the extreme. And yet, when folks start pulling at the edges of Christianity, there is no less resistance than there was in Jesus’s day. We are still afraid of being deluded, of believing a lie, of breaking the law.

But God does not need us to “protect” the truth. God knows the heart.

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The Rabbi’s yoke is the set of interpretations of the law that a rabbi has and passes to his students. Paul was zealous because his teacher taught him to be. How many of us are still operating out of ingrained lessons and prejudices?

Acts 22:3b
“…Under Gamaliel I [Paul] was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you [the crowd in Jerusalem] are today.”

My mother, an immigrant, was fervent about equal rights. When we first arrived in this country (1951), we lived in North Carolina. My father, already over 60, was forced to carry heavy railroad ties alone because the supervisor assumed he wouldn’t want to work with a negro [that’s the polite term]. We moved to Indianapolis within the year. There we lived in the inner city where we experienced a different form of prejudice against us because we were “foreigners.” In the end, although our family was poor and fiscally conservative, we remained socially liberal.

But others are taught from an early age to distrust, fear and even hate. Children are brainwashed to believe the worst and they quickly mouth the name-calling and rants they hear in the home. This learned hatred is particularly vitriolic in the case of skin color, sexuality, and religious practices. In some middle eastern countries, this yoke (set of beliefs) has escalated to the point of sacrificial suicide to kill and destroy “infidels.”

In order to take on a new yoke, one must take off the old one. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” [Matthew 6:24a]

It is so difficult to let go of something we have believed our whole lives. Instead, the old yoke is perpetuated from one generation to another. We teach our children what we were taught, either directly or indirectly.

But Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. [Matthew 11:30] And yet, some people still try to make the yoke of Jesus heavy and burdensome. They manipulate His yoke to be more like the yoke they have known before.

Jesus’s yoke is like no other yoke. There is freedom. There is love. There is a lightness of being. There is trust. There is hope. There is Spirit.

Paul was thrown to the ground and blinded in order to get his attention. What about us? What must God do to reveal the yoke of Jesus to us? I think I am still trying to wear more than one yoke. Show me, O God, the yokes of my past that weigh me down.

I only want to carry one yoke: the yoke of Christ Jesus.

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Acts 16:33
At that hour of the night the jailer took them [Paul and Silas] and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

When the jailer accepted the word of God that Paul and Silas shared with him, his eyes were opened and with those open eyes came compassion. Paul and Silas were no longer just prisoners but injured men who needed attending. Before that, the jailer had been complacent.

I wonder how often I have missed human need and suffering because of a callous heart. I drive the same streets every day. I walk the neighborhoods. I go to the same grocery store and eat at the same restaurants. Am I looking and not seeing?

Martin Buber spoke eloquently of man’s ability to look at “the other” without seeing in his book, I and Thou. Am I looking at other as “object” … as an “it,” or as a person … a true “thou.”

William Shakespeare captured this idea slightly differently (but effectively) in the Merchant of Venice through one of the speeches of Shylock: “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?” [Act III, sc 1] Replace the word Jew with “the poor” and you get the idea.

The jailer could not do much. He couldn’t free Paul and Silas, he couldn’t change their circumstances, but he could give a small comfort: he could wash their wounds.

When I see poor and wretched souls, I become numb with the enormity of their deprivation. What can I possibly do? Perhaps it’s only the small act that needs doing in the moment…. washing wounds by listening, touching, asking, engaging, feeding, sharing. Perhaps I should stop worrying about what I cannot do and simply do what I can do.

I have heard it said that we can never “out give” the poor. Their need will always be greater that our ability to meet it. This sentiment reverberates in Jesus’s own words: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want…” [Mark 14:7a]

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