Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are atheists gonna fry?

She came into my office visibly shaken. Something terrible had happened and I braced myself for the worst. A parade of possible scenarios raced through my head: a divorce, a death, financial ruin… But it was none of the above.

She couldn’t hold back her tears any longer as she blurted out, “Oh, Pastor, I don’t know what to do. Scott told me he’s an atheist.”

Yes, this was a crisis for her. It may or may not have been a crisis for Scott, her seventeen-year-old son, but it certainly was for his mother. I had encountered this before. Often, in fact. Sometimes it came on the eve of Confirmation Sunday when an adolescent realized they couldn’t in good conscience stand before a congregation of people and claim to believe something they’re not sure they believe. (That’s one of the things I hate most about Confirmation, or Affirmation of Baptism, or whatever it is we’re calling that rite of passage where a young person makes a public declaration of faith. It forces a lot of kids to be dishonest just to please the adults who love them. It’s not fair to those we put in that position, nor does it truly honor their spiritual journey. But that may be the topic for another blog. Back to the spiritual standing of atheists.)

I suspect that the concern many Christians have for atheists is that, by not believing, they are asking for trouble. It reminds me of the way I used to think about Santa Claus when I was a kid. I had plenty of doubts about the veracity of the Jolly Old Elf, but I wasn’t about to let anyone know because I lived with this fear that if I didn’t believe, I wouldn’t get any gifts. Is that the way we think about God? Do we live with the fear that if we don’t believe, God won’t reward us? Well then, I have to wonder… Could the God of “love divine, all loves excelling” be that petty?

Why is it so upsetting for Christians when they learn that someone they love considers himself or herself an atheist? The short answer, for many people, would be: because if you don’t believe in God, and in Jesus specifically, you’re going to hell. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that if you want to go to heaven, you have to believe in Jesus as your Savior? Uh, actually, no.

We glean a lot of this theology from John’s gospel. John was big on believing. But he never says that if you don’t believe in Jesus as your Savior you will go to hell. That’s something we would have to imply from our own distorted perspective on what it means to be saved and what we’re being saved from. In fact, the Jesus that John reveals to us isn’t all that concerned about teaching people how to avoid hell; his focus is on leading them to experience life. Not just survival, but real life, life in all its fullness -- what Jesus calls abundant life, or eternal life, which is something that begins now, not just someday after we stop breathing.

What does it mean when a person says they’re an atheist? Does it mean they aren’t so sure about God? Or that they don’t believe in the God they learned about in Sunday school? Maybe they don't buy into a God who can’t be explained by science? It seems to me that there is a spectrum of belief, and die-hard, Bible burnin’ atheists are at the opposite end of the spectrum from dyed-in-the-wool, Bible-totin’ Christians. (It’s the ones on both extreme ends of the spectrum who scare me, the ones who are so darn certain that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They’re dangerous!) But, at what point does a person move from being a believer to being an atheist? I’m not sure where I would place myself on the spectrum of belief. On any given day, I’m shifting from one place to another. It isn’t easy to differentiate believers from non-believers. And I have to wonder how much it really matters. Certainly, God loves us all, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of belief.

Well, maybe it doesn’t matter as much for God as it does for us. For me, living with an awareness of God’s love is part of what it means to live life in all its fullness, the life Jesus invites us all to participate in. God’s love is a source of joy in my life. For atheists, this must be like receiving an invitation to a party they have no desire to attend. So the love of God is not a source of joy. From my perspective, the atheist is missing out on the best that life has to offer. But I imagine that from the perspective of an atheist, I may be perceived as the one who is missing out.

Those of us who believe in an afterlife might opt to leave all of this up to God and take comfort in the fact that someday we’ll find out who was right and who was wrong. But I suspect that when that time comes, it isn’t going to matter who was right and who was wrong. God’s grace is sufficient. It is now, and it always will be. For everyone. Whether they believe it or not.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The curse of a compassionate heart mixed with OCD tendencies

I was about a minute away from the church on Sunday morning when a police car  blocked my way. Up ahead, a tragedy was unfolding. A gaggle of neighborhood gawkers looked on as vehicles with flashing lights, including several big red fire trucks, converged on the street. T.V. crews were on the scene, as well.

All of this was taking place a couple blocks away from me, so I couldn’t tell exactly what had happened, but I knew it wasn’t good. I also couldn’t tell exactly where it was happening, and I got a sinking feeling in my gut. Was it Holy Trinity? It seemed to be right about where the church was located.

I took a quick right turn and made my way toward the church by back streets. Would I even get through or would I have to park my car at the curb and walk to the church? If it came to that, I wouldn't be walking, I'd be running. Breathe deep, Nancy, breathe deep. One, two, three blocks I traveled, until I came to the street that runs alongside the church. It was clear. I turned the corner in front of the church and saw that all was the way it had been when I left it the day before. “Thank you, God!” I shouted.

The fire was just three doors down, at some low rent apartments. Later, I learned from those who had been watching T.V. that no one was hurt, but nine families had been displaced by this quickly moving blaze. And I was relieved when I knew that it had nothing to do with me. Nine families lost everything, and I thanked God that it hadn’t happened at the church building where our faith community meets on Sunday mornings. All those people lost their homes, and I moved on to getting my own house in order: checking to see that the A/C was at a comfortable temperature, unlocking doors, turning on lights.

I had thanked God. All of a sudden, my gut wasn’t feeling so good again. But this time it wasn’t fear and dread that was doing it; this time it was pure unadulterated guilt. I had thanked God that the tragedy had nothing to do with me and mine. Someone else’s world had all but ended, and I was relieved that this hadn’t happened to us.

It’s normal to be relieved when we’re spared of what could have been the death of us. But, when someone else isn’t, it’s hard for me to be truly happy about it. It’s the feeling I always get when I’m sitting around a table piled with food on Thanksgiving afternoon. My first thought is to be grateful for all that I have been given in this life, but then before I’ve even finished thinking those thankful thoughts, I start to ponder the lives of those whose families could live for a year on the leftovers my family will store in plastic containers for another day after the meal is over. I’m thankful, yes, but as I’m scooping the feast from my plate up to my mouth, my throat tightens and it’s hard to swallow.

Okay. I know that at any given moment there are horrible things happening in the world around me. Thanks to television, I can see a sampling of life’s atrocities at any hour of the day. But it’s more than I can absorb and, for the most part, I put it all out of my mind. I have to. And yet, I know it’s always there; it’s always happening. So, it’s hard for me to celebrate completely. No matter how good things are for me, I can’t stop thinking about those who don’t have it so good. I suppose that’s the curse of compassionate heart mixed with OCD tendencies.

One of the phrases I hear often from other Christians is, “There but by the grace of God go I.” It’s the idea that God in his grace has spared me of something horrible that has happened to someone else. “I was late getting to work at the World Trade Center on September 11.” “ I had a high draft number during the Vietnam War.” “I ate the chicken ala king at the wedding reception and didn’t get sick-as-a-dog like everyone else who did." God spared me. It was God’s grace, no doubt about it. But what about that person who wasn’t spared? Apparently God was all out of grace.

I have trouble pinning my good fortune on God. Because if God has been good to me, I have to ask, why hasn’t God been good to the woman who scrambles every day to feed her hungry children? Why would God choose me and not her? That makes no sense to me. It’s certainly not because I’m more deserving. In fact, Jesus says, even if I were, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” I do acknowledge that sometimes my good fortune may be the result of good choices I’ve made in my life. But they are good choices that were made against the backdrop of opportunities and privileges that others can only dream of. I have to conclude that a lot of what happens to me is random luck. No other explanation makes sense to me.

I know that many Christians will bristle at the idea of luck determining how our lives will go. They may insist that they have been blessed by God for a reason. I’m not so sure about that any more. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, really, and I wonder if we choose to believe it because it somehow justifies for us why we have so much while others have so little.

I wish I could offer a choice bit of theological wisdom on this matter but I can’t. I don’t get it, I really don’t. I try my best to put it out of my mind whenever I can. But when I drive past a fire on a Sunday morning and thank God that it didn’t happened at my church, my twisted understanding of God’s ways smacks me in the face. And I don’t know what to do with it. I can only trust that God does know what to do with it and somehow, God is working toward a loving resolution of all that is messed up in our world. I don’t know if that’s true. I could be wrong. But it’s what I have to believe because if I didn’t, I don’t know what would become of me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How a preacher is different than a cockroach

Last Sunday, as I sat in the chancel, mentally preparing myself to preach, I looked down at the floor and saw a giant cockroach wedged up against the left side of the pulpit. It was lying on its back with its desperate little legs twitching in the air. That lovely image was still in my brain as I climbed into the pulpit and looked out at my congregation. There they were, waiting for a word from the Lord, and I was thinking about a near-dead cockroach.

I had an important message that day. It was all about denying ourselves, taking up a cross and following Jesus. Mind you, this is not something peripheral to the life of faith. For those of us who aspire to live Jesus lives, this is at the center. So why was I feeling like it was totally irrelevant to the lives of the people I was addressing? Most of them weren’t making eye-contact with me, and those who were didn’t seem to be blinking. Hello? Is anybody out there?

The more I talked, the more disconnected I felt. Was it that nobody likes to be reminded about how following Jesus isn’t always fun? Was it that I had preached on this so many times before that they must be tired of hearing it? Was my sermon too academic? Too humorless? Too devoid of honest-to-goodness, real- life examples? Should I have started working on it earlier on the week ? Seriously, while I was talking, all of those thoughts were racing through my mind. I was second-guessing myself and a part of me was wondering if maybe it was time for me to think of taking up another line of work.

Certainly, I don’t preach for the praise. That would be just crazy. But it helps if I can sense some kind of connection with my listeners while I’m putting myself out there. It’s not easy for me to stand before a congregation and presume to know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I feel like such a fake and I wonder if they can all see right through me. Really, why should they listen to me? What do I know? Preaching feeds on all my insecurities. And every once in a while I have a Sunday like this, where I am praying for the proverbial trap door that will both make me disappear from view and put me out of my misery. With each word I spoke, I felt more and more like that cockroach, struggling to survive

I love preaching when I have a fire in my belly. On those Sundays, I can’t wait to step into the pulpit and watch the words fly from my mouth. I’m talking about something that burns within me, something I believe will transform the lives of my listeners. This is like an out-of –the body experience for me. Although I am a terribly self-conscious person, in that holy moment, all I care about is getting the message across as effectively as I can and there is not a self-conscious bone in my body. I have no doubt that there is a God-thing going on. There have been lots of Sundays like that for me. But this was not one of those Sundays.

Finally, I come to the end of the sermon. I leave the congregation with a question, say “Amen” and sit-the-hell down, thinking that’s something I should have done about ten minutes ago. Thank God it’s over.

I looked down and saw no more movement from the cockroach. He died while I was preaching. Just like me. I died while I was preaching, too. Of course, the big difference between us is that I will live to preach again. Maybe that’s why Christian preachers get so worked up over the resurrection. We experience it on a regular basis.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Obsessing over obsessing over my weight

I struggle with my weight. I know I’m not alone. It’s been the case for most of my adult life. When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be overweight. I was pert near the skinniest one in the class and my mom gave me tonic to get me to eat more. I didn’t break 100 pounds until I went to college and, before I started having babies, I was slim and trim.

Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before from a bazillion other women. I know. Well, I can’t speak for a bazillion other women. I can only speak for myself. And let me tell you, there is nothing at all pleasing about being plump. I obsess over my weight. When I can’t get into any of my clothes, not even my fat clothes, and I can’t stand to look at the pictures of me that my friends have tagged on Facebook, despite all my extra pounds, there isn’t an ounce of positive self-esteem within me. And forget about feeling sexy; I am an asexual blob. I know, there’s also the matter of my health, but, to be honest, that doesn’t concern me nearly as much as the whole idea of seeing myself as a fat woman. Ugh!

I don’t know what depresses me more, that I’m overweight, or that it bothers me so much that I’m overweight. I get down on myself for succumbing to the cultural norm that says, “Skinny is beautiful.” I know it ain’t necessarily so. I can look at Renaissance paintings of roly-poly women and lament the fact that I was born too late. And I can curse Lady Columbia when she flashes across the screen at the beginning of movie, noting how she looks at least 75 pounds lighter than the voluptuous Lady Columbia I remember from the days of my youth. But the fact is, a woman in a bikini with visible ribs and invisible hips is considered desirable in our culture.

Publicly, I know I need to be enlightened enough to see beyond this. So I scoff at our strange aversion to body fat and pretend like it doesn’t matter to me. But, if I’m truly honest with myself, I have to confess that it does matter to me. Quite a bit. And although I may be angry at society for imposing this unnatural body image upon women, I’m angrier at myself for buying into it. Of course, that makes me hate myself even more. It’s bad enough being fat. Do I have to be shallow, as well?

What’s the answer? I wish I knew. It’s complicated for women. Whether we will admit it or not, we’re always comparing ourselves to other women. And weight is a major point of comparison. I know there’s a little part of me that takes comfort in noting that another woman may be more gravitationally challenged that I am. There’s also a part of me that wants to throttle women who have tight little buns. I’m certainly not proud of this, but it’s the way I am, doggone it.

In case you may not have figured it out by now, I’m about a month into a serious diet. And I’m in a bit of angst over this whole thing tonight. Normally, in such a state, I would go for the cookies, but I refuse to resort to my old self-defeating behavior. That’s a battle I can win. I know that. But the deeper battle -- the one that rages between the way I wish my weight wasn’t so important to me and how much it really does matter to me -- that's one that I suspect I can never win, this side of the grave.

I wonder. In heaven, will we all be skinny? Or will we all be fat? It would be heaven for me if it no longer mattered.

Was Jesus a bigot?

Mark 7:24-30 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Was Jesus a bigot? I know the question sounds unspeakable. But if the definition of a bigot is someone who is intolerant of a particular race or group of people, and if the only thing you knew about Jesus was what you read in this passage from Mark’s gospel, the answer would have to be, “Yes.” Yes, Jesus was a bigot. That’s why this is one of the most troubling stories we have about Jesus in the gospels. It’s one of those it might have been better to omit. After all, those who gave us the gospels didn’t give us every single thing that Jesus ever did. They had to do some editing; they had to decide which episodes in Jesus’ life would contribute to the larger story, which ones were most important. And, for some reason, Mark, and then later, Matthew, both thought this was a story about Jesus that we needed to hear. What were they thinking?

Jesus had been doing some pretty intense ministry. He’d just finished a heated debate with the scribes and the Pharisees about how to interpret the law. He challenged the way they had always seen things before. He pushed them to open their minds that had been way too narrow, to admit they may have been wrong about some things. That’s hard work!

So now it’s time for a retreat. Jesus heads off to escape the crowds. But of course, he is discovered. One of the people who finds him is a woman. Well, not just any woman. This woman is a mother. And not just any mother. This mother is desperate. Her daughter has a demon living inside her that threatens to destroy her.

We can only guess what that might have been about since we don’t tend to label illnesses as demon possession today. But that’s the way it was seen back in Jesus’ day. There is a devastating illness attacking the little girl, either physically, or mentally, or spiritually. And the mother is desperate.

When this woman comes to Jesus for help, he isn’t very nice. He says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” It’s hard to believe Jesus could say such a thing. Since this woman is a Gentile, and Jesus sees his mission exclusively to the Jews, he doesn’t want to have a thing to do with her. He calls her a dog. Now, if you’re a dog-lover, you may think of that as high praise. But trust me, Jesus doesn’t mean it as a compliment.

I suspect that most people would have walked away at that point, thinking, “Well, if that man doesn’t have time for me, I don’t have time for him.” But a mother who is desperate to save her child isn’t easily discouraged. No matter that the man just insulted and rejected her. She has a come-back for him. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The next thing this passage from Mark tells us is that Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”

Huh? It seems like a whole lot is left out between verse 28, where the woman comes back at Jesus, and verse 29, where Jesus heals her daughter. We need a 28a, and a 28b, and a 28c. Why does Jesus suddenly change his tune?

Through the years, I’ve preached on this passage multiple times. And I’ve come at it from a variety of angles. I’ve explained the narrow-minded statement of Jesus, where he’s calling the woman a dog, as something that he was just saying for his disciples’ benefit. That he was just playing devil’s advocate so they could listen and learn from the woman something that Jesus himself already knew. I know that another time I preached that Jesus said this simply to test the woman’s faith, to see how she would react. And I remember at least once preaching about how Jesus was just being playful here. That he was making a joke and engaging in some repartee with a woman whom he suspected could hold her own with him.

In all those interpretations, I was guilty of something that we so often do when we read stories where Jesus is behaving in a way that doesn’t line up with the Jesus we have already created in our minds. I had already decided that the last thing Jesus was was a bigot. Jesus was the guy who loved everyone, especially the outcasts. Jesus never refused to help someone just because they weren’t his kind of people. So, Jesus would never call that woman a dog who doesn’t deserve to be fed. Jesus would never do that. My way of dealing with this passage was to work my way around it by making excuses for Jesus. He didn’t really mean it, he was being ironic, he had a good reason for saying what he did and his motives were pure.

Thank God, I’m in a different place now. I’ve grown in my understanding of Jesus. I don’t need to make excuses for him. I can accept this passage for what it is. And the simplest explanation for what Jesus says here is to admit that, yes, Jesus said it, and he meant what he said. Yes, Jesus was a bigot.

We have such twisted ideas about Jesus. One is that we like to believe Jesus was perfect. And by that, we usually mean that Jesus never did or said anything wrong. But when we talk about the perfection of Jesus, that’s not what it means to be perfect.

It means is that Jesus was “complete.” Jesus was at one with God. Jesus’ will and God’s will were the same. That’s the perfection of Jesus. It doesn’t mean that Jesus never made a mistake, or Jesus never said anything that was wrong.

Another thing we like to believe about Jesus is that he was all-knowing. From the time he was a babe in the manger, he knew all about what was going to happen to him in his life. He could have told you the names of his disciples before he could even speak, and he knew he was going to end up on a cross. Well, how ridiculous is that?

We do everything in our power to resist recognizing the humanity of Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Not God masquerading as a human being, but God really as a human being. God incarnate. That means that not just parts of Jesus were human. We can’t say that he was human in body, but not in mind. He was ALL human.

So, there are some things that are true about the human experience that had to be true for Jesus, too. And until we can see just how human Jesus really was, we will never understand him. Part of what it means to be human is that you are a product of your environment. Your social context influences the way you view the world around you. If you grow up in a world that believes only your people are God’s people, that’s the way you will see things. Jesus grew up in such a world. Like any human being, he was influenced by his environment.

But another part of what it means to be human is that what we learn through the world around us can change. In fact, growing up into big boys and girls means growing beyond the way you always thought things had to be. Think about your own life. If you’re an adult, do you still see the world the same way you did when you were a kid? Or, if you’re still in your younger years, do you still see the world the same way you did when you were in preschool? We grow. Throughout our lives. Sometimes it unfolds so gradually that we hardly realize it’s happening to us, unless we think back to the way we saw things twenty years ago and the way we see them now. And sometimes, we experience something in our lives that can change us overnight. It’s like a moment of clarity when the veil is lifted and we wonder how we could ever have seen it any other way. That’s a part of the human experience. It’s the way God made us. We grow. We are all a work in progress. And Jesus was as human as we are. He grew along the way. His understanding of his mission evolved. His mind expanded.

This little confrontation with a Gentile mother who wouldn’t take no for an answer must have been one of those life-changing moments for Jesus. He had considered his ministry exclusive to the Jews. Yes, he had healed the sick, touched the untouchable, reached out to those on the fringes of society. But they were all Jews. He hadn’t gone far enough. It took a desperate woman to challenge him on it. And because Jesus was one with God, he was not threatened by this Gentile woman’s words. He was open to being transformed. He could see that he had been wrong. And he changed his mind. That’s the way it works for a human being who is perfect in his completeness.

So, we don’t need to make excuses for Jesus. We can face the truth about his humanity and recognize that he did humanity better than anyone. Does that mean he was never wrong? Of course not. Was he ever a bigot? Yes. He was human. Just like us, he could be too narrow in his thinking. Just like us, he needed to be jarred into expanding his mind. And, just like us, once his mind was expanded, it could never again return to its original size.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mixing Religion and Politics

"You don’t mix religion and politics." That’s something we’ve probably all heard, and maybe we’ve been among those who’ve said it. I know for myself, I usually understand that to mean, you can’t force your religious views on everyone else by making them a part of your political agenda. And, of course, I’m only concerned about it when the religious views I believe someone is mixing with politics are different from my own.

Whether we like it or not, the political season is upon us. In fact, it’s descending upon us this week in Charlotte in a very vivid way. We’ve been preparing for it in the Queen City much like people living on the coast brace for a hurricane. Some have evacuated, others are battening down the hatches and will be holing up in their homes for the duration, while a few brave souls (a.k.a. crazy people) will be reveling in the gale force winds coming from the center of our city.

The lectionary reading for this week, from the first chapter of James, comes to us at a perfect time as we enter into these historic days for Charlotte, not to mention the final months before a big presidential election. I think I can safely say that, in the spirit of James, as God’s people, it is high time for us to mix religion and politics.

Before you leave your house in the morning, do you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you carefully wipe away all the crust that collected in the corners of your eyes while you were sleeping? Do you check to see that you don’t still have some of your breakfast on your face or between your teeth? Do you make sure that little piece of hair in the back isn’t sticking up like Dennis the Menace? Well, imagine yourself looking in the mirror again. That’s what James asks you to do. Only this time, look beyond your face and your hair and your clothing. Who is that person you see looking back at you? Who are you, really? Imagine if you could see yourself from a God’s-eye view. God, whom James describes as “the Father of lights, from whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” James wants us to look in the mirror and be reminded that we’re the first fruits of all God's creatures. That person looking back at you is someone who belongs to God and is set aside for God’s purpose. That changes what you see, doesn’t it?

When we do that and we’re reminded of who we really are from a God’s-eye view -- when we really do that, it’s going to transform us. In the things we believe, to be sure. But more importantly, in the things we do. The Christian faith is more than a series of truth-claims limited to what we think and what we express with our words. For James, talk is cheap. What counts is the way faith actually plays out in your life. Your deeds need to be consistent with your words. Faith without actions to back it up is absolutely meaningless.

It’s so easy to forget this when we get caught up in the culture around us, isn’t it? These are challenging times for us as God’s people. A few verses from the first chapter of James especially sting. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” and then the part that says, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

Have you noticed how folks are ready to pounce on every word one of our presidential candidates utters, just waiting for a chink in the armor to appear so they can quickly plunge their knives into the vulnerable spot while they have the chance to do as much damage as possible? Have you noticed how much we seem to relish deriding those who say stupid things? Like the guy who referred to “legitimate rape.” Immediately, all people in his party were guilty by association and condemned. Have you noticed how we’re always looking for the worst possible interpretation of everything the opposing party does? Why is that? Because they have become the enemy. Worse than the enemy, really. We have demonized those who disagree with us. We put them right up there with Satan and we’ve got to fight against them or all that we care about will be lost. It’s scary when we get to that point. And I’m afraid that’s where we are.

Certainly, it's good to feel passionately about your convictions. But when it means targeting anyone who disagrees with you as an enemy who must be fought and destroyed, you’re in trouble. It’s dangerous. Especially for that person you see in the mirror.

Take some time to read the first chapter of James and think about whether your actions might be a manifestation of the one who taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness…. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

We’re being challenged in these politically charged days to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. No, we can’t control how the world around us will proceed in the weeks ahead. But we can control ourselves. Will we allow ourselves to get sucked up into the angry rhetoric all around us? Will we close our ears to anyone who disagrees with us? Will we allow fear and anger to lead us? Or will we be able to look in the mirror, reminding ourselves that we are God’s first fruits among all his creatures and conduct ourselves accordingly? Yes, I’m suggesting that this is the time for us to mix religion and politics in the best possible way.