God Bless the Whole World — No Exceptions

I started listening to NPR a few years ago because I had entered a season of needing to hear a different voice, of wanting to listen to viewpoints and encounter opinions that I did not share.  In these days of challenging conversations around politics and race, it’s important for me to remember that I am called to love, to trade my litmus tests for conversations with real people.  In navigating the deep divides within the church on everything from immigration and the role of women to worship style and the definition of family, more than ever the body of Christ must be the force that passes through our differences all the way to grace.  Deidra Riggs reminds me in ONE that Unity in a Divided World must be an intentional thing, something that we pray for and work toward.  Jesus modeled this focused attention in His prayer recorded in John’s Gospel:

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

This begs the question for this middle-aged, stodgy, and opinionated soul:  Can I love my neighbor “without being concerned about whether [my] neighbor is right?”  King Solomon and Parker J. Palmer invite me into a Third Way in which my soul hears well and is, therefore, enabled to choose the God-honoring, others-serving path that may go against the grain.

Ambassadors of Unity

Deidra traces the path of reconciliation that leads to oneness, urging readers:

  • to ask challenging questions about our motives for living toward the homogeneous and the “safe”;
  • to offer and to seek forgiveness;
  • to continually remind one another that we are one.

The Two Chairs

Whenever people come together, there are two chairs in the room.  One is the seat of justice, and the other is the seat of mercy.  “Only God has the credentials to sit in both of those seats and perfectly administer both justice and mercy,” (64) and while we may crave justice, it is critical to recall that God “does not ignore our broken hearts” when He invites us to sit in the seat of mercy and to view life from the perspective of someone who has wronged us.  (75)

When Jesus prayed for his followers (present and future), He would not have been blindsided by the fact that an outcome of His magnificent creativity would be uniqueness — manifested in differences of opinions.  It would be alarming if we all walked in lockstep on every issue.

“Oneness is not about conforming.
Oneness is about transforming.”  (97)

The oneness that Jesus prayed for us is bigger than our position on an issue or our political affiliation.  The challenge is to love well — especially if disagreements make love an unlikely thing, for then the radical love of God is put on display.

Going to Ferguson

Because her heart was broken, and because she needed to see the fallout from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Deidra boarded a plane and spent three days in the sweltering heat, living in the midst of the tragedy and joining in the lament.  Two years later, when Alton Sterling was killed, she used the internet as a virtual gathering place in which the “Prayers of the People” became an invitation to come together around shared grief.  Looking squarely at tragedy, acknowledging together that we live in the space between what is and what will be can be the starting place for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.

Spiritual Integrity

Like Deidra, I am the bologna in a generational sandwich.  Mine comprises an elderly mother on one side, and on the other, a range of adult and teen sons.  Add to this a quest for a vibrant marriage, ministry, blogging, and the occasional cup of tea with a friend, and the tendency is to fragment, bringing only part of the self to each aspect of life. Unity in a divided world requires personal and internal oneness which brings a screeching halt to the sacred/secular dichotomy and nullifies the “requirement” that I be all things to all people.  Only Jesus can do that, and it turns out that His prayer in John 17 is a prayer for integrity, a heart’s cry from the Son to the Father against the “massive fault line that runs through the center of my soul.” (156)

The unity that Jesus prayed for among those who believingly follow Him is a product of the “oneness within each follower.” (157)  Spiritual integrity de-emphasizes lines of division, assuring our hearts that all of life is sacred.  We care for and respect our one-and-only heart through radical practices of grace, going home to our roots for restoration, and recalibrating our perspective through regular observance of Sabbath (which Eugene Peterson defines this way:  “Take nothing for granted.  And do it every week.”)

Gathered under God’s loving wings, may we look around us at all those within His vast circumference and find, to our great surprise, that this is what it means to be One; that this shared protection and provision is proof that God loves the whole world and delights in each one of us — no exceptions.

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This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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A Legacy of Striving

You opened your new eyes
in the garden that God Himself had planted.
Born a woman, you bypassed childhood,
and came into yourself with a rush of speech,
a flood of images,
and a seamless, three-way companionship:  you, Adam, and Elohim.

Was Eden’s bird song the first sound in your perfect ears?
Or was it the world’s first love ballad, crooned by sleepy-eyed Adam
the moment he clapped his eyes on beautiful you?
“Bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh . . .”
Lonely no more, he riffed on the theme of his heart’s delight.

And so began the days of one flesh,
the days of naked and unashamed,
and the joyous sound of Elohim’s footsteps in the cool of the day.
But you and I, Sister Eve, are all of a piece in our restlessness,
For I, too, am prone to hanging around the wrong tree at the wrong time.
One glance too many at the forbidden fruit,
And suddenly there’s
The sibilant invitation:

“You can easily become like God.”

It’s all we can hear.

Unaware of the deadly implications, you were convinced
to want to be something other than what you were meant to be.

But then, your striving to be like God
is so much like my own cobbled-together omniscience:
Two parts worry,
One part hubris,
Larded through with a need for control.

I, too, would jump at the chance to know everything all the way from good to evil,
to see what’s really going on,
to be just like God.  (Genesis 3:5 – MSG)
In my own ceaseless strivings, I have also thoughtlessly questioned the motives       and challenged the truth claims of God.

Today, we call it “The Fall” . . .

And some days it seems as if we just keep right on falling.

Today, over at SheLoves Magazine, I’m writing about Eve’s legacy to us, the heartbreak of all that’s been lost and the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to bring about glorious redemption.

I hope you’ll take a moment to join me there!

Capture

Photo credit

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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A Culture with No Excuse

Three of my four boys are volunteer fire fighters, so when they get together, the stories pile up, one upon another, and the youngest of the three will, inevitably, be reminded (repeatedly) of his lowly status.  He’s a “probie,” a probationary fire fighter — new, full of enthusiasm, but not necessarily full of experience or know-how.  That’s me on the topic of racial reconciliation.  However, even here in rural Maine where we’re a pretty homogeneous bunch, I don’t have to look further than Portland to find accounts of healthy, positive relationships being built by my friend Beth in her work within the Somali Christian community — or further than Lewiston to read accounts of our own tiny refugee crisis.  Needless to say, my learning curve is nearly vertical.

Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker have responded to the brother-against-brother of racism with a collection of five essays centered around the theme that “in the Kingdom of God, it is not us against them.  The Kingdom of God is us reconciled to one another.”  Part of The Gospel for Life Series, The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation is intended as a primer for equipping believers with sufficient background to free us from our fear of engaging in the conversation on race and to motivate us toward action that will make a difference.

J. Daniel Hays traces equality among the races — and the dignity of all human beings — to our creation in the image of God, debunking along the way a good many myths and downright lies about issues such as erroneous views of where the Bible comes down on slavery and interracial marriage.  Because God depicts a multi-ethnic congregation from every tribe and language and people and nation at the climax of history, it follows then that the gospel is for all people and ethnicities.

Identity in Christ overshadows all other identities, and Thabiti Anyabwile makes a strong case for the truth that the solution to racial strife will not be simply a matter of re-education, but, rather, change at the “root of man’s being” which results in a longing for equality for all who bear the image of God.

Trillia Newbell emphasizes love — for God and for neighbors — as the driving force behind racial reconciliation.   Not only is our service more beneficial when we link arms with a diverse workforce, but, more importantly, the church that demonstrates unity in Christ through the gospel is putting the transforming work of the gospel on display.  Coming from an era in which I was encouraged to be “color blind,” I was enlightened by Trillia’s encouragement to “see color” in a celebration of ethnic differences that trumpets God’s creativity.  Open conversations about race beat a path away from apathy and its close cousin, racism, and toward open relationships.

There is a theme of reconciliation that permeates the narrative arc of Scripture, and Eric Mason likens the potential for racial reconciliation in the church to the impact that hip-hop music has had on the culture at large, a restoration of friendly relationships (conversations!) based on a shared interest.  The unity Paul calls for in Ephesians 4 is an element of the believer’s sanctification. Since, therefore, racism is sin, the believer is directed to war against it.

The quest for diversity within the church must extend beyond Sunday  morning, beyond a “reconciliation for hire” approach to staffing, and beyond a forced homogeneity that ignores the beautiful complexity of first-generation realities.  Matthew J. Hall and D.A. Horton address the theological influences that shaped our unique, born-in-the-USA-brand of racism, stressing that “if we’re going to get this right, we need to be honest about where we have gotten it wrong.”  May God in His mercy allow the church another opportunity to put on display the beauty of redemption and to represent Him well in our approach to racial reconciliation.

By looking at the issues at the heart of racism, listening to the positions of those who are different from us, learning out of a generous position of humility, and living life together in a community that is redolent with the sweet nectar of Spirit-borne fruit, it may be that we can earn the right to speak truth into our culture.  In the New Testament, there are no fewer than twenty-two injunctions for believers to love one another, and first-century Christians left their world looking for the reason behind their inexplicable love.  What an honor and a miracle of grace it would be if the church could once again engage the culture with the gospel and embody a multicultural, multi-ethnic community that would render present day culture “with no excuse for not pursuing the God who reconciled us to Him and [to] each other.”

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This book was provided by B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.