Posts Tagged ‘Love Your Neighbor’

Independence Day Reflection on Freedom

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I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. I cherish the freedoms we have in our nation. I celebrate our independence on July 4 every year.

But I am also aware that there are reasons to be critical of the ways in which we as a nation and we as individuals have caused harm to other people groups and nations, visitors to our country and even to citizens of our great nation.

The freedom from tyranny, hard-won by our founders, brought (still brings) new challenges.

Freedom from something oppressive brings with it freedom to do something else. Yet, the temptation is great to use our own freedom to seize power and take on the role of the oppressor over and against others.

A parable may help to make my point. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. In this parable a king wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One is brought to him who owes an astronomical debt that he could never possibly repay.

He begs forgiveness:

The slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  (v 26)

The king has mercy:

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. (v 27)

He isn’t just given time to repay it, the entire astronomical amount is completely forgiven. The slate is totally wiped clean. He is free! Really and truly and beautifully free from this crushing debt.

But how does he use his freedom?

He uses it to threaten one indebted to him:

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (v 28)

He could have used his freedom to bless others as he had been blessed. He could’ve completely forgiven the other guy’s debt, or at least given him time to repay it. But he didn’t. He used his freedom to threaten and oppress one less powerful than himself.

What does this have to do with our nation?

Well, in our wide-open landscape of opportunity, there have been times when we have used our freedom to infringe on the freedoms and rights of others.

Colonization.

Manifest destiny.

From sea to shining sea.

This all took massive levels of effort, sometimes even oppressive force.

Even today, issues of how much government is enough–but not too much, how–and whether–we welcome newcomers, and how we settle differences internally and internationally, all of these issues are opportunities to use our freedom in meaningful, constructive ways.

I am not bashing our nation. I’m not moving out. I’m not leaving. But that doesn’t mean I will sit back and nod and pray down God’s blessings on America as if we are uniquely entitled to Almighty Favor.

I celebrate what is good about our nation. We are strong and powerful and fruitful and industrious and beautiful. And I pray that we always, always use our assets to be a source of peace and a catalyst for freedom for others both within and outside of our borders.

Receiving Others as Gifts: Finding Common Ground

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Conflict is inevitable if you spend any amount of time around other people. But conflict does not have to come between people or lead to the negation of others as gifts. When we address conflict in a healthy way and seek to find common ground, we validate the other and can move toward solutions that benefit everyone.

I’m aware that so far in this series on Receiving Others as Gifts  I’ve painted a pretty rosy view of everyone serving one another, having companionship, and working harmoniously. We’re all gifts to each other and we feel this especially strongly when we all get along. But what about when conflict surfaces?

 

Two Pitfalls

When it comes to dealing with conflict there are two major pitfalls to avoid:

 

Denial

Ewwww…Conflict….Can’t we just pretend everything is okay? Well, you could, but it’s not the best way. Denying that conflict exists, while a popular choice, is actually a terrible way to honor others as gifts. In fact, pretending conflict is not real is a negation of the other.

 

Manipulation

Another popular, yet misguided approach to conflict is manipulation or using the conflicted situation as a means to get others to do things against their will. Again, this does not honor others, it actively negates them to get what we want.

 

A Better Way

When conflict arises it is best to address it directly and respectfully with an eye toward mutually-agreed-upon solutions. This takes work and it takes practice but it is the best way to honor others and the gifts that they are. Let me break these down a little more:

 

Being Direct

Being direct means, first of all, identifying the problem and then naming it specifically and in objective (non-judgmental, factual) terms to the other party.

“Your article is two days late,” is direct, specific and objective.

“We’re having trouble getting the publication finished,” while stating the fact that the publication is delayed is too vague about the specific problem of the other party missing the deadline.

“You obviously don’t care about our publication because you totally blew off your deadline,” is specific about the missed deadline, but it fails the objectivity test because it is accusatory and assigns motives based on subjective perception.

 

Showing Respect

Addressing conflict respectfully means that we go into the discussion assuming the best about the other and that person’s role in the situation. For all we know the deadline was unclear, or perhaps there was a death in that person’s family. Maybe that person has all-around too much to do. It is disrespectful to behave as if we know the other person’s intent before talking it out.

Dealing with conflict respectfully also means keeping our own emotions in check. It’s understandable that the conflict may have stirred up ill-feelings for us. But showing respect means that we don’t use our feelings as an excuse to mistreat or lash out at the other person.

 

Finding Solutions

Naming the problem directly & addressing it respectfully are just the beginning. Once the problem itself is clearly understood there is no need to belabor how bad the problem is or shame those we believe to be at fault. At that point the important task is to find solutions.

Finding solutions is best achieved when we start by finding common ground. While the conflict itself may seem larger-than-life, there are likely to be values on which the parties still agree. Working from values held in common can help keep the conflict from devolving into an “us vs. them” standoff.

Can the parties agree that the publication is important? Do they agree that staying on schedule is a priority? Perhaps there is agreement on these larger issues, but the precise timing of the deadline is an area for clarification or even renegotiation. The solution may be as simple ace a recommitment to the deadlines as they are, but it may be that the deadline could budge a day or two and not compromise the timeliness of the publication.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

The example of the missed deadline is admittedly a rather small area of conflict and I know that oftentimes the areas of conflict we face are considerably more serious. But even these small areas of conflict have a way of festering &/or getting blown out of proportion when they’re not dealt with effectively.

Dutifully practicing conflict-resolution skills in the small matters helps us build those skills for when the bigger conflicts arise. As we practice the skills necessary in finding common ground and working toward solutions we become more and more able to honor and receive one another as gifts.

 

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

A Special Kindness Remembered

Thinking some more about my cousin Michael who I mentioned in my Good Friday post, I wrote the story about a time before Michael died that he showed a special kindness to my son. He wanted to share grapes with my son, but grapes would have been a choking hazard for my son at that age. When I told Michael I would have to cut them up first his response surprised me…

Click the title to read the story at Life & LibertyGrapes of Kindness

Receiving Others as Gifts: The Sanctity of Life

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In a way, this topic–the sanctity of life–is foundational to the entire series of receiving others as gifts. In fact, it is foundational to my entire life message and my worldview as a whole.

I could’ve put this topic first and built out from there, but it is a bit tricky to write about. I mean, I can, with one post, alienate just about everyone with my thinking on this issue. I myself don’t even live up to my own high-minded ideals about how very sacred and precious life is.

And so, I’ve buried this most-important topic in the middle of the series to work up the gumption to write about it. At this point, I don’t so much have more gumption as I have a sense of commitment to myself to write the whole series as planned.

Basically, when it comes to the sanctity of life, I think it is a lot easier to want to protect some lives and disregard others. But if we take seriously that each and every person belongs to God as God’s precious creation, then we are challenged to hold as sacred the lives of all people.

Let me give you an example. Sometimes I have heard people make a very impassioned case against abortion, yet those same people advocate for strict application of the death penalty. On the other hand, some people are pro-choice, yet staunchly opposed to the death penalty. For me, if life is valuable, then both the lives of the unborn and the lives of inmates on death row are valuable.

Both abortion and capital punishment are serious issues and I do not mean to make light of either the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy or that of serious violent crime. What I mean to say is that I lament any loss of life.

I figure if the good news of Jesus Christ is true, really truly true, then no one is beyond God’s love. Every life is worth saving in God’s eyes.

But the sanctity of life in my mind goes beyond just the overt taking of a life. We demonstrate respect for life and undermine it in a million small ways every day.

Some of the everyday ways we show respect for life, in no particular order, are when we:

  • care for the sick;
  • truly listen to someone who thinks different from us;
  • honor those who are vulnerable;
  • advocate for non-violent solutions to problems;
  • treat children with kindness;
  • give dignity to the elderly.

We undermine life when we neglect the above, abuse others with actions or words, infringe on others’ basic human rights, and more. These behavior undermine life because they violate others in some way. Whatever we do that violates others–even if they live through it–are offenses against their lives.

In this broad extension of the idea of the sanctity of life, there isn’t a person I know that isn’t guilty of some violation of another. Myself included. Having this perspective doesn’t make me perfect. But I do believe it with all my heart and try to catch myself whenever I recognize that I’m in danger of causing harm to another.

The good news is that we can begin anew each day. We can connect with our God who loves all of his created people and allow God’s Spirit to guide our words and actions as we receive others as gifts and honor the sanctity of their lives.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Everyone is Someone’s Child

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How King David Makes Me Mad and Helps Me Explain the Importance of Seeing Others as Gifts

There are things that annoy me and I don’t react well to them and then there are things that bring out a “holy anger.” I taught a Bible study yesterday that brought out that holy anger because the story involved treating human lives as if they were expendable.

I am taking a break from my series on Receiving Others as Gifts to talk about this story. But it is not really a break from the theme of “Others as Gifts” at all because honoring the very life of others—no matter who they are—is a basic premise of receiving them as gifts.

The study was from Gather: the Magazine of Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Gather studies this academic year have been featuring different women in the Bible and this particular study was about a woman named Rizpah and her dramatic mourning over her sons. You can read the story in 2 Samuel 2:1-14.

Why did Rizpah’s two sons die? [WARNING: GORE ALERT!] Well, King David handed them and the five sons of Merab over to Saul’s enemies, the Gibeonites, to be impaled.

Why did David hand them over? Well, there was a famine for three years and David was freaking out. Meanwhile, apparently “the Lord” reminded him about the “bloodguilt” from the time when Saul put Gibeonites to death.

So, David figured if he appeased the Gibeonites then the famine would end. Easy peasy.

And what did the Gibeonites require? At first they behaved as if they couldn’t be appeased. But when David pressed them they suggested this eerily specific idea. David could hand over 7 male descendants (“sons”) of Saul for them to be impaled.

And David agreed!

Right there, my holy anger was already kindled, but that wasn’t what really set me off.

What really set me off was verse 7, “But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan son of Saul.”

Yes, yes, David was honoring an oath. How noble.

It was, in fact, an oath that he made with his best friend, Jonathan! Are you catching that? It was his best friend’s kid that he spared.
Of course, David would place a value on the life of his best friend’s kid.

But the other 7 that he handed over were expendable. Their lives didn’t matter to David.

And it’s not that he doesn’t know that life matters, because he spared the life of a prime candidate for the Gibeonites’ bizarre execution. David knew that life mattered, but he selectively denied the value of the lives of the seven.

But see, everyone matters. Everyone is someone’s kid! And Rizpah with her dramatic time of mourning over her kids wouldn’t let David ignore the value of all of the lives that he had handed over.

And that brings me to why I’m interrupting my series to write about this—because my whole bit about Receiving Others as Gifts is to remind us that people matter!

All people matter! Even people we don’t like! Even our enemies! Even people we don’t even know!

We don’t get to pick and choose!

The atrocities we’re capable of when we lose site of this are horrifying.

I want to be certain to point out that God never asked for the execution of the seven sons of Saul. That was sheerly the agreement between the Gibeonites and David.

I imagine God out there with Rizpah, wailing and lamenting the senseless loss of life. Because those were not just Rizpah’s sons, they were not just Merab’s sons, they were God’s precious created people.

They matter to God.

We matter to God.

Others matter to God.

I hope and pray that we find in our hearts to let others matter to us–to receive them as gifts.

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series: