Listening, Loving, and…Criticizing?

I want to remember my citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Lent Week 2, Day 12

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I love my alma mater. It is a great university. I made lifelong friends there. I learned how to stretch my thinking theologically. The faculty and staff truly love people and work to nurture them.

But there are some faults with university, as well. They have made some business decisions that seem to conflict with their spiritual mission. They have fired people who were doing tremendous work to help the bottom line. They have embarked on building projects funded, in part, from shady business practices.

Yet at the heart of the university is truly a desire to develop students who will go out and change the world. They do not get it right 100% of the time. I still love them and I still criticize them. In fact, my criticism grows out of the fact that I love.

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I love my church. It is a place where leadership and membership are working together to bring about restoration. So many amazing things have happened in the years we have attended. Ministries have been started to help students attain their GED and help homeless people find a home. Houses have been repainted and minor repairs have been performed. Worship has become a freer exercise of pouring out our hearts to God. More and more people are being included in important decisions.

But there are some faults with my church, as well. It is a large church and while that brings about greater resources and opportunities, it also brings about slowness in movement. There is often a tendency to plateau—once some change has been made, people will feel that it is “good enough,” and it will take time to move further forward (often way too much time).

Yet at the heart of my church is truly a desire to restore all things. We want people restored to God. We want people restored to one another. Everything that is done or not done is out of a desire to do God’s will. They do not get it right 100% of the time. I still love them and I still criticize them. In fact, my criticism grows out of the fact that I love.

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I love my country. It is a place where people are free to make decisions about their lives. It is a place where dreams can come true. It is one of the most generous countries in the world giving so much money and time to volunteer efforts to try and improve communities. It is a place where people truly can move from the bottom to the top.

But there are some faults with my country, as well. Its founding documents were not written with “all people” in mind; they were written with landowners in mind. Black people were only considered 3/5 human when our Constitution was written. It has only been a generation that all people are allowed to vote. Well, unless you are a felon. Economic structures that have been passed down from the days of slavery have created slums and perpetuated the struggles for many people. Our country does not like to admit its wrongs. Slavery and racism have plagued this country since its inception but if anyone brings that up they are called a race baiter. Many people feel that we should say things are better now so we should just all be happy. When relationships between communities and police officers are brought up people struggle with listening to both sides to truly hear what can be done to improve those relationships. Decisions about immigrants, transgender people, and people of different religions are based on fear and not facts. Political leaders lie, are caught on video lying, and lie about telling the lies. We are all now looking at our microwaves wondering if they are secretly recording our conversations.

Yet at the heart of my country is a desire to be the land of the free. Improvements have been made. We still have a long way to go, but I do think the majority of people want to go there. They do not get it right 100% of the time. I still love them and I still criticize them. In fact, my criticism grows out of the fact that I love.

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I could go on and talk about my job, my family, my friends. These are all groups that I love and respect deeply. But they all get things wrong.

Let’s face it: I could talk about myself the same way. There are things I do that are good, yet I also know there are many areas that need improvement.

Why do we struggle to talk about the areas of growth in the people that we love?

I want to focus my citizenship first in the Kingdom of God. If I am going to do that, I need to apply Kingdom principles to my country; not apply my country’s dream to the Kingdom. How many of us get this backwards?

God’s Kingdom began and thrived long before there was any democratic nation. Our way of governing is not ultimately special. It is just one of a number of ways people have governed. Yet since we are people of the Kingdom, let us ask how those principles can impact our democracy.

Let us criticize what needs to be fixed. There is too much fear, too much anger, too much yelling, too much hatred, too much division in our nation. And we are not making it worse when we acknowledge it. In fact, we will never move to improving it if we continue avoiding. Our nation has a problem with racism. Our nation has a problem with economic structures continually stretching the divide between rich and poor. Our nation has a problem with reality TV stars having more influence on our policies than people who actually know what they are talking about.

And I have a problem with loving people who disagree with me. And I think I am justified. But how am I applying Kingdom principles to myself?

I think people are suffering. I need to reach out to them and help them. And I need to advocate for them and work for long-lasting change that will improve their lives.

And those people I disagree with? Those people who are making me angry? I pray. I pray for me to listen and seek relationship. I pray for them. I seek conversation (real conversation; not social media conversation). And I apply Kingdom principles to that relationship. If we truly love one another, we will listen and we will learn and we will grow.

After all, neither of us will get it right 100% of the time. But we can love and criticize one another. In fact, it will be because of that love that we do criticize.

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