Beyond our borders

What happens when we only want to be with “our kind”?  I shudder when I see this poster advertising a Klan rally in my idyllic, peaceful town.  The poster clearly defines who was being addressed –  all “White, Gentile, Protestants” were invited.  That leaves a long list of folks who were not welcome at this gathering. This group of people who only wanted to meet with “their kind.”

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1926 was a long time ago.  I have never seen a poster overtly encouraging segregation or advertising hatred. But you don’t have to look too far on Facebook or other social media to discover hate-filled messages and hurtful words.  There are many ways to communicate who is welcome in “our” circle and who is not.

This month our church is studying stories from Genesis. The Tower of Babel is described as a monument to self-preservation. God had told new his creation to go out, scatter far and wide, be fruitful and multiply.  And what did they do?  They “settled down.”  They stayed in one place. Instead of adapting a spirit of adventure and a curiosity to discover God’s diverse creation, the people hunkered down.

It turns out that being sedentary is not only bad for our health, it is bad for our spirits. Instead of expanding their horizons, the people stuck close to home with others who looked like them and talked like them. They didn’t want to be explore. They resisted change. They feared what (and who) might be “out there.” They celebrated their safety by building an enormous city complete with a tower symbolizing their self-absorbed complacency.

God put an end to all that.  God broke down the city walls and destroyed their tower.  The people were sent out to confront the challenges of different languages, races, and cultures. God’s people had to fulfill their destiny to “scatter throughout the earth.”

That ancient story comes to mind as I listen to candidates urging us to build a wall to protect our multi-cultural, complex, interracial nation. This story haunts me when I find myself avoiding people with opinions, lifestyles, and and customs different from my own. We are not called to a life of relaxed self-satisfaction. We are invited (and sometimes even not too gently nudged) beyond our comfort zones to places of encounter and learning and exploration.

All of God’s people are our kind of people. We become more complete not when we limit our interactions but instead when we dare to listen to and learn from each other.

 

Why suffering?

The hospice volunteers wanted to hear my “biblical perspective” on suffering and pain. These compassionate caregivers, who spent hours each week with critically ill patients, were taking some time to wrestle with questions repeatedly posed to them.

“They want to know why this is happening.”

“She asked if God is mad at her.”

“He wants to know what he did that was so wrong to make him so sick.”

“Why is God doing this?”

As a local pastor I was invited to provide insight and maybe encouragement to these every-day angels who are on the front lines, bravely going into people’s homes to offer care and a listening ear. It’s hard work, that kind of caring. The patients tormented these well-meaning Nightingales with bewildered and sometimes angry questions. What could they possible say in reply?

What, indeed? If life were fair, only bad people would experience illness while the good ones would somehow be rewarded.  That certainly doesn’t seem to happen. How do we respond to arbitrary suffering when we often want to shake up fist at the universe or shrug our shoulders in despair?

What would you say?

I didn’t fool myself into thinking I could provide any “answers.” The mystery of grief and illness has tormented humankind ever since the Garden of Eden. But that gave me an inspiration.

“Let’s look at Genesis, chapter 1,” I suggested.  You’ve heard the story – in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

When God lovingly, carefully, deliberately crafted humankind , God looked at those fragile, marvelous creatures, made in the image of God. “Very good,” God said.

Right from the beginning, there was a special relationship there.  God chose us, right from the start. When God looks at us, God sees

  • Someone very good.
  • Someone who is loved and lovable.
  • Someone filled with God’s Spirit.
  • Someone who is created and creative, filled with endless possibilities.

I don’t know why bad things happen to anyone.  But I do know this – God doesn’t send sickness or earthquakes or Zika viruses or droughts or car crashes to punish people.

Sometimes we harm ourselves.

Sometimes stuff just happens.

What God does promise is to be there when we need God most.  Sometimes God shows up looking just like a hospice volunteer, ready to hold a hand, wipe a tear, and with a reminder that we are precious in God’s sight.