Tag Archives: Prejudice

The Gap Instinct

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

This week I started reading a book called Factfulness by Hans Rosling, a doctor and professor from Sweden. In his opening chapter he makes the case that we as humans have a “gap instinct.” We like to divide things into two extremes with a gap between them:

  • rich or poor
  • black or white
  • developed or developing
  • white collar or blue collar
  • liberal or conservative

Rosling goes on to state:

We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.

The gap instinct makes us imagine division where there is just a smooth range, difference where there is convergence, and conflict where there is agreement.”

Along my journey I’ve noticed that the institutional church and those of us who follow Jesus often allow the gap instinct to invade our belief system and religious lives in unhealthy ways. God’s Message is quite direct in stating that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” and “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Yet, all of the time we condemn ugly sins while silently ignoring the pretty ones. We like to categorize others as sinners and ourselves as righteous. A job in the institutional church is “ministry” while all other occupations are not. Everything from music, to art, to books are divided into either “secular” or “sacred.”

In Paul’s letter to the believers in the region of ancient Galatia he finds himself struggling to keep Jesus’ followers from falling back into their gap instincts. One of the marks of Jesus’ teaching and the believers of the early Jesus Movement was that they bridged long-held gaps between people. In Jesus, there were no distinctions. Everyone was welcome at the table regardless of gender, race, background, history, or socio-economic standing.

Now, in Paul’s absence, some Jewish legalists claiming to be followers of Jesus have begun to rebuild the distinctions. Primarily, they were teaching that if a person wanted to follow Jesus they would have to follow all the old rules and regulations of the Jewish law and customs. Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus could only do so through being a good Jew. With it, all the old gaps, distinctions, and differences would be firmly back in place.

Paul does not mince words. He tells the believers that falling back into their old gap instincts is complete foolishness. For his good Jewish readers who need convincing, he makes his case by citing both Law and prophet. He, once again, tears down the gaps:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the quiet this morning I’ve been examining my own heart and looking for my own person gap instincts. Where have I set up distinctions in my own mind? Who’s in and who’s out? Who’s acceptable and who’s not? Who is wrong where I am right? Who is the sinner on the opposite side of my (self-)righteousness?

Lord, have mercy on me. Tear down the distinctions routinely I make with my own gap instincts. Renew my mind. Help me see as you see, think as you think.

In my silent prayer, the Spirit whispered this passage to my spirit:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Philippians 2:1-8 (MSG)

Have a great day, my friend. If you need me today, you’ll find me over there bridging some of my gaps.

Spiritual Bankruptcy

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (MSG)

It is possible to be religious, but not loving.
It is possible to be righteous, but not loving.
It is possible to be generous, but not loving.
It is possible to be doctrinally sound, but not loving.
It is possible to be right, but not loving.
It is possible to be politically correct, but not loving.
It is possible to be a defender of truth, but not love your enemy.
It is possible to know all scripture, but not love those who mock you.
It is possible to have spotless church attendance, but not love.
It is possible to have spiritual discipline, but not love.
It is possible to have success, but not love.
It is possible to have a million followers, but not love.
It is possible to have good intentions, but not love.

Jesus said there were two basic laws:
1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

When pressed to define who He meant by “neighbor,” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the person who had love was a foreigner and an immigrant. The person who had love carried scars from being the victim of racial prejudice, injustice and systemic social, political, and economic ostracization. The person who had love held heretical doctrinal beliefs. The person who had love stood condemned by the prevailing  institutional religion of which Jesus was a part. But, the hated, heretical, outcast foreigner had love, and Jesus’ story made clear that love was the one thing that mattered to God.

On this life journey I’ve taken a good  hard look at myself, and the prevailing institutional religion of which I am a part.

We still haven’t learned the simple and most basic lesson Jesus ever taught. All of my spirituality, righteousness, and religion is bankrupt without love.

Lord, help me love.

featured image is a detail from the St. John’s Bible

Prejudice, Comparison, and That Which I Control

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
Numbers 12:1-2 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the past eight weeks in a series on “Kingdom Culture.” In the prayer Jesus taught His followers to pray it says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We’ve been talking about what it means to live and relate with one another as a part of God’s kingdom on earth.

The sticky wicket, of course, is that any group of humans in an organization tend to have relational struggles and conflicts over time. Despite what Dr. Luke described in Acts 2: 42-47 as an idyllic beginning, even the early church began to struggle rather quickly. Most of the letters that make up what we call the New Testament address relational struggles within the local groups of Jesus’ followers. Paul himself had famous rows with Peter and Barnabas.

It was no different for Moses and the Hebrew tribes as they leave Egypt and begin to be make a nation of themselves. In the previous chapter the conflict was with the whines of the “rabble” within their midst. Today is is Moses very own siblings.

What’s fascinating to me is that Miriam and Aaron at first complain about Moses’ wife being a Cushite. There were multiple regions referenced as Cush in ancient times. It is not known for sure who they were referencing here. At least some scholars believe that they were referencing Moses’ wife Zippora who was from the land of Midian. Whatever the case, they complained about Moses’ wife being a foreigner, but then immediately discuss what appears to be envy and jealousy for their brother, Moses’, standing and position. How very human of us it is to complain about one thing on the surface (Moses being married to a Cushite) that masks a deeper resentment (sibling rivalry, envy, and jealousy about brother Moses’ standing with God as leader and prophet).

This morning I’m thinking about how common the human penchant is for prejudice, jealousy, and envy which leads to back-biting, quarrels, and conflicts both small and great. I’m reminded of Jesus’ conversation with Peter on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee when he prophetically reveals to Peter the violent end he will endure. Peter’s immediate response was to look at John and ask, “What about him?

Jesus answered, If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

I am so given to worrying about others, comparing myself to others, and seeking some sort of perceived personal equity with others. Jesus response to Peter tells me to stop concerning myself with useless and destructive comparisons. Each person is on his or her own respective journey, and their journey will not look like mine. My time, energy and resources are to be focused on my own journey, my own relationship with God, and the personal thoughts, words, and actions I control with my heart, mind, eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet.

Inclusive Love in an Exclusive World

“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to recognize that we as humans love to  categorize and label ourselves and our fellow human beings. It’s part, I believe, of an inherent desire to know ourselves and our place in this world.

“Who am I?”

“Where do I belong?”

“How do I fit in?”

In the process of self-definition, we come to understand our social groups. I belong to a groups genetically (Dutch, English, Irish), racially (White), sexually (Male Heterosexual), geographically (small town, Pella, Iowan, Midwest, American), religiously (Protestant Christian), educationally (college graduate), economically (upper middle class), politically (conservative), fanatically (Cubs, Vikings, Cyclones), and vocationally (business owner). I could go on, but you see the point. And, if you are reading this your mind is probably already contrasting yourself from me (and perhaps even judging me) based on your own contrasting personal social groups.

Never in my life journey have I recognized how people in society are so quick to label and categorize others. Never have I witnessed so many different social groups (racially, nationally, politically) being so judgmental and dismissive of those who don’t look, think, act, believe, and belong like they do.

This observation comes at a time when, in my own spiritual journey, I am becoming more aware than ever that God’s entire Message is about love and inclusivity.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Isaiah is writing prophetically, in the first person. Isaiah is taking up the voice of the Messiah. He is writing the scripted the words of Christ. Christ speaks in the first person of God the Father giving Him a mission of being redeemer of the tribes of Israel, the primary genetic, cultural, and religious social group to which He would belong during His earthly mission. Then He adds “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s love and God’s Message were never intended to be exclusive, secret, guarded, hoarded, and doled out to a selective few. They were intended to be generously and inclusively shared to every societal group we could ever think of or imagine. You can’t reach the “ends of the earth” until you’ve reached through every societal group and touched every one.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I can’t fulfill Christ’s calling to me as His follower to inclusively share and spread that Love, Light, and Message, if I live and love exclusively within my own societal groups.

Inclusivity

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
Titus 2:11 (NIV)

While in Israel I attended Shabat services at the National Synagogue. It was a fascinating experience for me. Prior to the service I watched outside the main entrance as men kissed their wives and children before separating. As an adult male I was allowed to enter and sit on the main floor. Women and children were not allowed in that section. I found it curious how many women just waited in the lobby for their husbands, seemingly uninterested in the service.

One of the things that marked the early followers of Jesus was an inclusivity that stood in stark contrast to the Jewish culture out of which it sprang. The Jewish cultural of that day was a hierarchical system in which gender, education, and socio-economic status separated people into clearly defined strata of those who were blessed and acceptable to God and those to whom, they believed, God looked down His divine nose.

Jesus blew all of that up. He spoke to women publicly and women were among his most devout followers. In fact, evidence suggests that Jesus’ ministry was largely bankrolled by wealthy women. Jesus’ closest disciples were relatively poor and uneducated yokels from outside the ranks of worldly power. Jesus healed Romans, women, and social outcasts. Despite the intense internal conflict it created, Jesus’ early followers did not discriminate in their gatherings and worship. Women, men, Jews, Greeks, and Romans all worshiped together. Everyone sat together at the table to partake in the “love feast” which culminated in sharing the bread and the cup of Communion. Even slaves and their masters were seated at the Lord’s table as equals in the eyes of God. I can scarcely imagine what a mind bending, social paradigm shift this must have been.

In today’s chapter, Paul urges the young leader Titus to devote himself to his teaching to older men, younger men, older women, younger women, and slaves. Even the fact that Titus is expected to minister to each group of individual in their respective spiritual needs was a radical departure from the norm.

Today I’m wrestling in thought and spirit with the ways our human institutions, across history, always drift back towards exclusivity. Race, nationality, gender, age, education, occupation, and socio-economic standing are among the demarkation points from which society and the institutional church, and we as members thereof, exclude others. As I enter my second half-century on this earthly journey, my desire is that my life be increasingly marked by the inclusivity that marked Jesus’ example and teaching. I want my words and actions to exemplify love, patience, peace, kindness, and gentleness with all.

chapter a day banner 2015Featured image of First United Methodist Church (Shreveport, Louisiana) Love Feast as covered in this Shreveport Times article.

Confession of a Spiritual Brick Layer

 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.
Romans 10:12 (NIV)

Six years ago Wendy and I were in London and had the pleasure of attending the National Theatre. The production that night was a fascinating play about the different waves of modern immigrants who flooded into London over the past few hundred years. The play was set in one low rent tenement building that became home to all of these various ethnic groups, and in the pub on the street below.

When the French Huguenots moved in the poor Brits in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing French!

When the Indians moved in the assimilated French Huguenots in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Indians!

When the Irish moved in during the Great Famine the assimilated Indians in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Irish!

When the Russian Jews moved in during the Russian pogroms the assimilated Irish in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Jews!

You get the picture. We are such a homogenous and exclusionary society. Even in the “great melting pot” of the United States, which over the past 250 years may have easily become the most racially and culturally diverse society in the history of the earth, we still grumble about the next wave of immigrants. We feel suspicious about people who aren’t “American” and don’t speak English.  We talk about building giant walls to keep people out.

I have observed that followers of Jesus are not immune to this phenomenon. As children we are taught to sing:

“red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

What our Sunday School teachers left out was the bit about these children not being particularly precious in our sight. They didn’t teach us the qualification about these children being “precious in His sight in their own country of origin.”

In today’s chapter, Paul announces to those following Jesus in Rome that the walls the people of Israel had built up in their hearts to exclude non-Jews (known as Gentiles) had been toppled once and for all by Jesus. Beyond that, read the Jesus story and you discover Him toppling walls between genders, walls between social strata, and walls between political camps. Wherever those walls still exist today (and they exist all over the place), it’s because we who have followed Jesus have exerted ourselves to rebuild those walls in our hearts, lives, homes, churches, and communities.

Today I’m reading my own post and examining my own heart. As usual, as I point my finger at others there are three pointing back at me. I live in an incredibly homogenous community comfortable in its lack of diversity. I must confess to you: evidence suggest that I am quite an accomplished spiritual brick layer myself.

God, will you lend me your sledgehammer?

Thanks.

Step back, please.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

The Place I Need Spiritual Heart Surgery

"Crossing Cultures of Masks" source: Novica
“Crossing Cultures of Masks” source: Novica

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11 (NIV)

One of the things that is largely forgotten today is just how socially radical the followers of Jesus were in the socio-economic Roman world of the first century. The lines of culture and society, of “haves” and “have nots” in their day and age were clearly drawn. Ethnicities, genders, and nationalities were deeply divided. As deeply divided as we see our own current culture, I have a hard time believing that it wasn’t exponentially worse in the first century Roman world.

Then Jesus came. And His followers saw in Jesus a different example:

Jesus spoke with women, and honored them as they supported His work. He spoke with a Samaritan woman with whom it was socially taboo to speak. He spoke with a woman condemned by her adultery, he touched her, covered her nakedness and forgave her.

Jesus was willing to go to the house of a Roman, whom it was socially and politically unacceptable by many in His culture to do.

Jesus accepted dinner invitations from those who were of the right wing, conservative political party that wanted Him dead.

Jesus dined with left wing, liberal Roman sympathizers considered traitors among His people. These hated turncoats and Bernie Madoff type con-men had worked the Roman system to get personally rich by extorting money from their good neighbors. 

Jesus touched and healed people who were poor, who were social outcasts, and those whom His society deemed wholly unacceptable.

Among Jesus’ circle of 12 disciples were educated and uneducated, a right wing extremist and a left wing extremist, rich and poor, blue collar and white collar. 

After Jesus ascension, His followers continued His example. When Jesus’ followers gathered together they welcomed everyone to the table. Slaves were welcome at the table with their own slave owners (imagine how uncomfortable that must have been). Men and women were both welcomed. People of all colors and nations were welcomed at the same table whether a respected Greek academic or a brutal Scythian barbarian. In Christ everyone who followed Jesus was welcome at the table. This simple, radical, counter cultural act would slowly rock the Roman Empire.

Today I’m asking myself, “How far has the pendulum sung back among those of us who claim to be Jesus’ followers today? Who would I honestly not want to welcome at the table with me? Who would make me really uncomfortable if they walked into my Sunday’s worship service and sat down?”

Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I’ve just identified the very place I need spiritual heart surgery. STAT.