In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament there is a story I love when the Lord speaks to Elijah who is in crisis, and tells him to stand outside a cave where he will be passing by. The Lord is not in wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, it was not in the earthquake, or next a great fire that pass Elijah by. The Lord was in a whisper that Elijah had to be still to hear. I love that story, because it goes to the heart of the matter of God’s influence. When we shut down the chatter and move away from the noxious drama and all the noise…we will be in a better position to hear God, that is if we really want to hear what God has to say. Listening, while not as flashy as some of the other qualities of a great leader, is, for me anyway, the most essential quality. How can you lead anyone if you can’t hear their pain, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their passions about the journey ahead? The role of a leader, contrary to many of those who presently act in leadership positions, is not to forge ahead with their own agenda, with everyone else be damned. It is to do what is in the best interest of those who are following you. That being said, the listening only comes after your commitment to what it is you stand for and proclaim, because I guarantee, in the listening process that follows, there will be those who will try to convince you to sway from those ideals to pursue an agenda that will not benefit the whole.
I know I’ve used this before, but in the the first book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Paul creates an apt analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ, with all the many members having different functions to sustain the body, and those differences should be celebrated, because it is their interdependence that allows the Body to fully function. Knowing that in any hierarchy there is a tendency to give greater power to those members that seem more honorable like a foot or hand, and less power to those more unseemly parts, Paul would have none of that and he states logically, if all parts were the same where would the body be? He declares if one part suffers, all parts should suffer, if one part is honored, all parts should share it’s joy. What a beautiful image, right? Sadly it is one where we have failed miserably…and perhaps it is because no one has taken time to listen to the parts of the body that suffer, or to listen to God in the whispers to tell us what to do.
I seem to be in tears a lot these days…a reflection of a developed sense of empathy and artistry, I hope. I hear the pain of those parts of the body of our country, and the scramble of those who try to convince us the pain isn’t real, or those who would damage the rest of the body just so they will listen. So lets all be better at listening, for a start, before we write off a part of this body that isn’t like “our part”. None of us can function if can’t work together and see the value of each gift an individual brings that will keep this body functioning. It need not start from the top down, it just needs to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.
Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.
For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.
Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?
Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.
Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.
And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.
When there are no words, I am called to listen. This week I listened to stories of love and loss, hardship and unexpected graciousness, and I felt sadness but also hope. I also listened to stories of anger, bias, ill informed and ignorant claims about “what really happened,” questions about character and worth and I felt despair but also deep anger. I heard people speak of those participants in the horrors of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas with deep love about those who were lost. I listened to my pastor speak about a phrase from Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I listened to my son, impressed by Jane Elliot’s ground breaking, “blue eyed, brown eyed” experiment in the 1960’s, speak with laser accuracy about racism. I listened to social media friends talk about white privilege and black lives matter and knew that I could never understand with any depth what people of color go through in this country. I listened to friends in law enforcement and blue lives matter and the fear that follows them each and every day, and yet work with deep honor and pride as well. I listened to a mother with a biracial child speak about the subtle and not so subtle ways racism affects her daughter. I listened to a story about a woman who was able to comfort a frightened Muslim grandmother who was afraid at an airport in the most beautiful and simplest way. I listened to people effortlessly bash our president with unmitigated hatred after, what I thought was one of the most beautiful memorial speeches ever, he spoke in Dallas. I listened with even more sadness when I heard the news of another attack in France.
It is a disturbing point of tension, caught in the middle unable to say anything that would begin to change another’s mind or heart. To hear so many perspectives that seemed to speak over each other, cancel each other out or in anonymous condemnation made me want to stop listening. So I sat in silence and remembered the words of Isaiah when he heard God in a whisper. And in the quiet of those moments I could feel God present in my struggle, and could hear God in a whisper, and he asked me to magnify my struggle as much as I could and think of how much bigger my struggle could be…and he told me even then I am there. He is present in every place where there is crisis, even in my small and seemingly insignificant one. I listened to God and realized that we haven’t really been listening to him when he said that nothing could separate us from his love. When we listen, we can hear God through each other. I told God that I wanted to be the seed that was planted deep and not on shallow, rocky, or thorny ground. And then I listened to the words of Christ who said that I need only love the Lord my God with my heart, mind and soul, and my neighbor as my self. And the way to do that was to see Christ in them, understand them by walking a mile in their shoes, and work with them to become the Body of Christ. I am a holder of his Grace, I have no need to fear, and yet I do. I fear the lies that are being spread, because we don’t want to listen to painful truths. I fear that the Devil is craftier than I ever knew in eliciting strife and discord, and people are buying it hook, line and sinker, under the guise of faith, patriotism and righteousness.
So before you plant your feet too firmly, take a walk to the other side, and listen. You may see things differently.