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Posts Tagged ‘sacred other’

Art by Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison

I had an epiphany this morning. The Book of Life only has the good stuff in it. I mean, it’s not a list of all our mistakes, our sins, or our misdemeanors. That’s the point. If one’s name isn’t in the “book,” it’s because there’s nothing to write. That which is written there, nurtures life in others.

Revelation 20:12, 15
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

The other day, we had our micro-church (small group) meeting and talked about the feeling some of us have about “not doing enough.” [James 2:14-26] And at that time, I shared how that feeling or self-perception can morph into condemnation, which is NOT from God [Romans 8:1]. It’s like this: the poor will always be with us [Mark 14:7], the need will always be greater than what we can give. This is the nature of our current world, filled with strife, jealousy, and yes, even evil. Everywhere we look, there are people who are in ill health, depressed, lonely, out of work, addicted, or just plain lost. Each of us cannot tackle every misfortune. But we can touch one. And then another one.

We must, as they say, “keep on keeping on.” And that means, doing what we can, when we can, because we can. Each good work, each loving deed, each prayer, and each kindness works to tip the grand scale toward love and away from despair. We tend to minimize our good actions because they seem so small in the face of a daunting and urgent need. That’s unproductive thinking.

None can know the impact that a single kind remark might have.

I remember, a long time ago, I wrote a note to a woman who was participating in a retreat (Walk to Emmaus, for those who are familiar with it). Several years after that, while sharing my story at a Women’s Aglow meeting in a completely different state, this same woman came up to me with the note, now old and somewhat crumpled in her hand, and told me, with tears in her eyes, that my note had saved her life. I have no clue what I even wrote. And yet, this tiny act, so seemingly insignificant, became the difference between life and death for someone else.

As Yoda said, “do or not do, there is no try.” And so it is with the extension of self toward others. Do. But do not judge what you do, this is not the way of love and God.

When Jesus walked this earth, did he not face even more insurmountable odds. One man, then three, and then twelve, changed the face of humanity in three years. Ok, so he did a few miracles, but ultimately, I’m not so sure those are the actions that made the real difference. I think it was his authentic presence, his touch, his listening ear, his compassion, and his unconditional of acceptance of everyone he met. He showed us “human,” the way human was intended to be from the beginning.

Today, I can choose to write into the Book of Life.

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Clearly, if we must be told, as a people, to “not” hold grudges or seek revenge, it must be a norm or tendency. My kids call it “paybacks.” Instead, we are to love our neighbor and why? Because the Lord God says so.

Leviticus 19:18
‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Of all the things I struggle with, I don’t believe seeking revenge is that high on my list. Grudge-keeping on the hand, is pretty good sport in my head. It’s just one more list. I keep lots of lists and the grudge list, whether I want to admit it or not, is hanging out there waiting for additions at a moment’s notice. It’s amazing how quickly I can drag up the list once I’m wronged again. Not good.

The solution, based on this scripture, is to love that neighbor. And not just love them in general, but with the same care that we love ourselves.

There’s a trend out there to turn this command into a kind of self-serving mandate: I must learn to love myself first. I think that’s self-help myth. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all love ourselves enough to keep eating, sleeping, and entertaining ourselves. That’s not to say we don’t abuse our bodies, use terrible self-talk, and procrastinate. My guess is that the best way to stop self-bashing is to stop bashing others. In the meantime, if I could just give the courtesy of basic acceptance, like food, shelter, clothing, and remember that everyone is working the human thing. We all make mistakes.

I think it’s time to erase the grudge lists. Delete, delete.

Anyway, there’s good reason to do so. God says so.

There is no grudge, no revenge, no mistake, no betrayal that is bigger than God. If I can’t figure it out, if I can’t muster up the reasons to let these things go, then I may have to drop back to the common denominator: God says so.

As a parent, how many times have I finally used this reason. Sometimes, it’s just too complicated, too time-consuming, too frustrating to explain the ins and outs of why a particular decision must be made. Kids don’t get it. And so, I drop back and punt: Because I said so. Apparently, in this case, God feels the same way. Stop with the lists and planning for evil and love instead. It doesn’t have to be Valentines Day with hearts and flowers and chocolates, just the basics, just simple courtesy and respect for the core of the other person, the sacred core created by God.

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Favoritism with ice cream is a lot different than favoritism with people. Oh I might try not to judge people on first impressions but I find it inescapable. Can I overcome these moments with intentional action?

James 2:1, 4
My brothers [and sisters], as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Some years ago when we still lived in Atlanta, we attended a small church composed mostly of fellow believers who had been asked to split away from a larger denominational church because of our bent toward the charismatic. One of our leaders, Jim, was a wonderful man, kind and dignified, smart and loving. I will never forget the day he taught about enthusiasm: “If you want to be enthusiastic, sometimes you just have to act enthusiastic to feel it.” And then he proceeded to stomp and cheer and pump his arms around like a lunatic. It was hysterical but his message stayed with me.

Personally, enthusiasm comes easily to me. In fact, when I’m excited about a project, I’m quite the cheerleader, almost nauseatingly so, I’m sure. But how can I take that passionate commitment to action and use it to break down my internal tendencies toward judging others through intentional choices to change?

Some people call it a “besetting sin.” When I looked that up, it can also mean a type of harassment, or being surrounded, or an obsession. I can certainly relate to my judging of others in that way. My time in confessional prayers is dominated by asking forgiveness for my judgments. And in my way of thinking, judgment and favoritism go hand in hand. I cannot “favor” one person above the other without having made a negative of judgment of the other.

What to do? I know I can’t just tell myself to stop. If that worked, I’d be golden by now. Should I treat it as a bad habit and follow these 29 Tips for Changing a behavior?

Here are some suggestions from Oprah.com (go figure) written by Tim Jarvis. At first I was going to make a joke about it, but perhaps I need to take a few of these ideas to heart:

  • Like the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, it may take a number of efforts to get to the “boiling point” or threshold when things happen. So, in my case, the more I tackle this issue, the more aware I am and the more opportunities to get over the hump.
  • I need to think more about the other side, what it would look like and feel like to “not” be a judge so much. Instead of looking back at my failures, look ahead.
  • One of the approaches for change is to engage in community. This is why groups like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous are so important: support and encouragement. Hmmm. Not sure how to translate my habit of the heart into a club of regenerated judges.

A friend of mine who struggles with food addiction says that this is one of the most difficult addictions to tackle. After all, unlike alcohol and drugs which can, to some degree be avoided, food is always with us. I think judging and dis-favoring others is similar. People are everywhere. I say that I love to “people watch,” but I wonder if that’s not just a buzz word for judging, mocking, and categorizing. Not a good thing.

What do you do? Honestly. Am I really alone out here?

Lord, forgive me again. Today. And right now, I’d appreciate it.

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I wonder if I would be a nicer person if I honestly considered that the person driving that car that just cut me off or the person who insisted on paying with coins in the checkout line or the huge person who just sat in front of me at the movies was an angel?

Hebrews 13:2
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

All right, I know that’s far-fetched, but isn’t it unfortunate in our current age that strangers equal danger? All children are told to avoid them; women fear them in parking lots while men suspect nefariousness or come-ons. Most strangers are wearing black hats.

And of course, I understand that “stranger danger” is very real, but have we overdone it? Have we extended this assumption to regular people who might be visiting from out of town or drop by our church one Sunday or just want to help with directions–have we demonized them all?

I don’t know the answer.

We have a family friend who is very quick to speak to strangers. He usually feels led of God and because of that, he has no fear. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and something terrible to happen, bu nothing has endangered him in the last ten or twenty years (both in the U.S. and abroad). On his way to visit us (driving up from Georgia with another friend), they picked up a hitchhiker (as is his custom). They talked at length and as he got closer to our home, he telephoned ahead and said we would have an extra guest.

When I found out it was a young man, generally high on something and recently out of jail, my heart skipped a beat. All I could envision was a complete takeover at knife point. My fears were over the top, but for safety’s sake, I did insist that they all crash in our basement guest room.

The boy was not an angel but he was in need and in the end, the two friends took him all the way to New York and got him connected with Dave Wilkerson’s ministry.

I am embarrassed that I was so afraid. I will never be like my global traveling missionary, but I do think I could be generous with my eyes, my voice, and my mind. I could be more interested in the stranger. I could be kind. I could be willing to help.

Something to think about.

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Photo by H. Graham Smith

Tomorrow has no real meaning in the world of encouragement while yesterday is too late. If I am to make a difference in a person’s demeanor or frustration, in his/her sorrow or disappointment, in a time of loss or unexpected change, it is now . . . today.

Hebrews 3:13
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Encouragement is a cheap price to pay for the sake of another. It doesn’t have to be particularly articulate or well thought out. I can give comfort in words or actions, or I can be present — be there, as they say. It may require a little active listening and definitely without censure, but most of all, it must be authentic.

So often, I fail in the encouragement department because I mistakenly believe it requires “advice.” I get caught up in wanting to help the person get a better perspective or help solve the problem. Some people say this is a male trait, but I confess, I am notorious for this bad behavior. I count myself a problem solver when, in actuality, my problem solving might even add to the problem.

But let me get back to the idea of immediacy. Non-judgmental, authentic encouragement is powerful in the now. The hope would be that consolation and compassion would be spontaneous and timely. We should never withhold encouragement. No matter what has happened, there is room in the moment, to give a boost, even the tiniest fragment of hope, love, and camaraderie. The message is simple: “Today, you are not alone.”

Because, it could be in this day, the world will change for that “other person.” It could be.

I can only imagine what the potential power would be if I gave a word or touch of encouragement to each and every person with whom I came into contact in a single day.

Anyone want to take on that challenge with me? Today?

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Can I be honest about what I see when I meet someone? I’d love to say my eyes go inside and seek out the “sacred other” but no, not usually. I’m still assessing the outer shell. It happens in a flash, whether it’s chewed down fingernails or Jimmy Choo shoes, my first impression rules the day.

Philemon 16
. . . no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Haven’t we all played that first impression game with people who have developed into friends?

“Oh, when I first met you, I thought you were a snob . . . or a slob . . . or whatever.” And then we laugh and say how wrong we were, how we had misjudged, how we had missed the clues of the truth inside. It’s all so funny, but is it?

Or what about those times I’ve yelled at a driver or gestured inappropriately or intentionally cut one off as a payback. Yeah, and then we both drive into the same church parking lot. That’s humbling. What did we see? What will we see next?

I work in a community library and we deal with the public all day long and sometimes, it’s not always pleasant. Patrons “swear” they returned a book only to find it later under their son’s bed; or they adamantly deny the water-damage happened during the three weeks they borrowed it. Bottom line? They lie and lie and lie. And often, they don’t just lie, they yell and threaten too. Just such an incident happened last Friday to my colleague and sure enough, they met up again in the same pew on Easter morning. Nice first impression on both sides. Not.

In this letter to Philemon, Paul is asking him to “see” Onesimus, not as a slave, but a “brother” and even moreso, as a man.

When Jesus came to the Jews, he turned their belief system upside down, announcing himself as the Messiah, breaking the dietary laws and traditions, and advocating for grace over legalism. Then, Paul comes along and moves into the Greek and other Asian cities nearby. If we think following Christ in those places was any less disruptive, that’s just wrong. Hierarchy and class ruled those cultures and now, they were being asked to set those traditions aside as well. A slave is a person, a human being, and if that man has entered the life of Christ, then how is he different from you or me?

Some weeks ago, a friend shared this video with me about Narayanan Krishnan, a successful restaurateur who decided to return to his native city in India to feed and care for the poor, some of them untouchables. Who did he see?

CNN Video Story about Narayanan Krishnan [2.5 minutes]
Is it not the Christ?

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A Pure Heart painted by Jan Oliver

Is it true? Do the pure of heart recognize pure motives in another person? Or, even more mysterious, can the pure find something pure in anyone? Is it another way of thinking about the “sacred other?” How sorrowful, then, to dwell in the opposite world, a type of hell surely, where nothing is pure.

Titus 1:15
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

I was quite moved today while listening to the audio book of Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese when a minor character, Deepak, a 5th year resident doctor who has been close to completing his residency many times but has, time after time, been cut out by the system, speaks to his young intern, Marion. Finally, circumstances take a turn for Deepak, his first real hope in ten years that things will work out. He shares his long-standing belief that good does triumph over evil, that hard work and honesty and integrity do prevail along with patience and long suffering. He is so clearly a good man, a humble man who loves his work and believes in this “power of good.” He is of the pure heart variety, and I found him remarkably drawn, this character in the book felt real and knowable.

The pure of heart do suffer because of those who do not recognize them. Those pure-hearted ones are taken advantage of; they are often swept aside; they are maligned in their silence.

In our small town, it is a political season in which a mayor will be elected (or re-elected) and a city council re-populated with new or old faces. The rhetoric is flying and I wonder, are there pure hearts among them? Can I still my own heart long enough to recognize them? Can I get past my own judgmentalism and pre-conceived notions? Can I tap into my small spot of purity where the Holy Spirit dwells within and where truth can be uncovered?

I am also in the vortex of another political storm, where integrities are coming into question, where truths are unclear, where memories have become short-sighted. And today, I realized, sorrowfully, that my friends may continue to be maligned because corrupted hearts may not recognize them. And despite the purity I can see; it does not give revelation to others. At least, for now. But like my sweet doctor Deepak, a time will come when purity of heart and motive will emerge. I must believe that too.

Just yesterday, I discussed with new friends how we cannot know the ways of God’s hand. What may appear as defeat on the outside, may be victory within. What plays out in sorrow now, may reveal a greater glory later. I must hold to this understanding.

After all, Jesus modeled this same scenario. He was betrayed, wrongly sentenced, and crucified. Most of his followers were broken and dismayed. Their cause for good appeared broken. They looked at the circumstances in 3-D only, not knowing that other dimensions were turning upside down. They allowed the corrupt to veil their hope.

We must stand fast. The pure of heart must hold to this: Sunday’s coming.

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