Shame, Blame, and What Should Have Been

luma-pimentel-1vnB2l7j3bY-unsplash
Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Early Days

My parents married when I was already on the way. This was supposed to be information we never figured out, I guess. Both had come out of unsuccessful first marriages. Dad had four kids; mom had two. Both had full custody. You could have called us the Brady Bunch, but that would not have been an appropriate comparison for how we made it work, which, apparently, wasn’t that well.

I thought we did. I was the youngest of seven—what did I know except that our happy world centered on me, the baby? I had no idea until later it wasn’t so happy for the others.

I was the product of the marriage that should have been, I think. The only child of the one that worked. Neither ever spoke of their first marriages. I suspect my parents wanted to forget, to forge ahead into the family that “should have been” had their “mistakes” never happened. But that’s impossible when the evidence of those relationships surrounded us daily in the form of six siblings whom I considered absolute sisters and brothers but time has proved not so much.

That focus on what should or could have been cost us all dearly.

This Sounds Familiar

foto-pettine-IfjHaIoAoqE-unsplash
Photo by Foto Pettine on Unsplash

This is where we are in the Bible story. Rebekah and Isaac married and had two children who struggled, literally: Jacob and Essau. Their issues were nothing compared to the drama of Jacob’s not-so-blended family hot mess.

if you’re not familiar with the story, read it here.

TL;DR: Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Through some extreme (fairly deserved) trickery, he got Leah instead. He eventually got both, and after ten sons he finally had a son by Rachel—Joseph. Instead of making everything all better, though, this turn of events made it all worse.

Joseph represented to Jacob all that should have been. He was the son who should have been first. The son from the marriage that should have been the only marriage. Joseph should have had the firstborn fatherly blessing if life had played fair with Jacob (a pot calling the kettle black scenario if ever there was one).

So foolishly, Jacob makes happen what his dreams and regrets believe should have happened. Even though the evidence of his other relationships in the form of ten children surrounded him. Joseph, as the youngest before Ben came along, probably looked at his ten big brothers and thought they hung the moon and stars. He probably considered them his best friends, adored and wanted to be just like them.

I know how this story goes.

ben-rosett-RBouLnm0L0Q-unsplash
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Share the Love

His sibs were not on board with all that. Jacob so absorbed himself in his alternate universe where all the should’ve would’ve could’ve’s in his head had finally come true, that he neglected to consider how it might affect the other ten real people. He played them like extras in the chorus and expected somehow that they would love the star of the show as much as he did.

The fact that they sold Joseph into slavery instead must have come as something of a shock to dad much later when that little tidbit came to light.

It’s a big mistake to live in dreams rather than reality.

It’s the breeding place for resentment, blame, and shame. Three solid curses that come straight out of the Fall.

Shame.

You know those brothers first convinced themselves that had they been better sons, Dad would have loved them more. They didn’t understand the dynamics of his life before them anymore than I did my parents. Assuming they were to blame for his lack of attention makes sense. Most kids do that. The deep shame they must have felt for being “inadequate” sons fueled the smoldering fire of anger at little brother more than anything else, I’m sure.

marcos-paulo-prado-YMQiKI2L1z0-unsplash

We see it as a story of jealousy. I believe shame came first.

Do We Do This?

For a long time, I’ve condemned myself for not being further along in my career. Why aren’t I where I want to be/should be? Why didn’t I work harder? Why didn’t I put in more time/effort/networking etc to be living a different professional life?

I’ve finally looked those lies straight on and realized the terrible attacks they are.

There are a number of reasons for where my career is, and lack of a will to work is not one of them. It’s easy to look at all the should have beens and blame yourself for them. Rarely do we look at all the other factors we had no choice in. Focusing on the fantasy world of where I should be shames me into not being what I could be now.

The brothers focused on what they should have been to be loved, but the lie was in the one who didn’t love, not in the ones waiting for it. They were never deficient. They had no choice. The fantasy world lie shamed them and kept both brothers and father from being the parent and siblings they could have been in the now.

If I had chosen a different career . . .

If I had gotten better grades . . .

If the pandemic hadn’t hit when it did . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on me.

Blame and Resentment.

So the brothers shift their anger at themselves to another target. Little Bro. Little Joe. It’s all his fault. He’s daddy’s favorite. He’s full of himself. The truth they’re not admitting that makes them so resentful though is this—He’s got what they want. All of daddy’s love.

It’s not Joseph’s fault, and they know it. He makes a good scapegoat though, and blame and resentment don’t care about collateral damage. They only want someone to hurt the way they’re hurting.

jaime-spaniol--L0N74GWsq8-unsplash
Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

Yes, We Do This

As a teen and young adult, I was very good at resentment. I disliked everyone who had what I wanted, and I wanted a whole list of things, primarily acceptance. Acceptance looks like so many things that we don’t think we have, from good hair to a good job.

I’m still good at it if I let it happen.

If I had married someone else . . .

If my parents had done a better job . . .

If my boss saw how valuable I am . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on them.

Good Shame Versus bad Shame

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for good, valuable things that should be. Never stop making God’s good kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven! It also isn’t to say, “Hey, if you had lousy circumstances just accept it and move on.” God’s people are called to right wrongs and bring justice forward. Especially in this time, do not confuse unhelpful blame and shame with helpful calling out of societal shame and brokenness. Living in a communal world of “what ought to be” is a very good thing.

What I am saying is this. Living in a personal world of should’ve would’ve could’ve’s destroys the life we have right now. It ruins relationships. It paralyzes us in the present. It blinds us to opportunities in our abundant present life.

It does no favors for the future, either.

Lies of a fantasy world we could be in but aren’t help no one in living the life we are in. If only’s only convince us a better option would be easier than working to hold on to the one we have. Let Jacob be a warning echo. Fighting for and appreciating the good in what is brings far more joy than imagining, pretending, or resenting what isn’t.

Mary, Mother, Meek (Not) Mild

3073081A-B395-47A2-BF72-59F60C09D68E

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.

(Luke1.46-55)

A 15th century English carol begins, “Mary, Mother, meek and mild.” Yeah, not really.

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 1.29.29 PM

This Advent, I’ve been studying the songs that begin the New Testament. I’ve thought about how songs burrow their way into our souls. This is how I’ve delved into some deep Christmas theology. This is also how I’ve ended up binge listening to John Denver on YouTube. Because music.

I can’t remember my kids’ phone numbers, but I can recall every lyric of Evita. Even those a pastor should probably not quote in public. I can still sing every Denver tune of my childhood.

Music can give you an ear worm; it can lift you to the face of God; and it can break your heart. We have this sign on our kitchen wall now, because none of us will ever forget singing it together this spring as we knew we were saying goodbye to mom, and it will never again be just a hymn to us.

D3A2D74C-E843-425C-A0A6-652EBC2C838C_1_201_a

Music goes deep.

Mary. Her song is the first of Luke’s gospel, and what a song.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Mary’s Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”

76987F2A-BBCC-4BCE-BEE5-1C25C8B5C26D

He’s not wrong.

Her song gives us some kind of “fly on the wall” experience of why God might have chosen Mary to bring Life and Light into the world.

There’s that first word.

Magnificat.

7A43CBA9-7173-46F8-866D-135FA6B58FA2

Magnify. “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

See the picture first. Her cousin Elizabeth has just opened her door on Mary, the tired, pregnant traveler, and covered Mary with a rainstorm of words that praise and glorify her—Mary. 

She could not utter enough good words about how great her little cousin was and would be.

Mary might have responded—“Why yes, yes I am. Now that you mention it, I’m a pretty big deal.” She is. Elizabeth speaks truth.

Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 1.40.40 PM

She doesn’t. The first word our of her mouth is “magnify.” Magnify whom? God.

Elizabeth—I want to make God bigger! Let’s not talk about me—let’s talk about what an amazing God we share! Mary wants nothing of the temptation to magnify herself, and it must have been real given all the adulation she receives before even stepping foot in the door. Her deepest desire is to make God bigger—that’s what magnification does, right? It enlarges our view of one important thing. Magnification focuses us, allowing us to see something in its most important, valuable detail.

Cousin Beth, I want to enlarge everyone’s view of God.

And she does.

Mary’s first impulse is echoed later by the baby in Elizabeth’s own womb. Years afterward, her son, John, replies similarly to those who ask him—aren’t you just a tad jealous of you cousin Jesus’ success?

Nope.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

(John 3.30)

Mary and John are on to something.

The world is desperate for humble people. On a recent twitter thread asking about leadership qualities, one person wrote, “Honestly, I only look for humility now. It’s the number one requirement for me.” Why? I suspect because we’re so, so tired of the opposite.

Me Culture

Our world feels so crowded with people whose goal is to stick their heads up the highest. Take a picture of me. Hire me. Choose me. Like my tweet. Buy my book. Love me.

For writers and speakers like me, self-promotion matters as much as writing, but it feels exhausting and inescapable some days. Some days, I get so tired of me. In my head, I assume others do, too.

We have men defending one another at all costs in the pulpit. Christians taking one another apart on social media over points that seem less about God and more about power. Bullies in the White House and other high places.

Our current culture’s obsession with being the strongest, best, and greatest defies what we see played out in these first words of Luke.

Oh, how my soul magnifies the Lord.

Mary displays the greatest quality necessary in all ambassadors for Christ—humility. A quiet knowledge of who God is and who she is, and a clear recognition that the two positions should never be interchanged or leveraged against one another.

This by no means makes Mary weak, meek, or mild. Indeed, it makes her a force of nature. Would any of us dare to sing the song she sings?

4299230E-C847-4E0C-A8B4-F7EBAF0CF4BA

Think for a moment about the society in which Mary sings out her words of joy. Mary is:

  • An unwed, pregnant young woman, in a society where that could be a death sentence.
  • Among the 98% of people who live poor, day-to-day subsistence lives.
  • A minority in a Roman society that despises her ethnicity and a religious culture that even despises her descent (can anything good come out of Nazareth?)
  • A young woman living under foreign oppression. A foreign power that, if it heard the words of her song, could lock up this girl on grounds of rebellion.

He has brought down princes? Sent the rich away? Scattered the proud?

Make no mistake. Mary proclaims a new order. A world where a new King comes and returns the world to its original authorial intent. She’s singing in Genesis 1—the earth as God made it and intends to remake it. The child kicking around in her womb will ensure that renovation.

Mary isn’t making some pie in the sky reference to hopes and dreams.

She is declaring here and now that kingdoms of humans have no chance.

She is uprooting the order of things.

She is calling out injustice as not being of God.

She is challenging the powerful of her day—just as her son would.

She is singing a song of deep rebellion.

She is doing it as a teenage girl.

Mary is kind of amazing.

We’ve lived in a world that is upside down for so long, we don’t even recognize it. Mary sings about the One who will turn it all right side up again.

And she sings as if it has already occurred.

This is no meek and mild teenaged submissive Mary. She is not what we’ve been taught.

She is smart—a theologically sharp young woman who knows her scriptures.

A humble young woman, yet one willing to question an angel.

A young woman willing to be embarrassed, mocked, cast off, misunderstood, and pregnant for the sake of the kingdom.

I love that she sings this in the past tense. It is as good as done for her. She hasn’t even finished three months of morning sickness, yet she speaks as if this unborn child has accomplished it all quite completely. God has promised these things—and that means they are DONE.

7BCFF3FF-E773-46CF-B163-6C9319353B27

In some sense, this gives Mary power as well.

She doesn’t have to fear the powers of the world, and they are real to her people. She does not have to give heed to the proud who would tell her who she was and wasn’t. She doesn’t have to fear lack or scarcity.

She doesn’t have to fear at all.

She has the fulfillment of everything  in her womb.

And so Mary sings out, because she knows she can.

BB4F8308-FE39-4371-8E16-74D4FBF777D2

Being humble does not equal being weak. It means we’ve placed ourselves, our demands, our dreams, our futures and our fears at the feet of the One who is all powerful. We’ve taken ourselves out of the power equation. Because of that posture, we have every confidence in the rightful owner of the power.

There is no greater strength. There is no greater confidence. There is no greater assurance. Because of that, we can fear nothing.

That appears to be Mary’s conclusion, as she sings loud and strong about human pride and self-assurance crashing into oblivion.

One is coming.

One has already come.

I will magnify him, oh my soul.

Ode To the Middle-Aged Mama

E21c

We meet her first when she sends a scathing letter to her son—what JK Rowling terms a “howler.” Ron Weasley’s embarrassment makes us roll our eyes at the overbearing mother who scolds her son for all the world to hear.

Whoa, mama. take a step back.

She sends her youngest son and his best friend Christmas sweaters—enormous seeming wastes of yarn that swathe her children in embarrassment, again. (Let’s not even talk about the Yule robes.) We silently (or not so silently) laugh at the middle-aged woman who would create such things and believe they’re beautiful.

Then, we discover–we don’t know Molly Weasley at all.

Favorite Books and Favorite Heroes

jaredd-craig-744902-unsplash
Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

While discussing books that have meant something to me, I thought a post on one of my favorite heroines might be fun. Mrs. Weasley. The quintessential mother hen. The character we instantly stereotype—a caring but essentially nonessential woman. What many teenage boys think of their mothers, we suppose. But we agree with that teenage boy, Ron. She’s a good heart, wrapped in mom jeans and irrelevant conversation.

Shows what we know.

Many years after reading Harry Potter, and after a dozen or more movie viewings, I’ve learned why Harry and Hermione don’t, after all, end up together. I’ve come to understand what it is about the Weasleys that draws them both into the family orbit.

It all centers on Molly. It always did.

Molly’s sweaters and letters show us something, if we’re really looking. We see in them, and their creator, a fierce loyalty and love for family that doesn’t care about embarrassment or anything else on its quest for insuring her offspring are safe and good people. Her love and loyalty drive everything—and they know nothing on earth that will intimidate them.

tamara-bellis-482242-unsplash
Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

Harry is drawn to something he’s never known. Hermione Is drawn to what she intentionally gave up (in my vote for saddest scene in all eight movies). There’s something about fierce love and loyalty that cannot help but pull in whatever circles it. It’s a black hole of sorts, but in a positive way.

Love and Loyalty for the Win

“Mrs Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms. Bellatrix spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of her new challenger.”

Bellatrix never imagined this middle-aged mama could bring her down. To be fair to Bellatrix, neither did anyone else. We deeply underestimated the lady. We simply never saw what drove her to knit. To bake. To open her home to anyone in need. To risk everything when those “bonus kids” she loved were in deep danger. To bolster her husband’s work in defying evil.

We didn’t see that it was a great work of its own in the fight against evil, those clacking knitting needles and that open guest policy. We didn’t realize that what she really knit together was a web so strong it held and protected so many of the “good guys” we lost count.

I’m pretty sure I whooped too loudly in the theater when she made her heroic stand to protect her daughter. I saw, in that moment, what I should have seen before it. Molly Weasley had been saying, “Not my loved one, bitch” to evil for a very, very long time. And her loved ones were many.

We simply hadn’t noticed.

justlisted (4)

Our Story, Too

Isn’t this the story of many middle-aged mamas? Isn’t this why we love her? We feel sometimes so mundane, so overlooked and pointless. Then we see someone who feels as we do about it all—and she doesn’t hold back.

She won’t be irrelevant, and maybe, in that moment, we recognize that we refuse to be as well. We realize we never were.

Women, we are knitting those webs, aren’t we? We’re holding the forces of evil at bay, too, but often in an unnoticed way, and the glory goes to the Harrys and not to the Mollys. It always does.

Yet we keep on knitting

Maybe not literally. I can’t knit to save my life. Yarn skills evade me. But without us, women, where would the fight be?

  • What children would not have been raised who are now the good people we imagined and fought for?
  • What injustices would still be occurring if we hadn’t written that letter or volunteered those hours?
  • Who would still be in despair if we hadn’t opened our ears, our hearts, our homes?
  • What life wouldn’t have been redirected if we hadn’t spoken those words, even in a howler, if the need decreed it?
  • What need wouldn’t have been met without our constant watch at the city gates—bringing casseroles, knitting scarves, cleaning toilets, and yes, protesting on the street corners, telling the truth about sexual abuse, and loving the other?

We underestimated women have known this since Shifra and Puah, since Abigail and Ruth. Too often, we don’t believe in our own power, but God affirms it.

God credits them with the saving of lives, these middle-ages mamas of the Hebrew world. He writes boldly what others overlook. Fierce loyalty and love know no force they fear. They are the specialty of the middle-aged mama.

We’ve been saying, “not my loved one, bitch” to evil for a long time. And the older I get, the more loved ones I accumulate. They come in all colors and languages and creeds, nowadays. Maybe I can’t knit a stitch, but I can expand my reach to hold these new loved ones, too, in a fierce, protecting love. It’s our superpower, women.

God continues to affirm when we women use that superpower, that gift of grace, of love and loyalty to continue the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) fight.

It all centers on the Molly Weasleys. It always has.

 

Who is one of your favorite heroes? I’d love to hear!

Workplace Bullying

timothy-eberly-515801-unsplash
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

This week, I’m taking a short break from the books theme because, well, Christmas. And being a pastor at Christmas. And . . . that.

But today, we’re fortunate to have some expert advice on a topic I’ve long championed. Bullying. (Meaning, I champion not bullying, not bullying. Just making sure that’s crystal.)

Bullying happens to adults, too. In fact, adult are the ones who teach the kids, am I right? Adults do it better, and sneakier. But there are laws, and there are alternatives, and if you or someone you know is being bullied, please read on to see what your options are. Feel free to pass this information on–whether it’s on the playground, at the workplace, or in our national ethos, bullying is against everything we know about treating others as we would like to be treated.

(From Hogan Injury, with permission)

Bullying in the workplace

which includes yelling, insulting and belittling comments, teasing, threatening, and name-calling – often goes unchecked and overlooked. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.

What the law says

Bullying among schoolchildren and cyberbullying have been widely talked about; and legislation and programs that address the problem continue to be developed. To date, there is no federal law that would definitely make workplace bullying illegal. There are laws that protect employees from being mistreated based on gender, race, age, national origin, or disability; therefore, bullying becomes illegal when it violates federal or state laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment of those in protected status. However, there is still no law that protects an employee from mistreatment where the mistreatment is not based on a protected characteristic.

Despite the lack of a comprehensive federal legislation on bullying, many states have introduced anti-bullying bills that have similar and consistent themes. Members of state legislatures have sponsored versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill and at least three states have passed laws that regulate workplace bullying: Utah, Tennessee, and California. Utah and Tennessee laws are focused on public employers. The California law applies to companies with more than 50 employees, and it requires them to train managers on preventing abusive conduct at work, even if the harassment or abuse is not based on a protected status. Abusive conduct would include verbal abuse, threats, and efforts to sabotage or undermine someone’s work performance.

The Healthy Workplace Campaign, through the bill, pushes for strong legislation that prohibits workplace bullying and protection for employees who experience abuse at work on a basis other than a protected class. The bill does the following for workers: allow them to sue the bully as an individual, hold the employer accountable, provide an avenue for legal compensation in case of health-harming abuse at work, seek restoration for lost wages and benefits, and require employers to take corrective actions and prevent future instances.

anh-nguyen-515149-unsplash
Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

What to do if you’re bullied at work

Even if the bully is not breaking the law, it is in your employer’s best interest to address and stop bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying has many detrimental effects such as decreased productivity, performance, and morale. Therefore, if you are being bullied at work, file a complaint with your company’s Human Resources department.

Keep tabs of all the instances of bullying. Take note of the dates, times, and those who may have witnessed the incidents. These information are necessary should there be an investigation. Keep records of how the bullying has affected you – stressmedical problems, missed workdays, etc.

In case your company does not take your complaints seriously, it is time to talk to an attorney. Contact us at Hogan Injury for expert legal advice.

 

 

Where Is Your Brother?

#mikkikimmitravels

Siblings . . . 

Sibling rivalry was real in my house. We didn’t have arguments; we had wars. I remember frying pans to the face, doorknobs to the teeth, and golf balls to the head as things that actually happened between my siblings and me.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I met a Christian family who behaved very differently, I wanted to know what this Jesus thing was all about. I didn’t know people could act that way with their brothers and sisters.

I’m very grateful to say our kids never engaged in fisticuffs. (Grateful because they didn’t and also because I got to use that wonderful word.) Jesus made quite a difference in my outlook on appropriate sibling behavior.

God’s children do not, however, always follow this pattern. Almost the second question in the Bible, after God asks the leaf-clad Adam and Eve where they are and why they’re hiding, comes the question he addresses to their oldest offspring.

It’s a pretty serious question.

Where is your brother?

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Genesis 4. 2-9)

Spoiler: God knows the answer.

Cain must know God knows, so why he gives this patently flippant answer is anyone’s guess. Although, I suspect we know too well why all of us give God absurd answers to things we don’t want to look at too closely.

I don’t know. Am I supposed to be looking out for my brother?

Apparently, we were still pondering it in Jesus’ time, because someone had to ask Jesus exactly who his neighbor was, and Jesus had to tell another story that asked the same question God starts the whole human race with here—Where is your brother/neighbor?

Everywhere.

That was Jesus’ reply. Are you your brother’s guardian, Cain? Why yes. Yes, you are. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It’s the way I made people to be.

In his new book Everybody, Always, Bob Goff suggests that God created us as one big neighborhood on this earth–all made for one another no matter where or how.

29572872_10156165751578398_5396078171945749933_n

God decided it wasn’t good for people to be alone, so he made us for one another. Then he made it clear right after the first sin that we were going to have to take that very seriously, because the world was going to get a lot harder. We would need to be one another’s guardians, or no one would make it out alive.

That’s one of the scariest parts of our current obsession with tribalism. When we start to form our groups, deciding who’s in and who’s not, denying brotherhood to those who are outside our boundaries, we become cadres of Cains, denying to God that we have any responsibility in the welfare of anyone beyond what we’ve declared are our lines.

Even when our brothers’ blood cries out from the ground.

To make this easier, we find reasons they don’t deserve our attention. That’s why Cains find it easy to believe sensational news stories with questionable data. If we can make it Abel’s fault, our hands are clean. Humans, and by humans I mean me, will do just about anything to avoid guilt.

“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

I think we’re helped in our answer by the words just before this story. Eve gives birth, and she also gives thanks to God. Remember, the birth process was going to be rough, and Eve not only accepts this part of the curse but gives gratitude to God for bringing her through it and giving her a child.

Gratitude

IMG_8290

Eve’s approach too life oozes gratitude. She chooses to live, after her first unfortunate choice, with constant thanks to God for his provision of everything she needs.

Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have inherited this attitude. We don’t know why God chose to accept his brother’s offering and not his, but he responds with anger. He feels cheated. He wants what he thinks he deserves. He chooses resentment rather than gratitude.

Interesting studies into the attitudes that have created our tribalism in the US point to the same conclusion. Those who choose resentment also choose to close themselves off to their brothers. One study reported by the Washington Post reveals that, 

 Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. Racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income  and employment made a negligible difference. When white millennials scored high on racial resentment they were 42 percentage points more likely to indicate feelings of vulnerability than those who scored low.

People who would prefer to blame and resent rather than open their arms and hearts in gratitude for their lives are the people who refuse to see “brother” in the refugee, immigrant, person of color, or sister.

Interestingly, this is true regardless of the person’s actual economic or physical circumstances. The well off are just as likely to shut out their nonwhite, non-American-born brothers as the poor if they are already inclined to resent others for what they think they don’t have.

It’s as old as Cain. And as devastating.

The answer isn’t anything complicated. It’s gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for everything God provides to children of Adam and Eve who don’t really deserve anything at all but who are granted so much.

It’s utterly impossible to take the attitude of Eve and have the heart of Cain. We can’t revel in the undeserved graciousness of the Lord and refuse to invite your brother into the circle.

If we live consistently grateful, humble lives, we will always know exactly where our brother is. He’s all around us. He’s everyone. And we are his keeper.

29792091_10156165752118398_3957281367766031701_n

*I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. These wonderful people I have come to know and love as I work with them more and more are certainly those God calls our brothers and sisters. With God’s help, I’m going to walk it and meet my fundraising goal! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Stamp of the Almighty — If I’m God’s Image, What Are You?

Twelve years ago, we took our family on a mission trip to China. As part of our daily activity, we went into classrooms where kids would ask us questions and practice their English skills. Usually, we fielded generic questions like: What’s your favorite color? What do you like about China? What do you do? And, once they found out our family was from Chicago, Do you know Michael Jordan?

But one day, a boy raised his hand and floored me with something else. “Do you hate Osama bin Laden?” 

We think we’ve got large class sizes.

This was October, 2002. 9/11 was not yet history. I struggled for the right words, and out came something like, “No, I don’t. I am a follower of Jesus and he asks me to love my enemies. So I hate what he did. But no, I do not hate him.”

I could sense a climate change in the room. A room filled with communist atheist kids had just heard something they did not have the resources to comprehend. I wasn’t sure I did. But their skepticism that our God was relevant turned to interest. What could make someone not return hate with hate?
Remember a time when people got along all the time? No one blamed anyone else for their dumb decisions, and no one got all defensive in your face about it either? We never bullied or inflicted hurt on purpose or put our own wants above someone else’s needs? No one died in mindless acts of hatred.
Yeah, neither do I. Because none of us ever saw it. Only two people ever did. They didn’t hang onto it for long.

It Was All Good. Very Good.

I imagine looking up in the garden was like this.

When God created the first two people, he declared that the original partnership was very good. It was the only part of creation that earned the adverb “very.” In that beginning, the original pair did not blame and fear one another. They worked together with grace and dignity. Humanity had that “let’s all hold hands and get along” thing down, I tell you. But then, there were only two of them. How much conflict can you get into?

Enough.
It ended. Rather abruptly. 
We’ve been talking about the image of God and what that means every day. How do we discover our identity, what we were born to be and do, by knowing more about that image? 
We’ve figured out that being created in God’s image means displaying his character and growing up, like kids, to “look” more like him. It means having his vision for my future and the future of the Kingdom. It means taking on the responsibility of being his ambassador of light in a dark world. Doing what he would do. 
One huge aspect of “doing what he would do” lies at the heart of the Genesis story. If all people are created in his image, and if that image is still to be protected and valued even after we completely messed it up (Genesis 9.6), what does that mean for how we value other human beings? 
If my purpose is to hold his vision dearer than anything I can dream of myself, I need to seriously look at that original relationship—and then at how we relate to one another now. God’s vision was made clear in the garden. People are equal. People are precious. People are the most beautiful thing He created. 
What am I going to do with that?
What I should be going to do is let the rest of the world see how it was meant to be. Let them know God had a plan. Make it clear that I’m committed to restoring that original plan. Even if it’s not a popular commitment.

Who Is God’s Image Again?


I listened to a panel of pastors and others recently talk about racism, privilege, and power. One of the young men told the story of going to Ferguson to participate in nonviolent protest. He spoke of standing face to face with police officers and looking into their eyes. “I could see clearly that neither one of us wanted to hurt the other. We were both people, looking in one another’s eyes. Looking at another person who wanted peace. But we were stuck on opposite sides. Most people don’t want to hurt anyone—we know we’re all the same people.” 
Those aren’t his exact words, but that was the scene he painted. People who want to treat one another right, but a world that is so filled with complication, so far from what the original order was meant to be, we don’t really know how. 
  • Osama bin Laden was made in the image of God.
  • Michael Brown and Darren Wilson were made in the image of God.
  • Every illegal immigrant you’ve ever seen, talked to, or read about was made in the image of God.
  • Every girl trafficked for sex was made in the image of God. So was her pimp.
  • The person who annoys you next door or in the next pew was made in the image of God.
  • The kid in youth group who just unleashed the longest string of profanity you’ve ever heard put together was made in the image of God.
  • The slow old lady up ahead, the grocery checker who made a mistake when you were in a hurry, the kid you just cut from the team are all made in the image of God.

What am I going to do with that?
Darn, but I don’t think God made any exceptions when he said humans were made in his image. And that we are to love them. I don’t see any annotations next to those pretty all-inclusive verses. 
Why not? Because as his image, we know two things. One, we are called to restore what his original plan was. Two, the moment I look at you as a lesser being, I forget that I am you.  . I am of the same materials. If I look in the mirror, I should see you as much as I see me. I should be able to look at those who stand against me and recognize myself. If I’m living as God’s ambassador, I should look into any eyes at all and see like Jesus would. In fact, I should see Jesus himself.
The world around us tells us we should treat everyone equally and be kind to all. Why? Because . . . well, we’re not sure really, but it seems like a good idea. It’s warm and fuzzy and gets a lot of Facebook likes. It often works out well in practice. So yeah, love your neighbor. That’s a good thing to do.
No wonder it doesn’t motivate a lot of us to change.

The Real Reason


How about this? Treat everyone equally because everyone has the same stamp of the Almighty on his or her soul. And as his ambassadors, we have the chance to help them uncover it. To help another human soul recognize his or her identity as God’s own. To see the spark of joy and empowerment and pure light that comes from that recognition dawning. We get to be a part of that. We get to see it happen–when we start seeing others as fellow image bearers, no matter what.
The other thing to understand, though, is that love is a verb, not a nice feeling. We can’t get away with, “Hey, I love them with the love of God. But they’ve got to conform to my standards before I’ll do anything more.” Love always does something. It never pats someone on the head and moves on. It gets in the mud and pulls people out of it, because no one can discover their true identity covered in muck. And no one can get out of it alone. I couldn’t. 
Respecting the image of God means we can’t turn away from damage that is done to it. It requires us to call out injustice. It begs us to stand up for others until they can stand for themselves. That’s what God did, still does, for us. Jesus stood up for us on the cross. We never could have. 
Yet some days we can’t stand up for our neighbor, friend, coworker, or that person at church. They are to blame. They should apologize first. They should prove they care for me first. Guess what? Jesus didn’t require that, and I’m glad. While we were yet sinners, he died for us. He didn’t ask for apologies or qualifications first. He didn’t inspect skin color, economic status, gender, nationality, or morality. He didn’t say he’d die for only those who agreed with his politics, word choice, ideas for how to run a church, or theology. While we still rejected him, he died. Thank God.
To be his image is to see the “very good” of Genesis in everyone.  . It’s to look at another soul and recognize the same image that is in you. Every human soul. How can I act hatefully toward my own face?

Next week, we’ll actually ask that question. It’s not as easy as it sounds.