Lent – A Season of Turning Around

IMG_8923 When Jesus began his ministry he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark 1:15  Repentance is not simply feeling remorse for wrongs done.   Rather it is a time of turning around.   True repentance is a radical  reassessment of how we live our lives, opening ourselves to change our whole way of thinking, reasoning and being.  It’s letting ourselves see the world as God sees it and  turning away from those parts of our lives  which limit our compassion, our goodness and our following Jesus.  Lent is such a time of reconnecting and of turning around.

Many years ago, I knew a woman who could not let go of her anger at a sibling. The event in question had happened in her childhood. By then the woman was growing frail, yet she continued her long grudge. Her sibling had reached out many times in the sixty years since that breach. Other family members had intervened. She, however, refused all efforts, all kindness, all willingness to understand. She would not allow herself to be reconciled.

As I listened to her reasons, I thought how sad that she would allow those thoughts to destroy the friendship of a sibling who genuinely cared about her. I thought of a relationship she had missed out on and the family gatherings she had excluded herself from. I thought of her ongoing loss. What I found especially sad was how much healing would have come to her,  if she had only been willing to let go of her pride and forgive.

That we are willing to forgive others is important to Jesus. Who other than Jesus, or a mom with a brood of kids, insists that we forgive each other?  The problem with hanging onto resentment is that eventually it will eat us up. Long term grudges imprison our possibilities. We cannot live our lives with joy, while simmering with resentment.

The need to forgive is just as real and genuine as our need to be forgiven.  Not forgiving destroys our spirits and our souls. When we refuse to forgive it causes not only us grief, but God. Paul said as much when he wrote these words to the people of Ephesus: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:30-32

In your life there may be a person who needs your forgiveness. There may be a person who really needs to know that you have decided to forgive. Who in your life might that be? What can you do to express that forgiveness? What symbol can you share? May God give you grace to forgive, even as God has forgiven you.

*The season of Lent begins this year with  Ash Wednesday on March 1.

What is a Christian to do in this World of Alternative Facts, Values, Assumptions and Differing News Sources?

     What is a Christian to do in this world of alternative facts, values, assumptions and differing news sources? How do we stand as people of faith, living our lives with the hope of Christ? Does it matter what our neighbors think? If it does, then is social media the best transmitter of transformation? Has anyone’s view of the world changed because of someone’s political post, or has it only reinforced one’s own view?

My younger brother is using humor to cope with the barrage of political differences on social media. His Facebook posts have sported a variety of comics which lighten the spirit. Last Friday night was an especially potent day of competing views of the new President and the series of executive orders that have been signed. Some posters were asking for tolerance in the expression of their view point. One wrote with dismay about people who had defriended her after she had posted a political post. She said that she didn’t want to lose friends who disagreed with her position. She would much rather have a conversation and hear what her friends believed.

In the midst of the Friday barrage an old friend had posted these words of Madeline L’Engle. “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” The definition of a Christian is still, to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus had a lot to say about the way we treat each other. He was heavy on the bit about loving one another. He didn’t limit that to people who shared our particular expression of faith or our politics. In fact, he directed us in an entirely different direction. “Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus never said that this would be easy. What he said, was to love.

So, in that light, can we be gentle with the people we disagree with? Can we show God’s love to each person and not just those in our political camp? Do we have to agree with each other politically, to be friends in this new era? Are the people we disagree with, really our enemies? Or are they simply people who view the world differently? Can we respectfully disagree with one another, have a conversation and not slam those who don’t believe like us? Can we pray for people on the other side of the political divide? Certainly, those misguided souls need somebody’s prayers. Does that mean that we can’t find a way to fight for our values and beliefs? Of course not. But do we really need to leave that divisive mean-spirited post in the comment section of our newspaper? Or the equally nasty one on social media? Or would we be far more effective communicating our concerns by contacting our elected leaders, through phone, email, actual letter or a visit to their local office? And doing all of that with respect.

The late Madeline L’Engle was wise. We are drawn to those whose expression of Christian love radiates out of them. We bask in their light, in the loveliness of it. When I think of people who have altered my view of the world, it has been those who were shedding kindness and light who have had the greatest influence. In this seriously divided time, may we be the people who spread kindness, compassion and love.

For you see, as Christians we do have a common news source.  We call it the Bible.  We have the words of Jesus to guide us.   We have the truths of Scripture to reflect on.   We have reminders of how we are to live and speak and be with each other.  Jesus said it best, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”    John 13:34 

Being a Christian is More than Something We Believe

Subway Art - Kaohsiung Taiwan

Subway Art – Kaohsiung Taiwan

My memories go back far enough to remember when good people worked together to create solutions that would be beneficial to everyone. The rural and city divide was less divided. Each recognized that we were one nation. What helped one part, helped all parts. The apostle Paul experienced some of this division in the church he had planted in Corinth. He talked about the body of Christ and how each person plays a valuable part in the whole. None was greater than the other. Cutting off one part was akin to doing damage to the whole. He said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (I Corinthians 12:21)

I have to admit I have spent that last two weeks shuddering at the rapid escalation of anger, hate speech and a sense in some quarters that it is perfectly all right, to demean anyone who is different that you. This is not new. But, our recent two-year presidential campaign has brought out the worst in us. Part of this is simply that we no longer have common core values as a society. We’ve slipped into a philosophy that it’s a “winner take all” kind of world and if our side is on top, we get to do anything and everything without consulting the other side. As it plays out across the country, we ignore the wisdom and experience of people we now label as enemies. It’s us against them, not we. In doing this we are forgetting our common humanity. We are all creatures of this one earth. Each of us dependent upon the good gifts of creation. While we may have varying views on social issues and our life experiences have led us to different conclusions . . . All of us, each of us, are God’s children. Whatever our views, we are called to both respect and love each other.

The Psalmist writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23,24) I’ve been thinking that a whole lot of us could do worse than examining our lives for those attitudes that belittle our neighbors. Ones that throw verbal darts at unsuspecting targets. Attitudes that show our arrogance when we assume that we are in someway superior to another group of people. Being a Christian is more than something we believe. It is a way of living in the world, following Jesus. Loving our neighbors. Caring about the most vulnerable. Welcoming the stranger. Watching over the children. Bringing good news to the poor. Standing up for what we believe in without attacking those who disagree. Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God – Each of these are the practices of the saints.