Tag Archives: love

When loving your enemy feels unjust

Thanks to social media, news has spread quickly about the tragic shooting at Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina last night. The death of my Christian brothers and sisters weighs heavy on me this morning.

As I read the description of the young man who killed nine people after an hour of sitting in a prayer meeting with them, I felt the unfamiliar sting of hate. Hatred is not something I’ve felt often in my life – but I suddenly found myself burning with a desire for vengeance.

I tried to remind myself that this young man has a story. And I tried to remember the words of my beloved savior:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Matthew 5:43-46

So I am called not only to love this young man, but also to pray for him?

I closed my eyes, imagining the the pain of living with poisonous hate. I tried to find ways I could dissolve my vengeful feelings just enough to pray for this young man. I tried.

But any prayerful breath for this person who killed 9 people while they prayed felt wasted….even sinful. It felt like breath that should be saved to pray for the loved ones of those killed. It felt like breath that should used to groan in mourning. It felt like breath that should be used to petition for the kingdom to come now – Lord please come.

Any breath used to speak on behalf of this young man feels unjust.

So what now?

I pray anyway. I pray, then I hope love comes later.

I thank God for his redeeming grace and love, and pray that this young man be found and brought to justice – but that he may find warmth and reconciliation in the embrace of God’s holy spirit.

I praise God he reigns with both mercy and justice, and ask that he might give me the internal peace needed to be merciful to all.

I pray for the healing power of the Holy Spirit to move swiftly through communities fragmented by racial tension.

I pray for the wisdom needed to act justly, and advocate for others.

I pray anyway.

Will you pray with me?

Lord,
I confess that nearly as often as I breathe I contribute to injustice,
but I believe in the hope of your coming kingdom and the grace of your son Jesus Christ whose goodness transcends my misdeeds.
I believe that at the heart of your Gospel is reconciliation –
show us the path, my God, to peace and reconciliation today.
My God, My Hope,
Grant me the humility to hear the brokenhearted;
Lend me the grace to embrace those who I do not understand or even despise;
and Empower me with the courage to act on behalf of, and alongside, those who do not look like me.
Jehovah our Healer,
Mend our hearts,
heal our system,
redeem our country,
Bring your Kingdom.
Amen.

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3 Goals for the New Year

I know that New Year’s was last week, but if you’re like me, you might be little late setting goals for 2015. Many people commit to losing weight or being more active at the start of a New Year, but I think there is also a great opportunity to reflect on our lives as Christians and set goals for walking more closely with God.

Here are three goals from scripture that I hope to follow in the New Year:

1)    Do not put the LORD your God to the test (Matt 4:7)

When we set specific expectations for God to help us in particular ways, or bring us new opportunities, or make something better in our lives, we are testing God and setting ourselves up for disappointment. As Christians, we know that Jesus did not abandon us in his death on the cross, but rose to new life so that we might also share in the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrated God’s coming into the world on Christmas and we know that God continues to be with us in all moments and in all aspects of our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet we often test the presence and work of God by praying for specific outcomes or solutions–I know I do. And testing God in this way can make us blind to the unexpected and remarkable ways God works in the world.

As a seminary student, I can sometimes feel confused or conflicted about the things I learn and the conversations I have with my classmates. For a long time this semester I was praying for God to move in my courses and to help me find ways to feel more connected to my classmates. I didn’t feel like God was responding to my prayers and I felt frustrated. It wasn’t until I had a long phone conversation with a Jewish friend of mine from college. She and I vented together about our struggles in graduate school and laughed out loud about some of the ridiculous (and frustrating) experiences we were having. For whatever reason, that conversation lifted something in me that allowed me to go back to school with renewed energy and fresh insight. Nothing actually changed in my school life, but I realized later that God had answered my prayers in an unexpected way. I wonder how many times God has worked in my life and I have missed it because I have been testing, or waiting for God to respond my way.

2)    Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven (Matt 5:16)

As a student it is easy for me to theorize and theologize, but it is much harder to put my thoughts and beliefs into action. The question I want to ask myself this year is: how will I share my Christian faith with others? If it is only by the cross around my neck, or my attendance at church, or what I know about Christian thought and practice, then I have missed a big part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We should be able to show our faith through our actions and how we treat others. I think about the story of the Good Samaritan and I wonder how often I have passed by opportunities to help others because of racial, religious, or cultural differences. I wonder what opportunities I have missed to receive help from others because of those same differences.

Jesus seems to imply that when we do good, the people around us will recognize the power and grace of God. This year I want to commit to letting my actions speak louder than my thoughts and words. Whether it is standing in solidarity with people of color who are targets of police brutality, or smiling at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the subway who is receiving skeptical stares from other passengers, or listening with care and sincerity to the stories of people who are radically different than myself–I want to strive to do good for the sake of bringing greater glory to God.

3)    Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt 11:28)

Life is tiring and sometimes school work, regular work, friends, family, and all of the challenges of life can feel overwhelming. Sometimes I have so many questions and concerns that it is hard to fall asleep at night. This year, I want to commit to giving my questions and my burdens to God. You might be thinking: easier said than done. I feel like that a lot. But God promises us to give us rest from our hardships. Jesus offers himself to us and allows us to rest in the knowledge that he can handle even our most difficult situations. Jesus invites us to fall into his arms and rest. I want to commit to accepting God’s grace and resisting the pride that makes me feel as if I can handle everything on my own. For many around the globe, 2014 was a year of tragedy, loss, and frustration. What to do in the face of unexplainable, or insurmountable struggle is not easy to figure out on one’s own.

At my school last semester, students strived to figure out how to respond to the threats of police brutality in black and brown communities in our city, New York. As I watched students pray and cry and ask God for guidance, I realized how little I am sometimes willing to do this in my own life. Eventually what was born on our campus was a thoughtful and coordinated response of peaceful organizing, bold action, and open dialogue. Students did not just give their problems to God and pray for peace of mind; they offered their sadness and anger to God and received insight and renewed energy for action.

I wonder how I can seek rest and refuge in the knowledge of God’s grace and how God might take my burdens and offer me opportunities or new perspectives and new action in 2015.

So these are some of my goals for the New Year. What are your goals? How do you hope to strengthen your relationship to God this year? How will you commit to embracing God’s creation, striving for God’s justice on earth, and seeking the personal strength to let the light of Christ shine in you in all that you do? This year, 2015, will be different for each of us, but the mission of knowing God, serving God, and striving for God’s Kingdom is the same for all of us–sometimes setting goals can make our path a little clear.

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Lord Bring your Kingdom: A Holy Week Reflection on Overland Park

Palm Sunday inaugurates Christian Holy Week each year. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem the week before his death and subsequent resurrection. I love Palm Sunday because it is not only the beginning of my favorite time in the Christian liturgical calendar, but because it celebrates peace. It celebrates that Jesus was not only the incarnation of eternal Love, but that he was the full embodiment of peace. Palm Sunday not only initiates the events of Holy Week, but foreshadows the eternal Kingdom – a Kingdom of peace, where redemption, mercy, justice, and of course love, are ever-present in the world, and darkness is cast away. As Christians, we believe it is Jesus, the Christ – our messiah – who initiated this Kingdom into being with his resurrection, and will eventually bring the Kingdom to its fullness when he returns in his Second Coming. So, on Palm Sunday, we wave our palm branches and shout, “Hosanna, blessed is the One who comes in the name of The Lord,” in recognition that Christ is our King who shall one day reign forever in the name of peace.

This past Sunday, as in every Palm Sunday that I can remember prior, I did just that: I celebrated the peace that is present, and fullness of peace that is coming. I waved my palm branch and sang Hosanna alongside my husband and brothers and sisters in Christ at First United Methodist Church in St. Augustine. On the walk home in the warm Florida sun I felt optimistic and hopeful, and full of love.

It was a normal, peaceful Sunday until a Twitter notification told me that several people I follow tweeted the same news story – the headline read “Shootings reported at two Jewish Centers in Overland Park, Kansas.” As I continued reading I learned that 3 people had been killed, and that the shootings were being investigated as a hate crime. Reports say the man yelled “heil, Hitler” as he was arrested, and that he has a long history of bigoted hatred.

When I guest teach college courses on religious pluralism, I often start by talking about religious intolerance. I define religious intolerance very generally. It could be stereotyping, discrimination, verbal abuse, or even violence of a person or people because of their religious or non-religious identity. I often do an exercise to illustrate all the ways different groups experience religious intolerance. I explain that in 6 different states Atheists are prohibited from running for public office; Christians experience misrepresentation in the media; Muslims often have to show up at the airport earlier than other folks because the know they’re going to be extra screening at “random,” while many a Muslim girl has had her hijab ripped off her head in a high school hallway; more than one Sikh has been killed or brutally beaten in the United States because they were wearing a turban after 9/11; Jews are ridiculed for being greedy and often experience vandalism of their synagogues and temples. I could go on and on and on. Students are often shocked to hear about the level of religious intolerance that exists in the United States. Many of them have experienced religious intolerance themselves, but believed that it was only their group that experienced hatred, fear or misunderstanding because of what they believed. Religious intolerance in the United States, believe it or not, is actually a common thread among all of our religi
ous/non-religious identities.

While I do full-time interfaith work, and religious intolerance is something I’m keenly aware of, it is still a shock when I see such ruthless violence because of religious hatred; particularly on a day when peace is to be celebrated. It reminds me that there is a long history of Holy Week related violence. In the Middle Ages in Europe, on Good Friday Christians would go out and beat or kill Jews after becoming impassioned by a Good Friday sermon, which taught them that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death (they were never reminded that Jesus himself was Jewish). While religious violence and hatred are nothings new, there are new ways to prevent and correct such hatred. The new Interfaith Movement can move us in the direction of religious peace and understanding in our country, and even world.

I am reminded this Palm Sunday about the WHY of Interfaith. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation is about promoting religious literacy; meaning, creating a world where we seek understanding about our religious and non-religious neighbors, rather that perpetuating assumption which often leads to fear, misunderstanding, and ultimately hatred. Scripture teaches us that what lives in our heart is just as important as what we act out in our lives (“Anyone who hates his brothers or sister is a murderer,” I John 3:15).

Maybe you’ve never pulled a trigger on someone because they were a different religion than you, but any time you have felt a hint of hatred, or judgment, or distaste about someone because of what they believed – you have sinned and sin is the Great Enemy of peace.

As Christians, it is our role to reflect the Kingdom we so eagerly look forward to. It is our duty to be embodiments of peace. I believe that Interfaith dialogue, relationships and cooperation is one avenue through which we can reflect God’s Kingdom of Peace.

Ask your Muslim or Jewish neighbor to coffee this week as an act of love and get to know them. Ask them what they believe – what is their religion all about? And not as a way to gather intel for conversion ammunition later on, but as a way to truly know them, and to truly love them. This is how we can make this a world where people don’t get shot because they’re Jewish, or Christian or Atheist, etc.

Let us meditate this Holy Week on Christ’s triumphal entry, which was an action sermon that preached peace. While we mourn the loss of life in Overland Park, and mourn the horrifying hatred demonstrated there, let us pray, “Lord bring you Kingdom.” And until that Kingdom comes in its fullness, let us act peace mediators by actively loving our diverse religious and non-religious neighbors.

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Interfaith Relationships

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which also happens to be my birthday!  Gifts in comment, reposting, or tweet-form are not only acceptable but preferred), here is an article about interfaith relationships.

Have you ever dated/married outside of your own faith tradition?  What are some of the joys?  Challenges?

Peace and love,

Anthony

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Strive to Love

 I work for a public university in Florida full-time in their Interfaith Center. I am the Programming Coordinator which means it is my job to put together programs and events for students in order to promote religious pluralism on campus. On a daily basis I engage with students of diverse religious and non-religious identities from Atheist to Baha’i, Christian to Jewish, Mystic to Muslim, Secular to Unaffiliated and everything in between.

Engaging with students of so many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and understandings is the most exciting part of my job. I learn something new every day about how young people understand themselves and the world around them: what’s more, I learn something new every day about how I understand myself and the world around me.

I also identify as an Evangelical Christian. And I’m not really that shy about sharing my religious identity with my students. I want them to be comfortable sharing themselves with me, so I try to model how to talk about their identity as a religious or non-religious identity by doing so myself.

Since I’m not shy about sharing my own religious identity, naturally a lot of question come up. In particular, I have been asked by many people…

                        How can you be a Christian and do full-time interfaith work?

Sometimes this is asked out of genuine curiosity, sometimes it’s asked more as an accusation than an actual question, and other times it’s asked by Christian students who genuinely want to participate in interfaith dialogue and cooperation while holding onto their Christian identities and need help understanding how to do so.

I don’t mind being asked this question. In fact, I’m grateful that I’ve been asked so many times since I started my job over a year ago. Being asked this question enables me to take a moment to stop, take a step back, and reflect. I use this question to keep myself accountable to Christ’s calling on my life. Is my work enabling me to act as Christ’s witness, or is it hindering me? How do I follow Christ and do my job? Or, what’s better – how do I follow Christ by doing my job.

You see, I take my Christian identity (or role as follower of Christ) very seriously. I like to consider it my first identity- more important than my identity as a wife, daughter, sister, female, etc. When engaging with the normalcy and routine of life, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of who we are in Christ; what God’s call on our lives has to do with the mundane; how our actions reflect something about who our God is – the list goes on. Interfaith work is my job. It has become a very normal part of what I do on a daily basis.

So it’s important for me to ask myself, as often as possible, “Why do I do what I do?”

Of course in every person’s life there is a series of events and relationships which creates a path, a journey, that leads them to where they are, wherever that is. And my case is no different.

So of course there is a story about how I got here.

Though when you walk into the church in which I grew up today, demographically (I emphasize “demographically!!”- not in substance) it’s very much like a saltine cracker – white and plain (with few exceptions)-it wasn’t always like that. When I was very young the church was a pretty international and diverse church (unless my memory serves me poorly). There were all sorts of different people – artists, scientists, musicians, black, white, asian. India, Uganda, China, Puerto Rico, England were all places people within our congregation called home. Five of the Seven Continents were represented, and I think this is, at least in part, what drew my parents to this place. I can’t help but think it was this early exposure to ethnic and international diversity that fostered a desire within myself to bridge gaps and understand difference – because I saw what a community can be capable of when difference (at least certain kinds of difference) is embraced rather than feared.

I didn’t always have such cushy feelings towards other religions. And of course certain relationships brought me to a place where I was able to start opening up to other faiths and to see them as an opportunity for learning and cultivating understanding rather than as a conflict or something to change to be more like me.

But the most important relationship I’ve had that brought me to a place where I saw this work as necessary, was my relationship with Jesus.

I know it sounds hokey-but I don’t believe that it is.

Jesus loved with everything; with his whole self. Jesus was (and I believe-is) the embodiment of love. I want to love others the way Jesus does; and though I know this is impossible, I want to spend my life striving to do so.

He said the two greatest commandments were to Love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor.

I truly believe that by serving and loving my neighbor – Hindu, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim and so on- I am loving God and serving Christ.

There’s a whole lot of ugly in this world, and often that violence and ugliness are created at the fault of the religious (and even at the fault of Christians – gasp!). As a religious person I want to bring people of different religious backgrounds together to serve the community, the country, and the world, rather than breaking it.

So I do this job as a Christian seeking a way to serve God and serve God’s children to the best of my ability.

And that’s how I do full time interfaith work as a Christian – by striving to love as Jesus loves me.

“So in Everything – Strive to Love,” I Corinthians 14:1

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Listen to Barbara Brown Taylor on the Good Samaritan

If you’re looking for a mid-week sermon fix, check out this powerful message delivered by Barbara Brown Taylor at Riverside Church in New York City last Sunday.

Here’s a preview:  “I became a Christian in my twenties and I was always told to get my beliefs in order before I did things…but based on the story of the Good Samaritan, I wonder if things don’t work the other way around.  Maybe our lives are designed to upset our beliefs, not to reinforce them.”  Click on the link to hear the whole sermon: “The Right Answer”

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Reflecting on September 11

I remember the day when, shortly after September 11, 2001,  my mom asked me if anyone bullied the Muslim kid at school.

“No,” I said, “not that I’ve noticed.”

And I hadn’t noticed anything. But as we all know, not all American Muslims fared so well, and even if those I knew weren’t being bullied, there is no telling what sort of distress they felt inside that I couldn’t see.

So today, as I struggled to think about how to pose my reflections on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, one thing comes to mind: love.

And it is only proper that love should be the prevailing message, because the things which we remember are the ramifications of an ideology of hate, the destruction accomplished by terror. I believe that the objective of extremism is not solely the destruction of life, but the induction of hatred in others. So we see that from hatred, hate also rises.

That hate is manifested in many forms, from the violence that fuels war across the world to the doctrine that continues to raise terrorists around the world to the bigotry and intolerance of Islamaphobia here at home. So our reflections on 9/11 must not be only about the twin towers, flight 93, the pentagon, and those who died, but also a somber recognition that our struggle should not be a fight against other human beings, but against hate.

It is a fight that can only be won with love. I am reminded, then, of Jesus’ simple, yet profound words.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 4:43).

“‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

However you define neighbor and enemy, these words are clear: we are called to love. This must be our response, particularly on the day where we remember those who have lost their lives to hate.

I leave you with a verse on which I’ve been reflecting, as a final thought today:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brotheror sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their borther and sister whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:18-21

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Reflecting on the Death of Osama bin Laden

Screen capture from digital edition of The Daily Illini. May 2, 2011.

 

Sunday night found me fixed to my computer.  A friend’s email tipped me off to breaking news, so, naturally, I turned to the authority in up-to-the-minute news: Facebook.

A few hints of Osama bin Laden’s death had already leaked, and a Google search confirmed the rumor by sheer magnitude even before I landed on something reputable.  When I finally came to the live stream at whitehouse.gov and waited for the President to speak on the matter, I pondered what this means to our country – a symbol of terror and extremism finally put to rest.

Later, as I watched celebrations unfold in major cities across the country and on Facebook profiles around the globe, I quickly began to search for a place of deeper understanding in light of mixed emotions.

My faith teaches me to love my enemies.

Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48.
So while my thoughts jump between September 11, 2001 and May 1, 2011, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed the point. 

The death of Osama Bin Laden is certainly a significant development in the global war on terror.  It is an incident that was long ago deemed necessary by those responsible for making such decisions, a task for which I thank God I am not responsible.  But we must not allow ourselves to believe that another murder is going to solve the problem.  There was no victory on May 1, 2011.

Destruction of our enemy, although perhaps necessary to quell the threat of terrorism in the present day, will only motivate a violent response and serve as fuel for the voices of evil that teach young children to kill others out of national pride or religion.  It will not prevent terrorism in the future.

If we want to destroy terrorism, our fight does not involve a gun or a missile.  It involves relationships. I have often mentioned Terry Jones, a Florida “pastor” who put the Koran on trial.  And often I ask — what if he had a Muslim friend?  How would his actions be different?

The same must be granted Osama bin Laden.  What if he had lived in a world where no one is portrayed as the “other,” where all are granted respect by default, where bigotry and prejudice did not exist?  What if he had a friend who could put a face, a name, a personality, or a life to the populations he has dedicated his life to destroying?  For a man who had become so evil, it would have had to begin early – before the ideology of extremism claimed him.

If you cut off the head, another will take its place.  But if you teach a generation the language of cooperation, the technique of service, and the power of love, then you train an army that will change our world to a more peaceful place.

As a Christian, I believe that the love Christ demonstrated is the key to bringing peace to the world.  And in Jesus that love manifested as compassionate service, was communicated through a story, and ultimately, profoundly demonstrated in personal sacrifice.  So let’s start in the same way – with acts of service, with compassion, with stories.  Let’s reach across faith lines and show the disciples of extremism that the differences which led them to destroy can inspire us to work together.

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