To my sweet babies. You: who I held in your earliest days, whose preschool programs I applauded, whose elementary school presentations I attended, whose milestones I’ve celebrated. You: who have cried in my arms, on my couch, and on my shoulder. You: who I have counseled, advised, guided. You who I have loved and who have loved me in return: Hear me.
This US election is not the solution to the world’s problems or the creation of them. This is neither the beginning, nor the end. This is a moment. An historic moment, a game-changing moment, a moment for rejoicing or weeping depending on your perspective. But beloveds, this is one out of many such moments in the history of our nation and of our world.
Are you listening? This is important.
Some of you are delighted with the results of last night’s election. Okay, that’s fine. But don’t be a braggart. Be gentle and be kind. It is not okay, no matter what the world tells you, to call people names, to boast in victory, to bully others with no regard for their feelings, interests, or even opinions.
Watch your language. (You know how I feel about this!) Despite what your government’s leaders may model, it is not right or good to use filthy language. Rise above it. If you feel like a winner today, use language becoming of royalty, not trash.
Finally, if you are claiming this victory as a victory for Christ, please remember that there are people who share your faith, but not your political beliefs. You can be happy about who won or about whom you defeated. This is one of the wonderful things about this nation: you have the unalienable right to your opinion. But this right comes from your citizenship in the United States; as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, you are called to adhere to the message of Christ who said it is the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers who are blessed, not the boastful, the prideful, and the rude.
Are you devastated this morning? I’m so sorry. I wish I could make your pain go away by swaddling you tighter, by finding your lost lovey, or by binging on Ben & Jerry’s with you. I long for the days when your pain could be wiped off with a cool cloth and soothed by a band-aid. I know this is not one of those days.
I also know this: though you may grieve, you do not have to grieve as those who have no hope. If you feel this is a loss for the Kingdom of God, remember that God’s greatest strength was found on the cross; yet to the world, it looked like an irredeemable loss. This is not a defeat for God. It does look to many of us like a loss for our country, but no election can defeat God. Shoot, even death didn’t.
Now. Things will change because of this election. In all likelihood, you and I will need to become more involved as volunteers and as activists. We will need to take the initiative to protect our environment and to build bridges into relationships with people who are different from us. We need to listen, not just to people who share our opinions, but especially to those who do not. We must take steps to fight injustice and oppression wherever they are found. We must reach out to the strangers in our midst and we must care for the people on the fringes of society.
Here's what I think. I think that you can change this. Your innovative ideas, your unique way of thinking, your particular gifts, your awareness of others; all of these qualities empower you to bring about good and lasting change. Oft quoted American minister and reformer Theodore Parker (1810-1860) said
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”*
No doubt, Theodore Parker was frustrated by the inequity of the moral universe; his participation in reform movements led him to fight for women’s rights, public education, and most fervently for the abolition of slavery. His efforts frequently came to little avail. Yet he had hope.
And so do you.
Rest in that hope. Rest in the confidence that love always, always wins. And when your strength is restored, move forward. Create beauty. Encourage conversation. Seek innovative solutions. Reach across boundaries into new relationships. In so doing, even if you didn’t see the results you wanted last night, you will most certainly get a glimpse of God’s Kingdom tomorrow.
So. Question. As people with theological education and a view of a God of love, what do we do when things just don’t make sense? What do we do with earthquakes that take so many lives? How do we go about our days and not talk about riots in Baltimore? Why aren’t we communally angered about executions in Bali? What do we do when a 48 year old dies a painful slow death from brain cancer? Or when someone’s grandparents die 6 days before their wedding?
The questions my friend posed are not unlike ones that I have on my mind as well. I knew
we’d have plenty to talk about when we met.
“About your questions,” I began. “What do you believe thinking Christians should make of all these events?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “But I don’t believe God causes all these things.”
I agreed and said so.
She continued. “I do believe God redeems everything, though.”
“Me too,” I said. “The problem is, we don’t always get to see evidence of that redemption. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I believe the arc of redemption is also long, but it bends toward mercy. Still, sometimes redemption seems way too distant.”
We continued talking, seeking understanding. We agreed that while we don’t know what causes natural disasters, we do know that we take the gift of this good earth for granted. We waste resources and fail to appreciate the beauty around us. We can do better. We can all do better.
Injustice abounds: from Baltimore to Bali and beyond. It’s heartbreaking; it’s infuriating. Oppression is not the way of Christ, of this we are certain. But how — in this broken world that rarely resembles the Kingdom — can we as the body of Christ reflect less judgment and more grace, less criticism and more compassion? Our prayer is that God’s Spirit will inhabit our words and actions that we might be instruments of that unfathomable peace in a world churning with bigotry, racism and inequality.
So there’s redemption. There’s taking responsibility for what we ourselves have caused, and changing our behavior accordingly. But what about cancer? What about unexplained death and pain? For me, that’s where the theology gets a little murkier, a little harder to grasp.
I shared with my friend some of the times tragedy has entered my own little world. Like when my niece was born a single twin weighing less than two pounds or when a 3-and-a-half-year-old child I loved died from a rare form of leukemia. Like the time a child on my son’s baseball team died suddenly from meningitis or when my friend’s son died from brain cancer. None of these things make sense. None of them seem compatible with a God of love.
“I’ve learned,” I told her, “that it comes down to the truth found in 1 John 1:5: ‘This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.’”
When I’m surrounded by darkness, I know that to see God, I must look for light. Because in God there is no darkness at all. I look at my beautiful niece who is almost 20 now. I look back through my memories and see the bright smile and hear the sweet laughter of a little boy way too sick to exhibit earthly joy. And I listen to the light-filled testimonies of bereaved mothers, who though they grieve, they still have hope.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t offer my young friend any real answers that day. In fact, she may have left with even more questions than she had before our time together. But I do know that as we grappled with these tough questions of our faith, looking to God and to Holy Scripture for wisdom, we caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And there was no darkness there at all; only light.
*This piece was first published on May 4, 2015, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I’m delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing monthly at baptistnews.com.
“I’m going to move over here by Ruby so she can hear me,” Edna said as she stood, stepping over so her voice would project directly into her friend’s ear.
“How’s this?” she asked. “Can you hear me OK, Ruby?”
Ms. Ruby noticed us watching her and piped up, “Beg your pardon?”
I was attending the monthly meeting of a Woman’s Missionary Union roundtable at my church, and Ms. Edna was sharing the prayer calendar which included a brief devotion. These particular women have been meeting together for longer than anyone can remember. They share prayer concerns, pray for missionaries, take on mission projects, enjoy snacks provided by the hostess of the month, and just spend time together. I’d guess their average age is upwards of 80.
As I basked in their traditions, I was taken back to my days in Girls in Action (the children’s version of WMU). The ladies spoke of Lottie Moon, and immediately I pictured the diminutive missionary who changed the face of Baptist international missions. I recalled also the women who taught me about Lottie Moon and other missionaries. I saw their smiling faces as they welcomed me into a community of belonging.
They were some of the same ones who greeted me at GAs on Wednesdays, taught my Sunday school class, led crafts at Vacation Bible School, or bandaged my scrapes at church camp. They, and others who came after them, taught me that church is a place where children are loved and friendships are made. They taught me other stuff too, of course. I learned about Adam, Noah and Abraham; Paul, John and Peter. I learned about the widow who offered Elisha a home and the one who offered Jesus her all.
Those lessons grew with me, as I read and re-read familiar stories, gaining deeper understanding over time. I’m grateful — so grateful — for the hours those volunteers put in with me and my peers. People like Elaine Hill, Marilyn Thompson, Eva Spear, and Vi Keeter gave me a picture of godliness that I readily recognize in others today.
It’s that kind of godliness I saw around that table of women last week. Like the saints in my own history, these women will be quick to tell you they’re just “sinners saved by grace.” Indeed, they — we — are human beings who trespass against others even as we fail to forgive those who trespass against us. So yes, they are imperfect; but these women take church seriously. In addition to being at church every time the doors are open, “Lord willing,” they show up around that table, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. For a couple of hours each month they share snacks and stories, recipes and remedies, hopes and hurts. They pray together — for each other and for people they’ve never met — and over time they’ve developed a community of faith that looks a little bit like the Kingdom of God.
What about you? What pictures of the Kingdom have you seen lately?
*This piece was first published on December 14, 2014, by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press). I'm delighted to be associated with this great organization and am honored to be among the gifted writers and thinkers featured there. Watch for my BNG column, appearing on the second Monday of each month at baptistnews.com.