Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a mountain becoming a mole hill

I realize I am past due for a blog for the grandparents. Sorry. Wait just a little longer.... :)

I'm still processing CCDA. Still. It's nearly a month later. It's funny how when you actually start trying to put into practice something new you've learned, you continue to think about it for a long time. It certainly helps that we returned from the conference to find ourselves studying the book of James in the Bible. For those unfamiliar with it, an over-simplified description is that it's the book in the New Testament that says, "Hey. Do those things you believe you should be doing."

There are two related beliefs I have that I'm trying to practice. (Perhaps I would more correctly say that I am "practicing"them. Sesame Street says that to practice means to try...and try.) The first was put into one of the songs we sang at the conference.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. 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

That walking humbly part does not come naturally, but it sure does help when trying to do justice and love mercy. It seems to me that most of the time in the Bible, when God talks about justice, it is mostly in the context of making sure those at a disadvantage in society (the poor, the orphan, and the widow) are taken care of. But when I think about justice, I mostly think about how other people -- even those at a disadvantage -- don't deserve better because they have bad habits x, y, and z. Now, I'm all for applying wisdom in helping others and am definitely in favor of empowering and against enabling, but I also am aware that I am missing out on the heart of God lots of times because of those neat-o terms I like to use.

You see, I like to judge. Sometimes I put my judging others under the name of other things that are good to do, such as "exercising judgment" or "walking the line between this and that" or "being careful," but really, it's just me reading only part of the verse. "I'll be good at the 'acting justly' part and someone else can be good at the 'loving mercy' part," I think. "I play this role in the Body of Jesus and you can play that one." Not judging someone just didn't seem like it was even an option to me. I automatically judge people all the time. "Well, it's probably okay that this bad thing happened to so-and-so. Maybe she'll learn not to do that thing she always does." "I'll give this thing to so-and-so, but I'll keep this thing to myself, because I don't want to encourage that bad habit in him." "It's okay for me to not go the extra mile for so-and-so's kids...they don't really care if their kids have this opportunity anyway." You understand. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you're not. (If you're not, don't tell me.)

But what I was shown was that, in my very act of thinking those thoughts, I became just as awful as "those people." Just as much in need of a Savior. I was missing out on the "show mercy" part of loving God just as much as other people may miss out on the "take care of your body" (and I only say that because "don't do drugs" is not explicitly in the Bible...) part. We're all missing out on the "make Jesus the Lord of your whole life" part. I am no exception. Me. I am no exception. What was that verse I memorized in Mrs. McKnight's kindergarten class? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Sorry, Mrs. McKnight. I forgot which verse that was in Acts.) "All" includes me just like it includes the person next to me.

There's also that verse about how every valley will be exalted and every mountain will be made low and we all will see our Maker together. I'm learning to love that verse. Include me as a mountain being brought down. I'm learning to rejoice when I see the valleys rising up beside me. I'm learning that we're all on the same level when it comes to Jesus appearing in our lives. We will all see him together. And then I remember what John Perkins said, "Something about when God shows up, you do not feel overqualified."

That brings me to my second belief: we should love other people. Love. That's it. We like to put a whole bunch of "yeah, but's" after being told to love someone else. At least I do. God tells us to love people, but when I go to apply that to a particular person, I often have a "yeah, but..." and then some reason why it doesn't really matter. But it matters. Even if it doesn't matter to the other person, it certainly matters to the condition of my heart.

Bart Campolo spoke at the last night I was at the conference. He said several things that were a bit uncomfortable to hear, but most of what he said I tend to find true in practice. He talked about people whose "cards were punched" a long time ago. He talked about people who are like some of the people I know. Maybe they've been on drugs for a long time. Maybe they were so abused for years that they have hardly a mind left. Maybe they're just part of a family that has passed down the same bad habits generation after generation such that it's no surprise to find the youngest generation acting just like their parents. Maybe you know someone whose card was punched a long time ago. They are messed up. They probably won't change. You can give and give and give and their situation will stay the same. Loving them might not change a thing about them, but we are to love them anyway.

Love them. It sounds really hard, but it's not really...not if God gives you the gift of Himself. Loving them doesn't mean to change them. It doesn't mean to make sure they become moral. It doesn't mean to make sure they get their driver's license and a car. It means to treat them as your fellow human beings and to give them dignity, to listen to them and spend time with them. It means not considering yourself above them. We know what love means.

I have a hard time thinking that my love won't change people. And I think it's dangerous to walk too close to losing hope for people. But perhaps we have wrong expectations.

I mean, I know a guy who was a drunk for years. He'll tell you if you ever come meet him. He was abused as a kid -- hit in the head with a hammer -- and then drank for something like...oh, I don't know...say 40 years. And then Jesus saved him. He became sober. He's been sober for over 2 years now. It's a miracle. And we call them miracles for a reason, is what Bart said. Most people I have met in the neighborhood are more or less the same as they were when I first got here. If dramatic life changes happened all the time, they would be normal and natural. But they're not; they are miracles. Bart said they're miracles, even for God. I think he said it for shock value, but he then offered this explanation that helped me see his point: It is so rare that I actually obey and do the will of God. It is rare that you obey and do the will of God. But then for some reason we think that, when we put all of us rarely doing the will of God together, that suddenly the big picture is the will of God. We think that putting a bunch of people thwarting the will of God together equals God always getting what He wants. Well now, that does seem silly. People are truly messed up and disobedient. Of course God doesn't want that. But sometimes -- rarely -- we do the will of God. Sometimes we obey and sometimes we actually love. And that is a miracle.

If I put these trains of thought together, I come to the conclusion that me loving my neighbor is no more or less miraculous than my friend Jack being sober right now. It's no less miraculous than if we have young black boys growing up to be college graduates instead of inmates or girls realizing their value doesn't come from how they look or drug addicts becoming of sound mind. If the only thing that changes because I moved into this neighborhood is that Lezlie McCrory learns to love other people, well then, I'll be able to write about a miracle.

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