Most of the coffee mugs I drink from are personal. Whether they picture a Studebaker Hawk or New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde or a moose in Maine the cups say something about me. When I lived in the deep south I often drank my coffee from a mug emblazoned with the stars and bars — the old Confederate flag. I liked the mug because it somehow always appealed to that idealistic part of me which was, and is, a rebel. As a native (and naive?) midwesterner I somehow never associated the rebel flag with it’s deep roots in racism. That has changed since the terrorist massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
During the time our family lived in Louisiana, one of my daughters started dating Mark, a sociable, intelligent, and handsome young man. While I readily admit no one is good enough to date a daughter of mine, Mark came pretty close to my criteria. He was also black.
I was terrified. What was my daughter thinking? What were the dangers facing young teenagers dating across racial lines in the violent racial world of Dixie? And more terrifying still, I felt within my heart the passions of prejudice stirring, threatening the image I carried of myself as an accepting, color-blind Christian who accepted all people. My soul struggled. I, of all people, did not discriminate against black people. I, of all people, detested the young black teenager who had stolen my daughter’s heart. I sat at my desk engaging in deep soul searching. I drank lots of coffee, all from a mug covered with the rebel flag. Back then, it never crossed my mind that in many ways, I was an unintentional racist.
I believe many of us today are unintentional racists. Our ideals are good, but we slip up a bit in practice. We are unaware. We become blind to our prejudices and are quick to dismiss those twinges of superiority or fear or condescension or distancing as being normal, or a product of our culture, or as the way we were taught. Well, yes. This, however, does not make our actions right. I was wrong in my attitude toward Mark.
We are wrong today, no matter what color or ethnicity we wear, when we wear it pridefully as just a little bit better than others. When we are insensitive to a black person or dismissive of a white person because their skin doesn’t match ours we are unintentional racists. When we as a multicultural church sing just “white” hymns catering to nineteenth century tastes we are unintentional racists. When we pit a Scotch-Irish heritage against that of Italians or Brazilians we are unintentional racists. When we perpetuate jokes or make trite remarks about people who are different than us, we are unintentional racists — or unintentional sexists or unintentional homophobes.
When we as a nation, or as individuals, believe that removing the Confederate flag from view is enough change to atone for the murders of praying people in Charleston we are unintentional racists. It takes so much more. Christians believe it takes a cross. Following Jesus involves embracing that cross. Part of living Christianly is becoming aware of the unintentional sins that we harbor, and and then allowing God’s grace to remove and redeem. The best way I know to stop being an unintentional racist is to become more and more intentional in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus.
The summer is here and many of us will be traveling to see family and friends. Some of us will be going “home.” That will be the case for me when I return to Louisiana for our family reunion. Jon and I recently discussed that for many years when we had vacation we returned “home” to Louisiana or Kansas to visit with family members. Only in the last few years have we found another vacation spot. For us it is Winter Harbor, ME, where we rent a house near the ocean. We like to get up early and watch the lobster boats come and go, pulling their pots and harvesting the vast amounts of lobster found in the cold waters of northern coastal Maine. We call it our “happy place” but it is not “home.”
It seems to me that going “home” to Louisiana is bittersweet. I love to go because I have family there. I have happy memories of growing up there. We had a large extended family. I always felt loved and cared for. It was there that I learned of God’s great love for me, and there that I accepted Christ as my Savior. There is a sadness there, too. I grew up in a place where black people were discriminated against. There were and are vast differences in income levels. When I go to Louisiana I see beautiful plantation style homes on one block and literal shacks on the next.
This year the bittersweetness comes also from missing my beloved brother-in-law who has gone to be with the Lord. How can I go to Louisiana and not see Joe? He was married to my sister for over 50 years. I was a bratty teenager when I met him, but he loved me anyway, and I loved him back. It’s hard to go “home” and not have him tease me in his lovely southern drawl.
So I try to remember that Joe is the one who is really “home.” Heaven is the ultimate home of all Christians. He has joined those who came before us. As CS Lewis said the church of Jesus Christ has marched onward through the ages. I believe that Joe is a part of that grand parade.
Flowers will be blooming everywhere is Louisiana when I get there. Crepe myrtles taller than houses will be in abundance. That, too, will remind me of Joe, of how he loved flowers and tended them. Surely heaven is full of flowers of every shape and color, rather like God’s people. Perhaps Joe is happy caring for them in some heavenly garden. I know he is okay but I’ll still be missing him until I join him in our ultimate, heavenly “home”!
One of the latest fads in puffing one’s ego is the whole “selfie” phenomenon. Almost everybody under the age when social security can be collected has taken a few selfie photos. Entrepreneurs have even come up with a way to cash in by making “selfie sticks.” These contraptions are basically a plastic extension of your arm that allows the camera to get a better view of your gorgeous face.
Actually, there are a lot of religious selfies floating around out there, too. Again, we massage our egos and think we can do religion better than the church in which we were raised.
If we are concerned about the hot issues of the day like justice, climate change, and the welfare of chickens and other critters we gravitate toward a faith which stresses that particular issue and leaves out all of the other stuff.
If we are determined to get people saved so heaven will be densely populated, then we pump John 3:16. After all, who needs anything more than being born again?
On the other hand, if we really yearn for a new Audi or Porsche and all the trimmings for a quick vacation getaway to our hoped for second home on the Maine coast (or would Jamaica be better?) we understand clearly that the health and wealth gospel has the biggest payoff for us.
It’s so easy to make a selfie faith, and it feels so good. Just pump what you like, and forget all that other stuff. No need to get all bogged down with things like repentance, obedience, taking up one’s cross and all that when the thing that matters most is God give you your heart’s desire, and that he does it right now.
Of course this means that real Christianity as understood and practiced for generations is a goner. That’s because the Bible is not collection of selfies posted on social media. It sees faith as having a God given core of truth, and that content must be believed and held high. God’s truth is a given, it is not negotiable. It must be understood, believed and applied to the contemporary world of every generation who would be followers of Jesus.
It is not only these doctrines and content of the faith that are crucial, but above all a personal connection with the very one who had the audacity to say, “I am the Truth.” Because of this dynamic quality of faith, followers of Jesus have also formed opinions on how people are to live Christianly, living out the truth God has given us. Our faith is not so much holding on to a way of living that good people in the past have followed, but rather, allowing Jesus to live out his Truth through us today.
We are to believe and trust in him and then go about living our lives. Getting this part of real Christianity right is difficult, but it is crucial. It is here in the application of faith that people have a tendency to go off the path, get out their camera and incorporate only the selfie they think looks good. That makes a merely a snapshot that mars the bigger, more complete picture of what Christian faith looks like. The Apostle Paul warned about this in his writing when he noted that people tend to have what he called “itching ears” and run after whomever and whatever seems pleasing. In other words, the problem of religious selfies is not a new one. (2 Timothy 4:3)
If you are going to be a real follower of Jesus, pay attention to these two key components of faith. First, know God’s truth. There is content to Christianity, content that is life changing and world shaking. Secondly, risk the adventure of placing your life on the line so that Truth becomes alive in you. Jesus is not an artifact of faith to admire, but a living Savior who wants to connect with you, fill you with his Spirit, and go with you in all the moments and places of your daily life. It is interesting how much better your selfie looks when Jesus is in it, too.
“But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles.
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
We have been doing a lot of waiting around our house. As the due date of our youngest grandchild approached, the waiting became intense. An older brother (by older, I mean just five years old himself) complained that he had been waiting long enough. His exact words were, “Waiting is hard!” and it is. It seems we are always waiting for something. That same grandson is also waiting for the fall when he will go to kindergarten.
My concordance lists thirty-five scriptures under the category “wait, waits, waited, waiting.” Again I looked at my family and realized that the kids are waiting for school to be out for the summer. They missed a lot of school because of “snow days” during our long, cold winter, and the wait for summer seems excessively long. A great-nephew who graduates from high school tomorrow is waiting to hear from various colleges.
Young people wait to grow up. Middle-aged people wait for their children to finish school so that they can retire. Older people wait and wonder what the future holds for them. So we seem to have a lifetime of waiting. But note that Isaiah says that if we wait upon the Lord he will give us strength for whatever lies ahead. That might be wonderful news of a new life or sad news of a difficult diagnosis.
A key component of this scripture is that we recognize that we must wait for God’s timing. God is almighty and exists from eternity to eternity. He is not bound by time and space as we are. He created the earth, and his understanding is beyond our scope of reasoning. This powerful God helps those who rely on him. He gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. If we wait on him,we will receive new strength to soar through life as eagles, to run through life toward heaven as an athlete heads for the finish line.