When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

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Are you a real person? Am I? What about them? 

True fact. I have birthed two babies in the last five years. Which means, in the last five years I have gained and lost 50 pounds. Twice. I have been all the sizes. All of them. I may never have been skinny, but I have certainly been fat.

My friend, who has been in the same situation, remarked yesterday that she was shocked at how differently people treat her now that she has lost the baby weight as opposed to before. She recently took a flight for a work related trip. She couldn’t believe how different way she was treated this time than she was a few months – and several pounds – ago. 

I have had the same experience. When I weighed more, I received less eye contact. People didn’t hold the door open for me or smile for me nearly as much. It could be argued that this was just my perception, since I felt more insecure about myself, but the difference is so marked that I am convinced it goes beyond that. 

And what’s more, I am convinced that this is not just an experience of people that struggle with weight. Watching and listening to the national discourse over the last few months, I truly believe that different people have different experience in this world. And let me say right now that this is not a political blog. I’m not pushing a feminist or leftist worldview here. However, I do want to make an appeal to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not right.

I don’t care how you feel about federal funding, immigration, abortion, politics. (Or perhaps I do, but not in this blog). What I do care about is how we as Christ’s image bearers treat our fellow man. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

John 13:35

The story of the New Testament is one of a struggle for identity in the new church. There was a constant debate going on about who is on the inside and who was on the outside. Jews versus Gentiles. Circumcised versus uncircumcised. The rights of women. Who is allowed at the Lord’s supper. Which widows and orphans are allowed support by the church. And again and again the same answer prevailed. All are welcome. We are all sinners, all redeemed by grace. Through the blood of Christ, we all are equal.

It is the habit of our fallen nature to discriminate. To decide who is like us, who is acceptable, who is worthy of notice, of compassion, of kindness. But Jesus made a business of reaching out to those not universally accepted. The Gentile, the adulterous, the woman, the child, the tax collector, the day laborers, the uneducated. People whose stature in society was low. People who did not get doors held open for them, or eye contact, or friendly words from strangers.

And we as Christians are called to follow that example. Which has convicted me lately – what are my unconscious biases?

Last week I was walking downtown on my way back from lunch when I saw an elderly African-American gentleman stumbling in front of me. His appearance was disheveled. Instinctively I tightened my grip on my purse and looked around me. But then, I checked myself. This man was not drunk. He was not interacting with anybody on the street. He was elderly, poor, and disabled. And my first inclination was not to offer aid, assistance, or compassion. It was to guard against him. I stood convicted by the Holy Spirit.  

And it has forced me to ask myself: what do I think when I approach someone on the street who looks or seems different than me? How do I treat people who live different lives than the one I am used to? I am not saying in a larger sense, but in the common everyday mercies I extend to others. Am I more annoyed by someone who cuts me off in traffic if they look different than me? Am I more likely to greet somebody at the grocery store if they are young and able bodied versus old and slow when pushing the cart? In what small ways can I extend love and grace to people who may not speak my language, who may not live in my neighborhood or who may not know my Jesus?

Before we can change the world, I think we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, to confront the unconscious biases we hold, and to actively seek to love our fellow (wo)man, all of them. 

And for me (perhaps getting a little bit political here) I have felt an overwhelming conviction that I need to listen. To stop protesting that I am not a racist or sexist or a nationalist or a whatever -ist, and listen to see what the every day realities of people who are not me may be. I have been shocked. I have been humbled. I have been convicted. I have been encouraged. But mostly, I have seen that what I thought was reality is not the every day experience of people all around me. Which has led me to think and pray about how Christ would feel about this. How Christ would react to these stories. And how I as a Christ follower should also be.

No answers yet. Just more listening. And praying.

not my story.

It’s that time of year.

The time of year when my Instagram fills up with sweaty, post workout posts.  When Facebook is filled with testimonials of the newest 137 hour fix and beetroot wonderfood shake.  I am always proud of my friends who are working to transform their bodies and their lives, but I must admit, often times these posts take me to a dark place.

A place filled with shoulds.  A place where my inner voice starts shouting about all the diets I should be on, and all the new workouts I should be trying.  Of the way my body should look, and the ways I should be spending my precious down time.  I often tell others to stop shoulding all over yourself.  It was time I took my own advice.

My history with self image is… fraught. There is a strong family history of unhealthy body expectations and practices that is ingrained into the way I view the world. Whenever I go one a diet, I am immediately transformed into a different person. One who is hyper-focused on the number on the scale.  My entire week’s success or failure hangs on the results of my weigh in.  Meal planning and denying the voices shouting in my head takes up all my mental energy.

So, a few years ago, I decided to hop off of that train.  No more diets for me.  No group exercise because frankly, I spend the entire time comparing myself unfavorably to others.  I decided to love myself, and realize that who I am is WAY more than what my body looks like or a number on a scale.

But most of all, by giving up dieting, I gave myself permission for that to NOT BE MY STORY.  I do not want my kids to grow up remembering me as a person who jumped from one diet to the next.  Someone who shied away from photographs and bathing suits.  I didn’t want my daughter to see me constantly evaluating myself on outward appearances. I wanted them to remember a mom who was joyfully present.  Who baked with them.  Who showed them how much FUN playing outside could be.  A mom who took care of herself, soul, mind, AND body- and did her best to keep the three in balance.

Does that mean I gave up taking care of myself?  No.  In fact, I have actually lost weight since stepping out of that ugly cycle.  Instead of focusing on denying myself the foods I can’t have, I focus on feeding myself well.  Of celebrating with others with cake and champagne, but also falling in love with the crisp simplicity of a salad.  I realized that exercise could be a reward for me.  That I like using my body.  But that I like to exercise alone.  To give myself a chance to clear my head and process my life.  Or to take a walk with a good friend.  For me, that’s about as sweet as life gets.  And it turns out it’s good for me too.

Should everyone quit on diets?  Of course not!  For me. they became an idol, and they chipped away at my sense of self worth.  But more than that, for me, I decided that I wanted my life to be about more than just that.  That this was a priority I was consciously putting aside.  And I feel stronger by engaging in that process. By giving myself a divine permission to walk away from that unattainable standard.  By embracing the everyday grace available to me, and recognizing my infinite worth in Christ, which is separate from the worth given to me from the outside.

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