Tag Archives: Race

“Jesus People Very Nice”

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You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9 (NIV)

My Vander Well family in America is here because of one ancestor, Walter Vander Well (born Wouter van der Wel) who came to the States from South Holland and settled in northwest Iowa in the 1880s. He was part of multiple waves of Dutch immigrants who settled across Michigan and Iowa, founding rural towns like the one Wendy and I call home today. Five generations later there’s a small army of Walter’s descendants spread across the continent from Michigan to Iowa, Canada, and all the way to the west coast.

Immigration is a fascinating thing. Wendy and I were privileged to see a play at London’s National Theatre back in 2009. It was called England People Very Nice by Richard Bean. The setting of the play is a poor tenement building in London and a neighborhood pub. It humorously chronicles the multiple waves of immigrants to flood into Britain over time from French, to Irish, to Jewish, and Bangladeshi. Each wave lands in the low-rent tenement building and raises the ire of the locals in the pub. The previous wave who was hated by the locals, now find themselves being the locals hating the next wave of immigrants. It continues to stir conversation for Wendy and me in light of the immigration issues of our day.

I have observed this same pattern in the experience of my Dutch ancestors who initially struggled to acclimate to life in America. The Dutch huddled together in small communities and clung to their Dutch neighbors, language, and way of life. This often fueled local resentment towards them. My grandparents were both the first generation born in the States and they both spoke Dutch fluently. They refused to teach my father and his brother because of prejudice against the Germanic sounding language during World War II. Our little town, both steeped in its Dutch heritage and proud of its successful American experience, is now sometimes criticized (a la England People Very Nice) of being closed to aliens moving in.

In today’s chapter, God continues to provide the ancient Hebrews with specific rules for life. God repeats the rule mentioned in yesterday’s chapter about treating foreigners living among them with deference. Fascinating that it’s mentioned twice in such proximity to one another in the text. It leads me to wonder if the repetition speaks to the importance God places on it, or the knowledge that it will a tough one to obey given human nature. I personally conclude that it’s a case of “both, and.”

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think, once again, beyond the letter of the law in the text, to the Spirit of the law to which Jesus pointed time and time again. Far from being obedient to the command, Jesus’ people separated themselves from the aliens living among them. They treated foreigners and those of mixed-race, like the Samaritan people, as inferior. They created systemic social and religious barriers much like the ones we are addressing in our own culture today.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, and when He commanded His followers to take His message to Samaria, He was addressing systemic racial prejudice. Jesus was pointing His own people back to the heart of God that motivated the law repeated twice in yesterday’s chapter and today’s. He was, essentially, pointing to His own law of love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Isn’t that what God says in the text? “You’ve been an alien in a foreign land. You know what it’s like. You’ve been the victim of prejudice and hate. So treat the aliens living among you with loving-kindness the way you wished you’d been treated in Egypt.”

Jesus’ followers did just that and “turned the world upside-down.

I’m reminded this morning that Jesus was not about adherence to textual rules. Jesus was about following God’s Spirit to speak, act, and relate to others in accordance with God’s heart. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to do just that in my own world and my own culture. That’s what I want to do. That’s who I want to be, increasingly, this day and each day of this earthly journey.

Of course, that requires me to act differently than human nature has led people to behave in ancient Judea, in London tenement houses, and in Dutch-settlements in America, along with almost every other people group on the earth. May I speak and behave in such a way, with anyone with whom I interact, regardless of what they look like or where they are from, that it would be said of me: “Jesus’ people very nice.”

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

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.

A Work in Progress

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Last night was our community theatre’s annual meeting and potluck picnic. It was a gorgeous Iowa evening, and we had the best turnout we’ve ever had with over 50 people attending. At the end of the evening, I gave my final report as President of our group providing a recap of the previous fiscal year. I’m stepping down after a decade in the position. Wendy and two other long-term board members are stepping down, as well. There’s a whole crop of new faces on the leadership team.

I will admit that I had bittersweet feelings about the whole affair last night. I have loved doing the job and I leave the position knowing that I have not accomplished all that I set out to do. I’ve come to realize, however, that unlike the marathon that is our life journey, positions of organizational leadership are actually legs in a relay race. Your job is to run your leg well and then pass the baton off so that the next runner is in a stronger position to win than you were when you got the baton. If you run too long and refuse to pass the baton, then you eventually lose momentum and the entire team suffers.

Both people and organizations are works in progress, as today’s chapter so aptly reminds us. I have a far greater appreciation for this fact today than I did  when I was younger. Works in progress still have rough edges to hone, opportunities to improve, potential to reach, and depths to mine. If I am going to accept this truth about myself (and it for my own good, and the good of the whole, that I must accept this truth about myself) then I must also accept this truth in others. It is a step towards wisdom, forgiveness and grace.

I’m excited about the new leadership team of our community theatre. I’m excited to see what new thoughts, ideas, and directions they bring. I’m excited to focus my energies in different ways. I may have passed the baton of leadership, but I have not left the team. There are other ways to contribute, other events in which to compete, and other opportunities to lift the team. Because we’re all works in progress, we need each other.

featured photo by funnyglowingsmurf  via Flickr

In Sight of the Journey’s End

homestretchI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

For Paul, who languished in a Roman dungeon and put the finishing touches on his letter to Timothy, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Emporer Nero was a couple of years into his rather successful pogrom to blame followers of Jesus for the Great Fire of Rome and exterminate as many of them as he could as gruesomly as he could. There would be no pardon for Paul this time.

For roughly thirty years Paul, who had begun as a persecutor of Jesus followers himself, had been arguably the greatest champion of Jesus’ message. The twelve disciples, Jesus’ twelve closest followers, initially stuck close to home and spent much of their time sharing Jesus’ message with their fellow Jews. It was Paul who became the unlikely game changer by focusing his efforts on carrying Jesus’ message of salvation with non-Jewish Gentiles far away from Jerusalem. The road had not been easy. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, Paul briefly related just how harrowing his own road had been:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

In today’s chapter, we hear a very different tone. Paul knows that he is in the homestretch of his Earthly journey. He can see the finish line. He is not giving into despair. In fact, his tone is confident. He is not giving up and limping home. In fact, he is still dishing out orders for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments so he can continue to work until the end. But, Paul is reflective. He looks back at his life and confidently makes three strong statements:

I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.

No one knows, for the most part, exactly when their own earthly journey will end. Lord willing, I am still only at the half-way point of my own journey (even though I realize this morning that I have followed Jesus about as long as Paul had when he was martyred). It will take me twice as long to accomplish less than a ten thousandth of what Paul did. A humbling thought.

Nevertheless, today I am encouraged and motivated by Paul’s words. I have a long way to go, but when that day comes that I sense the finish line approaching I hope that my heart will confidently whisper Paul’s words to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Strong Through the Home Stretch

English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中...
English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中文: 2007年爱尔兰都柏林城马拉松 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 17

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:17 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I memorized and clung to this line from Paul’s letter to his young protege Timothy:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

I figured that if God had given me spiritual gifts like everyone else, then I was totally going to use those gifts and be of service. I wanted to make a difference. I tried to instill that same spirit in my daughters in their youth, and continue to get jazzed when I see young people with a passion for God actively living out their faith.

Today, I’m at a different place in the journey. If averages and genetics hold sway, you could say that I’m still in mid-life. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the fact that I’m likely on the downhill side. Instead of not letting others think less of me because I’m young, I sometimes feel the need not to let others think less of me because I’m old. As technology advances at breakneck speeds, I wonder if the gulf between generations is expanding and making it easier for in the back stretch and making the final turn to feel irrelevant and lost.

I think that it’s awesome that God made such a huge play in Abram’s life right when Abram was turning 100 and Sarai was in her nineties. God willing, I want the last half of my life to be more productive than the first. I want to live with purpose and witness God doing big things in and through my life when I’m old. I don’t want to stagger and limp to the finish. God grant that I finish strong. I want to be kicking it in to a full sprint when I hit the home stretch and find myself heading for the tape.

You go, Abe.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 37

Put your hope in the Lord.
    Travel steadily along his path.
Psalm 37:34 (NLT)

There was a poster that hung in my room when I was a teenager. It pictured a long country highway that went up and down rolling hills as far as the eye could see in a blistering summer sun. In the foreground was a runner. The caption read “The race is not to the swift, but for those who keep running.” It was a riff off my favorite theme from Aesop’s fables: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

That poster is long gone along with all the other stuff you could find in my room when I was a teen including my devo glasses, pencil thin neck ties, my LP album collection, and my walkman stereo cassette recorder and crumbling foam headphones. The truth of the statement on that poster, however, stands the test of time. It is just as true as when David penned it 3,000 years ago and when Aesop penned the Tortoise and the Hare some 400 years later. Technology is changing our world so rapidly that the world has likely seen more change in the 30 years since I’ve been a teenager than it did in the centuries between David and Aesop, perhaps even more than the millennia that separates you and me from the both of them.

Living in a world of such rapid change, we need to cling to Truth more than ever before.

The world has changed. The road has taken me to amazing highs and through deep valleys. I’ve been weary. I’ve been injured. I’ve stumbled and I’ve fallen. I am, however, still plodding along step-by-step. Despite the extreme changes and conditions I experience in my outside circumstances my faith quietly glows as a reactor in my spirit pushing me on. My heart is fixed on the Hope before me.

Step-by-step I enter this, another day. It is my 16,911th day in the race. Talk about a marathon.

Slow and steady.

Keep running.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 22

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...
Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The crowd listened until Paul said [the word “Gentile”]. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live!” Acts 22:22 (NLT)

It’s amazing how one racially charged word can incite an entire crowd to violence.

In America we are constantly reminded of the historic racial tensions between whites and blacks that have framed our history and our existence for hundreds of years. As a young person I naively thought that Americans were the only people in the world who had such a struggle. Along the journey I’ve discovered that racism and prejudice run deep and wide in the human experience.

In today’s chapter the Jewish people in Jerusalem showed their prejudice against non-Jews. Of course, the Jewish people know what it means to be shunned and oppressed. Anti-semitism existed then and still exists to this day. When I visited Jerusalem several years ago I was amazed at the racial tensions that continue to exist within the city. The city felt to me like a powder keg of racial and religious tension with a very short fuse.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the truth that God’s Kingdom does not exist for one particular racial, ethnic, or national group, but for all people and nations who will believe and follow. To this end, the two strongest leaders (Peter and Paul) were sent by God to share God’s Message with the non-Jewish Gentiles and begin the process of obliterating the wall of prejudice that stood between the two groups. The book of Acts sets the stage for the emerging historical record. Over the first few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, the Message would be boldly carried by believers throughout the known world and shared with any who would listen regardless of race, creed, or nationality.

Today, I’m thankful to serve a God whose Kingdom exists above human limits and weaknesses, and who calls us to ascend out of our Earthbound prejudices to enter in.