If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
We've been working on "norm engineering" in our church lately, together learning that our "normals" are each unique and different. That helps us walk in humility, value different expressions, and constantly learn from each other as we follow Jesus together. There is so much to learn from the world and people around us. As I was thinking about this, a story came to mind from the First Nations people outside of Toronto a few years ago while working on my masters.
My cohort toured a residential school that has become a museum and cultural center. We learned that Canada, like the United States, has a deep scar in their past due to forced assimilation of indigenous people into western culture. Native children were taken from their families and land and forced into English speaking schools that stripped them of their language, cultural traditions, and stories. They were terribly abused and mistreated. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of a survivor who remembered this as a child. However, in the wake of this terrible sin, an effort is being made by the Hodinohshoni people to reclaim their beautiful culture and give the world a glimpse of who they are.
As a new generation of Hodinohshoni shared their stories, I was captivated by one of their traditions. When a peace treaty was made between tribes, a gift called a Wampum Belt was offered from one clan to another. Wampum are white and purple tubular beads made from the inside of Conch shells. They are very small, and even a skilled worker can only make about four per hour. The beads are then woven together and presented as a symbol of living in peace together. Each design tells a unique story.
Here's the thing. There are a ton of beads in a Wampum Belt. I did the math. The one I was looking at took about 900 hours to make! Nine. Hundred. Hours.
And you thought my last sermon was long.
If you only made beads straight for 40 hours a week, that would take almost 23 weeks. The labor intensive process made a wampum belt very special, and it symbolized a timeless reality...
It takes hard work to make peace.
(moment of silence to sit with a challenging truth) Repairing broken relationships requires immense time and energy. Seeking understanding with others is incredibly time consuming. Choosing love over winning an argument isn't just something that happens. It can only occur if we are working for hours, days, and weeks to let Jesus soften our hearts enough to be formed in a new way. We must sit with Jesus, inviting him to chip away a lot of stone.
Thankfully, this is what Jesus does best. Central to the good news of Jesus is the understanding of making peace in every meaning of the word. Jesus, through entering into humanity, revealing what God is truly like, and absorbing the sin and violence of the world, makes peace with us by extending radical forgiveness and love. From there, we are also called to make peace with one another, to seek to live in unity and gentleness, moving beyond our labels, assumptions and selfishness and into a life of everyday reconciliation. Spoiler alert: That's going to take even more than 900 hours. That's going to take all of the hours. So let's get to it. Thank goodness we're not doing it without the Holy Spirit.
May we trust the work of Jesus in us, and carve out time in our lives and spirits to be peacemakers. May we weave our internal moments together with external expressions of mercy, compassion, and reconciliation. And may our work tell a story to the world that peace and understanding are more valuable than dominance and competition.
Jesus, you gave everything to make peace with us. May we commit to the long term work of weaving your love into something beautiful in the world.
Peace to you today,
Pray for damar
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. [...] Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
-Romans 12:12, 15
I happened to be one of the millions of people watching the Monday Night NFL game on January 2nd with my sons when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed in cardiac a few moments after making a tackle. I won't offer more details now, except that for many minutes, CPR was administered on the field, and as the ambulance drove off across the grass to the nearest hospital, the watching world held its breath. It was as if all of the athletes, coaches, commentators and officials were actors who had suddenly forgot their lines. Something had just happened that was so significant that the game, the production, the conversations.... had completely lost their meaning. A man's life was in limbo. Athletes lost composure as they processed emotions, and it became clear that continuing a game of football was no longer possible or relevant. We sat there watching an empty field, not being able to think about anything else. When they updated that Hamlin had left in the ambulance 28 minutes earlier, my son said, "that was the fastest half hour I've ever experienced." We were just frozen in one unending moment of fear and heartache.
Not knowing what to do, the network continued to send the broadcast back to the football analysts in the studio. But these commentators had no idea how to handle the moment. They spoke in short, hushed phrases. Every time one of them would try to start a conversation, it would fail, and there would be a heavy silence left behind. Because sometimes there are no words, and the only authentic thing is holding silence together. One commentator even spoke a simple prayer aloud because no other words seemed right.
Here's what I saw in the anxious silence. I saw an entire community value a life (a black life) above profit and above comfort and distraction. I saw a country, for just a moment, believe in the power of compassionate prayer and understand that a life is more important than millions of dollars (even USA Today ended up writing on prayer after that night). I saw a country acknowledge our twisted priorities. I saw a country view a professional athlete as a human being and not simply a commodity for entertainment. I saw a world publicly wrestle with the discomfort of sorrow.
And all of that is giving me hope today. Every now and then, in a world that still lacks equity and justice and does not value each life, we get a glimpse of what is possible when compassion reigns. Yes, this was a sports star on prime time television, and millions of God's children are in crisis each day that do not receive compassion and attention. But perhaps we should let certain moments in our world illuminate would could be true of all humanity if we choose to put love and compassion over consumption, tribalism, and distraction. What if we all were willing to pause our regularly scheduled lives when we knew someone was suffering, to reprioritize things until we knew they were ok? Even if it's uncomfortable?
After days of intensive care and millions of people praying, Hamlin began to make a miraculous recovery. From what we can see, it is the best possible outcome of one of the worst possible moments a person can experience. It's not always like that, but praise God for such a beautiful journey of healing. It's incredible.
It's so easy to look around and complain about all that's wrong in the world. Yet on this week, only a few days after celebrating the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, may we have courage to pause and hold in reverence the heavy weight of sorrow and pain, and at the same time find hope in the moments where we see light and love overcome despair and distraction, and where we see compassion win over profit. And may we live into that world more and more every day, working to bring about a humanity that reflects Jesus' vision for us all.
The next time the Bills suited up for a game a week later, Hamlin was well
enough to tweet out from his hospital bed a simple message:
"GameDay … Nothing I Want More Than To Be Running Out That Tunnel With My Brothers. God Using Me In A Different Way Today..."
Indeed, Mr. Hamlin. Indeed.
I'm prone to think that Jesus was heartened when he saw a world that was broken by compassion, and touched that young man's life. I don't know. But I do know that there is great beauty in a humanity created in God's image, as we continue to work toward the ultimate ethic of love that Jesus revealed. In the darkest moments, may we contribute to our world looking just a little more like God's beloved community.
Jesus, give me a vision for a world that reflects your compassion, and turn me into a healing presence.
That's an event
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
-Jesus, Matthew 7:2
So Bethany and I changed to a new car insurance a few months ago in an attempt to save a little money. One of the elements of our new company is that we get these little transponders that stick to your windshield and connect to your phone each time you get into the car and drive somewhere. In the background, an app connects to the transponder and monitors your driving. It makes note of acceleration, speeding, sudden braking, sharp cornering, and other stuff. Every time you do one of those infractions, they call it an "event." Each trip tracks "events" to give you an overall score, which can then get you extra discounts on your next insurance payment if the score average is good enough. I do like saving money. But I have to tell you, it's annoying to be constantly judged by a machine. That stupid app should try driving on Cleveland Avenue in rush hour AND while thousands of college kids are getting out of class without slamming on the brakes! It's impossible.
Currently, Bethany and I have slightly different ways of approaching this. I've been trying to leave a little earlier for places and be very gentle going around corners. She turns off her bluetooth when she gets in the car. In the end, both approaches have helped our score improve. ;)
But I realized in December that every time Bethany and I were driving together and she was in the driver's seat, inevitably I would mutter, "well that's an event" under my breath (but totally loud enough to hear) many times throughout our drive. It wasn't particularly helpful for our marriage. Then I noticed something else. When I was the one driving our family and I'd accelerate too quickly or need to lean heavy the brakes while approaching a stoplight, I would chuckle to myself, "well, that's an event..." Good times.
Judgement for her, grace for me. That's a great formula for a whole lot of broken relationships, friends.
Different people skew different ways, and certainly, sometimes we can give more grace to others than we give to ourselves. But often the flip side is true. We understand that our own lives are complicated and that God loves us anyway, but then pick apart another person and highlight all of their faults (in our minds, even if not in our words!). This is the opposite of a grace-filled life, and it's something Jesus is constantly turning us from. The answer is not found in either of the above attitudes. It's found when we are able to extend grace and love and gentleness to one another precisely because we know that God has extended his grace, love and gentleness to us.
Jesus helps us understand that judgmental attitudes toward others have a way of curving back in on us. The more we withhold grace from others, the more we are hindered from experiencing grace. The street runs both ways.
We will not experience perfection on this side of eternity. Yet God's perfect grace allows us to live freely and lightly even so, and helps us release others from the crushing pressure to constantly measure up. I'm going to change my tune the next time I'm tempted to be hypercritical of the "events" in other peoples' lives. Because I sure know I could use a lot of grace these days... and that means everyone else could too.
Jesus, move me away from the temptation to be critical and move me deeper into your grace-filled presence each day.
*Bethany approved my sharing of the intimate details of our driving relationship.
Back to the Flocks
The shepherds went back to their sheep, praising God and thanking him for everything they had seen and heard...
And the next morning the one shepherd said to the others... "Hey, did you guys see that yearling this morning? Stupid lamb must have wandered off again last night.... ugh. Sheep gonna sheep, I guess. *Sigh* " And he went over the hillside to find the little troublemaker.
Ok, that part isn't in the bible. But I think something like that certainly could have happened.
Happy new year, friends. Although the 12 day season of Christmastide lasts through tomorrow, the Christmas hubbub is on the way out as we enter January (it seems like this happens every single year!).
I'm aware that the holidays can be very difficult for people. But so can re-entry into regular rhythms of life again: school schedules, work schedules, cold and dark out the door every morning. We celebrate the coming of Jesus with lights, rich foods, music, celebration, and candles (and sometimes a snowball battle). It's intended to be a spiritual high point as we remember with wonder God coming to earth. And then, just like that, it's Monday morning, and everyone is walking back to their flocks.
I find it interesting that Luke reminds us that the shepherds' future was still out on the hills- that they returned to their same flocks after seeing Jesus. They didn't just sit at the manger forever, nor did they make a dramatic career change. The Magi came and went too. Goodness, after a few scary years of living as refugees, so did Mary and Joseph and Jesus, as they resettled back in Nazareth for his whole childhood. After all those wild moments... life continued on.
I find this all to be an encouragement, since it's very easy to get discouraged by the "going back to normal" of this time of year. Even the eyewitnesses of Jesus' birth returned to fairly normal, (possibly) uneventful lives right after the big events, as far as we know.
What we don't know was how their experience of encountering God's presence in the flesh changed how they experienced those normal, mundane moments. We aretold they walked away filled with fresh faith and gratitude. And that's where I think the power is.
Over the years I've come to trust that when we meet Jesus in fresh ways, the real magic happens when we get back to normal and return to our flocks. The high points, the encounters, and the wonder are all beautiful. But as ambassadors of the love of God in the world, it's what we do with those moments that lasts. What areas are we now free to live with hope in the place of despair? What situations are we moved to offer a hand of kindness when otherwise we may have walked on by? What new peace will we have as we face an uncertain future? What forgivenesses will we extend now that we have been face to face with a God who will overcome any obstacle to help us move into a restored relationship?
Today might look like a normal Thursday morning the week after the holidays have ended. And yet we have just been reminded that Jesus has come for us. We have been face to face with the presence of God entering a broken world to redeem it. What are you going to do with that all that? How will it affect the mundane activities you'll do the rest of the week? How will it transform your interactions? There's great power in the events of that first Christmas. But there is even greater power in how God continues to be born in our lives each day that we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, inviting her to give us fresh strength to walk in newness, grace, and compassion each day.
Jesus, may the story of your coming continue to spring to life in me today as I leave the manger and return to my flocks.