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Friday, April 16, 2021

On Some Bad Assumptions After a Bad Week

      When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

-Nehemiah 1:4 (NIV)




I’ve had one of those weeks when I kind of wish there was no internet.

     Early in the week, video came to light of Caron Nazario, a black Latino army officer in uniform, being pepper-sprayed by white police officers in Virginia as he returned home from duty. The officers had guns pointed at him, he had his hands out of the window of his vehicle, and they sprayed him anyway. Seemingly because he said he was afraid to get out of the car. He was being pulled over for not having license plates on his new vehicle, though temporary tags were clearly visible.

     Just a few miles from the Derek Chauvin trial, another white Minnesota police officer shot a black man, Daunte Wright, dead because she thought she had pulled out her Taser instead.

     Later in the week, I saw video of a white man in South Carolina, a big guy, telling a black teenager, not much more than a boy, who seems to be just walking down the sidewalk to “walk away” and that he’s “in the wrong neighborhood." Threatening him, looming over him, intimidating, telling him that his neighborhood is “a nice neighborhood” and that “we look out for each other here.” It seems pretty clear what his definitions of the words “nice” and “we” consist of.

     And then, yesterday, video was released in Chicago of the shooting death of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino, by a white Chicago police officer in an alley in the middle of the night. Descriptions of the video were that Adam had a gun when he was shot. So a lot of us were shocked when the video showed Adam turning toward the officer with his hands raised over his head as the officer puts a bullet in his chest.    

     It’s hard to watch a 13-year-old kid die in a dark alley in my city.

     I know, he was out in the middle of the night and he had a gun. I know, the teenager in South Carolina could have been doing something. I know, Daunte Wright tried to drive away from police. I know, Caron Nazario could have pulled over more quickly -- though just maybe you can understand his desire to drive to a well-lit place first. 

     I’ve had some pushback when I’ve written about things like this. That’s OK, I don’t want to make this about me. I’m certainly not above criticism. I do, however, wonder if people who have found fault with something or the other I’ve written about racism are aware of certain assumptions that they’re making. 

     I’ve been accused of hating white people. Well, quite to the contrary, the people I love most in the world are white people. But, that aside: To say that we have a problem in our country with racism is not hatred of white people in general. Paul asked the Galatians if he had become their enemy by telling them the truth; not to compare myself to Paul, but sometimes I’ve wondered the same. I’ve been told that there are good white people, that I should say more about what good white people do. There are. And I do. But, listen to me very carefully here: not being racist doesn’t make a person good. Not being racist makes a person…what they ought to be. If you don’t treat a person unjustly because of their skin color, that doesn’t make you a paragon of virtue. That’s just square one of being human. 

      White people need to get over the idea that if someone tells us that racism exists and that we benefit from it, that’s hatred. It isn’t. Hatred is what we’ve seen in some of those body cam videos. Hatred is that big guy using his size and strength to demean, intimidate, and threaten a teenaged boy for walking through his neighborhood. Hatred is what generations of people of color in America have lived with from their masters, their employers, their neighbors, and those sworn to protect them.

     To say that I and other white people in America have benefited from racism is not hatred of either white people or America. To say it is to believe that we can be better. It’s an act of faith in God, who helps us to repent of past sins and transforms us through the power of the Holy Spirit. To say it is an act of faith that people can change, and that they can change systems and structures. To say it is an act of faith that in Jesus our past failures don’t have to define our futures.

     A word about repentance: I’ve been told emphatically, “I don’t see color.” I’ve had people passionately tell me that they aren’t racist and have never been racist and so have nothing to apologize for. I’ve written already about the “I don’t see color” fallacy. And, you know what, I wouldn’t disagree with the people I know who have told me that they aren’t racist. But all of us are part of a culture that has allowed racism to take hold and thrive and bear the fruit that we see too often in our newsfeeds. Perhaps we’re too quick to give ourselves a pass, to absolve ourselves of responsibility. Are we willing to listen when people of color tell us of their experiences, or do we discount what they’re saying? Does a crowd protesting racism deserve less consideration, in our minds, than union members demonstrating against unfair labor practices or a largely white crowd demonstrating against a state government’s pandemic measures?

     Have we heard the stories that many people of color know well, but many white people have no understanding and maybe no knowledge of. What do you know about the Tulsa Massacre? The murder of Eugene Williams and the 1919 riots in Chicago — or the bigger picture of the Red Summer of 1919? What do you know about the practice of redlining, or the effects of gentrification, or the generational wealth lost in communities of color due to housing discrimination and unfair lending practices? It’s OK if you don’t know about them. But we can inform ourselves, and should before we have much to say about race in America.

     In any case, the big question isn’t “What’s my level of responsibility for the existence of racism?” The big question is, “What’s my level of responsibility for bringing it to an end?” Repentance, of course, always has an eye on the future. We can repent of societal evil: see Nehemiah’s prayer, where he repents of sins committed before he was born! We can determine that we will do what we can and use the influence we have to change things for the better. 

     I’ve been told that to write or speak about such things is to “reopen old wounds.” It’s easy to talk about “old wounds” if you’re not the one who’s wounded. Many people of color will tell you that their wounds have never healed. That they’re torn open again and again by repeated injustice, that they’re prodded every time another person of color dies or is injured or mocked or threatened in a grainy cell phone or security camera video. Many will gladly tell us about new wounds, if we’ll listen. To speak of these experiences as “old wounds” is to minimize the damage that the sin of racism does to it victims — and to its perpetrators. 

     It doesn’t matter if you agree with me. I’ve never said anything that I didn’t wish I could say more compellingly, more eloquently, more correctly. I know that I’ve been wrong before, and will be again, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been wrong in ways that I don’t even know about. But please don’t ignore the videos that seem to be everywhere. They’re not wrong. Please don’t ignore the voices of people of color trying to tell you what they’ve been living — and sometimes not — all their lives. They’re not wrong. 

     May God lead us to a new day.


Friday, April 2, 2021

Another Easter on the Road



How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?
-Luke 24:25-26



You could see it in their stooped shoulders, in the dark circles under their eyes, in the lines of worry on their foreheads and in the downturned corners of their mouths. You could see it in the shuffling way they walked, in their grave expressions and subdued gestures.

      You could hear it, too, in their vocabulary: “They crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. They had dared to imagine that God was going to bring about the long-anticipated freedom of Israel through Jesus. Whatever aspirations these two had - nationalistic, religious, political, economic - whatever aspirations they had were bound up with him. Tied to his fate. A week earlier, as crowds welcomed him to Jerusalem with waving palm branches and shouts of “Save now,” it must have seemed to them that all those hopes were on the verge of fulfillment. 
     Today, they're entombed with the body of their friend and teacher. Today their hearts are as empty as his tomb apparently is.
     “We had hoped.” I imagine you've walked where they walked. Bet you've even said the words, haven't you?
“I had hoped the treatment would give him a few more good years.”
“I had hoped we could work out our problems.”
“I had hoped to keep my job a little longer.”
“I had hoped to pay off this debt by now.”
“I had hoped I could reconcile with my child.”
     To live in this world is to travel roads that turn unexpectedly, that traverse places you'd rather not go, and that seem to end abruptly in places that were never your intended destination. It's really a testament to the human capacity for hope that we keep getting disappointed; it's such a common part of our lives that you'd think at some point if would stop surprising us. But surprise us it does, and when it hits us in the gut and leaves us gasping for breath, one of the first things we'll always wheeze out is that, often against all odds, we had hoped.
     Last year around this time, I wrote this
     “Rarely does something new come without trauma. That’s what unrelenting positivity sometimes overlooks. To get to Passover, Egyptians died. Egyptian parents, wives, and children mourned for the rest of their lives. As the Israelites praised God for leading them out of slavery, many Egyptians must have wondered what kind of God does that at the expense of so many lives.
     “To get to Easter, you have to go through Good Friday. “

     I wrote that when, I think, most of us still hoped that by this Easter, we’d be able to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection all together in our church buildings. That we’d be able to hide Easter eggs and have lunch with family and friends. Things are better, but we aren’t there yet. Some of us can be together, and that’s great and we’ll enjoy it, but inevitably some will still be missing. Some can’t be out yet due to their own poor health or the poor health of people they live with. Some will be missing due to other struggles that might have nothing to do with the pandemic. And there are some, of course, who have passed on since last Easter. We’ve spent our last one with them.
     It’s understandable if dashed hopes send us back home, like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Whatever the reason they might have been going to Emmaus, one thing is clear: the disciples are in Jerusalem. The text doesn’t say it explicitly, but it certainly looks like they’ve given up. To be honest, it’s understandable. What’s left for them? The disciples were all around because Jesus was; now that he’s gone, what’s the point? Might as well go somewhere else. There are lots of other roads to walk.
     What do you do when hope is all in the past tense – when your present is bleak and your future nonexistent? One of the options, surely, is to give up hope, even to curse God. Who's to say that, pushed so far, they wouldn't do exactly the same? Not a claim I can make with complete confidence.
     There is an alternative. But it's not intuitive. It's not one that we can come up with on our own.
     It involves a change of heart, a widening of vision, and it requires the intervention of someone who sees things from a higher vantage point. “What are you discussing together?” a stranger asks the two discouraged disciples. And they tell him. They tell him about Jesus, and they tell him about their hopes, and they tell him about the cross and the tomb. But their hopes are so far gone that not even the fact that his tomb was found empty that morning can retrieve them. That's why they need him.
     That's why we need him too; without him, our ruined hopes are overwhelming. Jesus reminds these two disciples that nothing that has happened is outside the boundaries of what God has already said must happen. “Foolish,” he calls them, “slow to believe,” because they should have realized that God's plans would not be derailed by something as trivial as a cross and a sealed tomb. They should have recognized that God wouldn't leave them alone to pick up the pieces of shattered hopes.
     It takes a while, but finally their eyes are opened and they recognize the One who has been with them all this time. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?!” they exclaim to each other.
     All it takes is resurrection.
     Today is Easter, the day when the church especially recalls that Jesus' tomb was empty. But if today looks a little more bleak than Easter should, if it's hard for you to hear the shouts of “He is risen!” because of the incessant thumping of “I had hoped” in your heart, then I want this to be more than the usual Easter for you. I pray that it will be a day when you come face to face with the risen Lord. I hope that he will open the Scriptures for you and help you to see that your lost hopes do nothing to derail the work of God in your life, and even that sometimes lost hope is necessary so that you will have room for the new hopes he wants to give you. I pray today that you will recognize him as he breaks the bread, hear the reassurance of the church that Jesus is alive, and that your heart will be set aflame again with hope, joy, anticipation, and excitement.
      Jesus is risen, and that means that there is no place where God is not, no lost hope that cannot be restored or replaced, no discouragement that cannot be transformed into anticipation. Jesus is risen, and that means that sickness, sin, and death are defeated. Jesus is risen, and that means he walks with us in our discouragement and reminds us of the hope that because he lives, we live too. Jesus is risen, and in his empty tomb we see beyond a shadow of a doubt that wherever the road you travel might take you, he is never more than a step away. Jesus is risen. So hope lives, too.



Friday, March 26, 2021

The Foreigners Among You

      When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

— Leviticus 19:33 (NIV) 




Xiao Zhen Xie was attacked last week as she walked near 7th and Market in San Francisco. It happened in broad daylight, at around 10 AM. A man later identified as Steven Jenkins hit her 83-year-old companion and then her before fleeing. He was quickly caught and arrested. The attack left her with a swollen eye that she can’t see out of. It left her companion, Knoc Pham, with a broken nose and neck fractures. The attack was unprovoked, and a possible racial motive is being investigated.
     After the attack was reported nationally, someone started a GoFundMe to help with Zhen Xie’s medical bills and other expenses. Money started pouring in, and earlier this week the fund had accumulated nearly a million dollars. That’s encouraging. 

     You know what’s even more encouraging?

     Zhen Xie has refused the money. She is insistent that it be given to the Asian American community to combat racism, her family says."She insists on making this decision saying this issue is bigger than her," an update on the GoFundMe page read. "This is my grandma, grandpa, and our family’s decision. We hope everyone can understand our decision.”

     I think everyone does understand. We understand unselfishness when we see it. We understand a determination to not be made bitter and hateful after experiencing something so reprehensible. We understand when a person can see beyond their own pain to an opportunity to perhaps make a difference to someone else who’s suffering. We understand the difference it makes when someone sees herself as part of a larger community. 

     There are those in our country — hopefully few — who’ll tell you that immigrants are nothing but a drain on our resources. There are those in the church — hopefully even fewer — who’ll say it. Sometimes those attitudes even produce violence. As we look at the real issues going on at our southern border, at overwhelmed workers doing their best to deal with an untenable situation, some who would never say such things or act violently might wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to not have to cope with immigrants at all. They might wonder if it’s worth it.

     Zhen Xie gave away life-changing money. Clearly she didn’t come to America looking to get something for nothing. She gave it away to help the larger community because she wanted to contribute something to the city and nation that she calls home now. I have no idea what her citizenship or status are. She’s an American in the ways that matter, the ways that count.

     I hope you have the privilege of knowing a lot of immigrant families. I do. Immigrant families live in my neighborhood. They’re part of my church. Can I tell you about a few?

     There’s the husband and wife whose son died of COVID last year. She posted recently, “The more time passes the more I miss you son. It's a lie that time heal wounds. Simply with God's help you learn to live with pain.” Every day she posts prayers, Scripture, and encouragement for others as she learns with God’s help to survive and carry on. Her hope and faith shame me and strengthen me and show me how to trust God more completely.

     There are three of the guys I serve with as elders and ministers, three of the best guys I know. They’re devoted to the Lord, the church, their families, and their communities. I know very well what that devotion often costs them. They serve with compassion, with joy, with love, and with faith. Much of what I know about ministry and pastoral care I’ve learned from them.

     There’s another guy at my church who came to the US from a refugee camp in Guinea. He’s never expected help, but is always gracious and thankful if he receives it. He works hard and his contribution to the life of the church can’t be overstated. He has urged us for years to be mindful of others in faraway parts of the world who are in the situation he was blessed to be saved from.

     There’s the guy who came to the US to work so that he could send money back to the church that he planted in his home country. A church that his wife and children are tending to there while he lives here. He misses them deeply. What a sacrifice.

     And there’s the guy who’s come to my city to work for the Illinois Department of Health on COVID. His family is in another state; he’s only able to see them occasionally. He’s recently filed a waiver that would allow him to be fast-tracked for permanent residency since he has “exceptional ability” and is working “in the national interest.” He does, and he is, and we’re better because he’s here. I’m privileged to be able to pray for immigration officials to look favorably on his application.

     The thing is, I could go on and on. I could name many more without even straining, many more people who have come to American to build lives for themselves and those they care about and whom I’m better for knowing.

     God told his people in the Old Testament that they were to love the foreigners among them as they loved themselves, their own countrymen. They were supposed to be able to identify with foreigners, having been resident aliens in Egypt themselves. In fact, they were never supposed to feel like the Promised Land belonged to them: God brought them out of Egypt and gave the land to them, so they were to live there “like foreigners and strangers.”

      When the writer of Hebrews wanted a way to describe people who put their faith in God’s promises instead of what they can gain in this life, he borrowed that phrase aliens and strangers — meaning that Christians ought to be able to relate to and sympathize with the immigrants among us if for no other reason than we should  know what it’s like to be away from home.

     Maybe that’s sometimes our problem though: feeling like we’re away from home. The truth is that it’s easy to start feeling at home with our lifestyle, our standard of living, the way our neighborhood looks, our kids’ school, our property values. And then it’s easier to believe it when people in positions of power tell us that we should be afraid that these other people might take away what we love. 

     When you feel that way, remember that if our home is in heaven we have nothing to lose. That’ll let you concentrate instead on meeting all the wonderful people that could be a part of your life because they’ve come here from somewhere else.

     Trust me. You’ll feel like a million bucks.

     


Friday, March 12, 2021

What We Saw on Mulberry Street

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

— 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) 




When I was a kid, Dr. Seuss was my jam. And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was my
favorite.

     It’s true. My mom — and probably my dad — read it to me a lot. When I was able to read on my own, I read it a lot. There are still sections, to this day, that I have memorized. 

     So if you were following the news about Dr. Seuss this week, you can imagine that it sort of caught my attention.

     In case you missed it: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the foundation which has continued publishing the good Doctor’s books after his death, announced this week that they would be pulling from publication six titles that contain images of a racist and insensitive nature. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong," Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press in a statement. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

     The titles affected are If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat's Quizzer.

     Oh, and my favorite too. And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street is on the list.

     Of course, the decision by a publishing company to no longer publish titles that it owns and with which it can presumably do what it wants has caused all manner of anger, cries of censorship (if so, it’s self-censorship), and long diatribes about the evils of “Cancel Culture.” To be clear: Doctor Seuss books aren’t going away. If you want to read Scrambled Eggs Super! to your kids or grandkids, no one is going to kick down your door and haul you off to some Seussian nightmare of a jail. The organization has made a decision to remove a few titles from publication after listening to feedback from teachers and parents and consulting with a panel of experts. With everything else happening in our world, it should have been a fairly minor piece of news that might have had a few people scratching their heads and wondering what about Dr. Seuss is racist. But somehow, in this polarized world, Dr. Seuss has become the latest hill to die on.

     I shouldn’t even dignify the whole thing by writing about it. But I’m already into it now.

     First of all, the anger and “outrage” over the decision is predictable. It really isn’t even about Dr. Seuss — it’s about our discomfort with a world that’s changing. Some of us, Christians included, are bumping up against the reality that “things that used to be alright” aren’t any longer. We don’t know where we stand in such a world. We don’t know how far those changes are going to go. We wonder what else that we used to do, like, read, watch, listen to, and participate in will one day be declared Not OK. Or even suffer the indignity of the dreaded cancellation. Somehow we’ve come to believe that our personal rights to have what we want, when we want, whether it bothers anyone else or not are superior to, well, everything else.

     When I read the news about Mulberry Street, I had a knee-jerk reaction that kind of went that way, “No, not Marco! Not Mulberry Street! 

     And then right after that, I remembered exactly which image is the one that’s in question. I’m not kidding; even before I read which one it was, I could see it in my mind. I might have read Mulberry Street a few times to my son, but I’m pretty sure I remembered it from when I was a kid. Which says something about how influential those books are to young readers, and why Dr. Seuss Enterprises is right to take this seriously.

     Look, the image in question doesn’t seem to be mean-spirited. You’d have to ask the Doctor about intent, and he’s not with us any longer. But it is an exaggerated caricature of an Asian person, with a bit of verse that reinforces a stereotype. I don’t think it contributed to prejudicing me against Asian people, but then again no one ever thinks they’re racist. 

     But this is the thing: What I think about Mulberry Street is irrelevant.

     This is, I think, what we don’t understand if we’ve never been part of a minority. What we think is always most important. The way we want things done is the right way. What we say is offensive is, and what we say is not offensive isn’t, and if people are offended when they shouldn’t be then they just need to have thicker skin. What we intended is what should be heard and understood, and if you hear something in a way we didn’t intend then you just didn’t understand it. I don’t mean to be a jerk. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. But it’s true. It’s the only way to explain why we can’t just hear it when someone who’s part of a minority says that something we’ve said or done is offensive. It’s the only way to explain why our knee-jerk reaction is so often to justify it and tell them why they’re wrong to be offended and even turn the blame around on them instead of just saying we’re sorry and doing what we can to remedy the situation.

     Mulberry Street, if you’ve never read it, is about a kid named Marco who’s been tasked by his dad to pay attention to what he sees on his way home from school. Thinking what he actually sees — “just a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street” (it was written in 1938) — isn’t interesting enough, Marco turns it into a huge parade. Maybe that’s a parable. Maybe we prefer not to admit what we see: that some things are insensitive, have always been insensitive, and should have been dealt with decades ago. Maybe it’s more fun for us, and less embarrassing, to create a big parade out of Cancel Culture, censorship, and faux outrage.

     I get it. I like Mulberry Street. But if an image in a kids’ book is offensive to a community of people, then I think we ought to call the plain horse and wagon what they are and get rid of that image. 

     If you’re a Christian, then I think we’d agree that we must deal with other people from an ethic of love. Let me just remind you of what Paul says about love. He says, among other things, that it’s patient. Patience is required to hear someone. He says it’s kind: What’s the kind response to this story? He says love does not boast and is not proud: In what ways does this story expose my pride? It doesn’t dishonor others — by demeaning them with an image, or by insisting that their offense at the image is misplaced. It isn’t self-seeking or easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs — so let’s drop the Cancel Culture misdirection. It doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

     Even when the truth stings a little.

     Christians, let’s not make this a thing. This isn’t about censorship or the limitation of rights or Marxism or whatever fever dream we’re taking shots at this week. This is about people trying to do a good thing by making the world a little more accepting, a little more loving for people of all races and ethnicities.

     Surely we can affirm that.      

Friday, February 26, 2021

Bearing With

     I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

— Ephesians 4:1-2 (NIV) 




Some years ago, my father-in-law told me about installing a new thermostat at church.

     There was nothing wrong with the old one, it worked just fine. And it got a workout. You can tell people must have felt right at home at this church, like they were with family. Every Sunday there was a constant stream of people sticking their heads into the area of the building where the thermostat was located to adjust the temperature. Sister Jones, who thought it needed to be set at 77. Brother Smith, who was much more comfortable at 68. Those who thought that the most important factor in deciding the thermostat setting should be cost-effectiveness (“It’s the Lord’s money!”), and those who thought that the Lord wouldn’t have given us air conditioning if he didn’t want us to use it. Everyone had an opinion, and apparently no one was comfortable at the same temperature.

     So my father-in-law put in a new thermostat. He put it in an easily-accessible place, right out in the open, where anyone who wanted to find it could. Everybody could adjust the thermostat to their hearts’ content. Everyone was much more comfortable. He made it easy for them.

     Because, of course, the new thermostat was just attached to the wall, nothing else. It controlled nothing.

     I don’t know, maybe you feel like that’s a little too deceptive to be done in church. (In fairness, I don’t think anyone ever said that the thermostat controlled anything.) The fact is, though, that wherever there’s a group of people there are disagreements, difficulties, frustrations. There are behaviors that have to be tolerated and eccentricities to endure. And if a dummy thermostat keeps the peace in a church divided by temperature preference, well, that seems like a small thing. 

     Paul, after all, says that sometimes the best we can do is to “bear with” one another. 

     I think it’s great when everybody down at church is feeling the love for everyone else. Maybe that’s kind of where a lot of us are these days. We don’t get to see each other much, the pandemic has changed the way we do church, and we’re missing each other. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We don’t really think about the weirdness and petty annoyances that might wear on us at other times. We haven’t been together enough to have any real disagreements about anything substantial. We’re all looking forward to being together and hugging each other and seeing how much the kids have grown and getting reconnected.

     But there will come a time when we’ll have to bear with each other again.

     I’m glad Paul uses that phrase; it’s a tacit acknowledgement that relationships at church aren’t always easy or rosy. After all, we’re dealing with things that matter to us, that we often have strong feelings and moral convictions about, and so it ought to be no surprise when disagreements happen. And when they do, the Bible says we have to bear with each other. 

     The word Paul uses in Ephesians (and a couple of other places too) has to do with enduring and tolerating each other. It’s used in other places to describe someone persisting through suffering and difficulty. Maybe you have a higher expectation for relationships in the church than that, and if so I don’t want to discourage you, but…ha! Here’s a rule that I think probably holds true most of the time: if you’re not bearing with someone at church, then, brother, sister…they’re bearing with you!

     That’s all right, though. What kind of family gets along all the time? Never has a disagreement? Generally it’s the kind that isn’t doing or talking about anything important. If we’re trying to be who we’re supposed to be, there will be times when we don’t all see eye-to-eye on vision, strategy, goals, or what to do next — any number of things, really. 

     And in those moments, we’re to bear with each other.

     It’s not just endurance and toleration; Paul says we should bear with one another in love. What that probably means is that tolerance isn’t enough. Endurance isn’t enough. Just gritting our teeth and drowning out the one with whom we disagree isn’t the “bearing with” he’s talking about. When Christians — sisters and brothers in Christ — bear with each other, we’re still governed by the rule of love. Love tells us what our “bearing with” will look like. It won’t have any trace of hatred or mockery. It won’t make the person with whom we’re bearing feel overlooked, unheard, or devalued. “Bearing with” one another requires humility — a willingness to put aside for the moment our own feelings in order to attend to someone else. It requires treating one another gently. And the standard for it will be the love we’ve received from Jesus. 

     Jesus, by the way, knew the “bearing with” kind of love that we’re talking about. He knew it well. In three of the four gospels, in fact, he says some variation of this: “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” He uses exactly the same word that Paul uses in Ephesians. It’s a day when the demands are high, his disciples seem to have disappointed him, and he’s just heard God’s voice call him “Son.” His burden feels heavy and his Father’s house seems far away. So he wonders out loud, “How long do I have to bear with these people?”

     So it’s OK, sometimes, to wonder how long the “bearing-with” will have to go on. It’s OK, sometimes, to feel the frustration of it and the exhaustion of it. It’s OK, because it seems that Jesus did. It’s OK, as long as you come to the same conclusion he came to.

     As long as necessary.

     Because Jesus bore with us as long as he needed to. He bore with us through our failure, our faithlessness, our stubbornness, our selfishness, and our ignorance. He bore with us through persecution and hatred. He bore with us when bearing with us got him hung on a cross. He bore with us with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. He bears with us.

     That’s why Paul says that “bearing with” is the calling we’ve received. It is, quite literally, the way our Lord lived his life. It is not too much that he asks us to do the same.

     So who do you need to bear with? (I know, it’s “With whom do you need to bear,” but that doesn’t sound right.) Someone on the other side of the political spectrum? Someone who’s a little too legalistic or a little too libertine? Someone at work who’s struggling to keep up, someone at home who’s making life difficult? 

     Someone, perish the thought, who’s comfortable at a different temperature?

     How can you show them the patience, humility, and gentleness that Jesus has shown us. How can you bear with them in love?

     It might not be as simple as installing a new thermostat. But you’ll find a way.    

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