When Jesus Meets…The Untouchable

Large crowds followed Jesus when
He came down from the mountain.
And as Jesus was going along, a leper
approached Him and knelt down before
Him.
Leper: Lord, if You wish to, please heal me
and make me clean!
Jesus (stretching out His hand): Of course I
wish to. Be clean.
Immediately the man was healed.
Matthew 8:1-3, The Voice

 

He touched him.

Jesus touched him.

The person no one would touch. And with good reason. There have been many reasons some have chosen to view others as untouchable. Not too many years ago, white people were taught to not touch black people—or even things they had touched. Today, many still feel touching an immigrant, or someone from a different religion, or a homeless person is too difficult. Just a few months ago, many in the country collectively lost their minds and did not want to touch anybody because 3 people in a nation of over 300 million were suffering with Ebola.

But those are all crappy reasons to not touch someone.

Jesus had a good reason. Leprosy could be contagious. Leprosy made you an outcast. Leprosy was a visible sign that separated you from the rest of the community.

And Jesus touched him.

With all of His power, with all of the ways He could have healed, Jesus touched him.

_________________________

Pope Francis gets this. One of the greatest pictures I have ever seen is Pope Francis kissing a person with leprosy.

boils

 

There is also the image of him washing and kissing the feet of Muslims.

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We have created so many categories of people we won’t touch. Those with certain health issues. Those from different economic classes. Those with different sexual orientations or gender assignments. People from different ethnicities. Those who attend church in different locations; or not at all. People who disagree with us.

We keep adding and adding to the list of untouchables. And we don’t just avoid touching—we avoid any sign of support or encouragement.

Because we fear that to speak up for someone who is untouchable is going to lead our privileged, comfortable friends to lump us into the same categories.

What does this look like? It’s when we stay silent while our friends are insulting others. It’s when we laugh at the joke demeaning another because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd. It’s when we don’t share certain things in our social media feeds because we are afraid of what our family and friends might think. It’s when we look for churches made up of people who look, dress, and worship exactly like we do.

Treating people like they are untouchable does not look like leper colonies being built outside of the city walls.

Treating people like they are untouchable looks like building up barriers in our lives that keep those who are different out and those who we view as comfortable in.

So break down the barriers.

Are there Muslims in your community? Meet them. Talk with them. Invite them into your home and share a meal with them.

Are there homeless people in your community? Pick them up in your car and take them out to eat. Don’t just deliver food and drop it off, but spend time with them. Talk to them. Find out what they need and see if you can partner with them in finding the necessary resources.

Are there churches that are multi-ethnic in your community? If so, visit them. If not, make yours that way. Seek people from different backgrounds and invite them to worship with you.

Are there places in your community that the respectable people dare not go? Then by all means—go there.

Breaking down the barriers and touching the untouchable has to be intentional. It cannot happen by mistake.

Reach out your hand.

Touch the untouchable.

The Truth Hurts

“I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.” The Invention of Wings.

_________________________

When working with clients, they often face some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, they are being victimized by someone they love and they need to stand up for themselves. Other times, they are creating a problem and are coming to realize they need to change their own behavior.

Either way, they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

At times, it is more difficult because the person is doing something they know is wrong, but they have convinced themselves they need to do it. A person may hate dishonesty yet keep secrets from their partner in order to spare his or her feelings. Someone may hate insulting speech yet they often utilize sarcastic cut-downs as an attempt at humor to defuse a tense situation.

Not only do they need to be confronted with what they are doing that is causing pain, they need to acknowledge that their actions do not line up with their beliefs.

This is prevalent in 12 Step groups, as well. Most addicts hate using substances. Yet they cannot stop. They do not enjoy lying to their families, stealing to pay for their drug of choice, or destroying their bodies. But the need for satiating their desire is greater than the need to change behavior.

Again: they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

_________________________

In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd tells the tale of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke, set in early 19th century Charleston, SC. Sarah is given the slave, Handful, as a gift for her 11th birthday. From a young age, Sarah hates the institution of slavery. She hates that Handful has been given to her as property. Yet she cannot free her no matter how hard she tries.

Throughout her life, she tries to figure out the best ways to treat Handful. In a particularly poignant scene in the novel, Sarah is looking at Handful and says to herself, “I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.”

That tremendously captures the human experience. Intellectual assent or opposition is easy. Practical application is hard.

I believe in the value of hard work. But what about people who are unable to work for a variety of reasons?

I believe it is necessary to abide by laws. But what do we do with those people who break the law? Or how do we monitor those who enforce the law?

I believe abortion is wrong. But how should we treat women who have already had abortions? Or how should we treat the children born to women who struggle to provide for their kids?

I believe war is wrong. But how should veterans and active service people be treated?

I believe in looking beyond our differences and sharing community. But how can we still respect and honor different ethnic backgrounds and experiences?

I know what I believe in and what I oppose. But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

_________________________

I hate systemic racism.

I hate the denial that systemic racism exists.

I hate the reality of white privilege.

I hate the denial of that reality.

But what do I do with the people right in front of me—the people who I interact with daily that are suffering due to the unfairness and injustice in the systems and structures that are currently in place; as well as the people who think things really aren’t that bad and we all just need to get over it?

I know what I believe and I know what I hate; but what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I can speak up. I can speak out. I can build awareness. I can work for justice and equality.

But all of that must be done in relationship. I must remember that the person right in front of me is exactly that: a person. A beloved child of God. They have worth and value, whether they agree with me or not.

Because I have seen the effects of systemic racism and unchecked white privilege, I will continue advocating for people who have faced the unfairness inherent in the system.

Because I have relationships with people who have not seen the effects of unfairness, I will continue seeking ways to inform them. I will continue seeking ways to have conversations to explore some uncomfortable truths.

_________________________

We live in a country that essentially idolizes freedom. Yet many do not want to acknowledge that freedom is limited for a large number of our population.

We must acknowledge that truth; no matter how much it hurts.

So how do we do this? By getting to know people. By listening to other people’s stories. By paying attention to what is going on in our communities.

In other words, we do this by building relationships. We build relationships through dialogue and experience. Over the course of 2015, I will be making one challenge per month. These challenges are intended to increase awareness and build relationship.

There is a lot of negativity today. And much of it actually does need to exist. We need to be made aware of how difficult life is for people who face systemic racism and oppression of many forms.

But we need practical measures to bring about lasting change. I know what I believe. I know what I hate.

But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I will normally be posting the challenges on the first Saturday of the month, but I will post this month’s challenge here, as well:

During the month of January, invite one person into your home that has never been in your home before. Don’t meet them somewhere for coffee. Don’t choose someone who was in your last place several years ago. Choose someone you have never invited before and ask them to be a guest in your house. It can be for dinner, for dessert, for a game/movie night, or it can just be for a time to visit. But find someone you have not spent time with and invite them to be your guest.

Are you willing to try that?

Let us all look for ways to increase our awareness and grow our community by building relationships.

Post-Thanksgiving Challenge

I believe I benefit from White Privilege.

I believe Black Lives Matter. I believe that every life matters.

I believe what was done in Ferguson was a grave miscarriage of justice.

I believe Christians need to step up and use their voice to advocate for the oppressed.

I believe I am only one person in a small West Texas town and that I do not have a lot of influence. But I believe I should speak up whenever I can.

I am going to participate in a Black Friday boycott and I encourage you to consider the same. In fact, consider boycotting for the next 60 days. Many people in power will not change unless they see their bottom line affected. So affect their bottom line. But more than just taking money from them, pay attention to where your money is spent:

Buy from local people you know.

Buy from stores owned by minority proprietors.

Research large corporations and if they do not stand for justice, do not patronize them.

It is not easy. It may require sacrifice. But if enough of us buy only what is necessary and buy only from people willing to advocate for justice we can make a difference. We can make a change.

The following is borrowed from Julian Long:

I am stepping out of the cycle of hedonistic consumerism.

Yes there are things I want. Even some things I think I need.

But WE need justice and a voice more.
Economic Disparity is a massive part of this system of injustice we are raging against. They hate “looting” and “riots” and make us villains for that?
Then Break the Back of the Beast another way.
And don’t fall for the feel good symbolic okey doke of Boycotting ONE DAMN DAY.Do not boycott Black Friday only to pick up the same deal on Cyber Monday.
WITHHOLD YOUR DOLLARS.
MAKE IT MEAN SOMETHING.
Put your money into building the infrastructure of a just nation not reinforcing the infrastructure of an unjust one.
This will NOT be easy.
Accountability never is.
But being mindful of what is ESSENTIAL will help us FOCUS. Convenience and Comfort and Capitalism have lead to our Complacency and lack of focus. This is what the Roman Empire called Bread & Circuses. A fat, fed and entertained populace will let anything pass.
We’ve forgotten that “the Struggle” means sometimes we have to STRUGGLE. We have to eschew the convenient comforts and pursue inconvenient truths, impolite conversations, ugly realities and painful progress.
It’s about to get uncomfortable for us.
But we should really be uncomfortable now.
When a child is sitting in a dirty diaper he acts out and cries out until the filth is changed.
Brothers and Sisters we are sitting in the filth of what American commercialization has done to us. We are sitting in the putrid stink of a system that is utterly and completely co-opted by the wealth and greed of the 1 percent. And we are funding it. We eat the corrupted bread. We support the frenzied spending circuses. We consume what we are fed and the more we consume, the more shit we sit in.
Build the economy of conviction. Focus on the essential and build on what matters. For every Black life snuffed out by rampant unchecked authority you check them by removing dollars from the economy that supports it.
AND BE VOCAL ABOUT IT.
Declare often exactly why you don’t spend so there is no confusion as to where the money has gone- why the coffers of injustices are withering. Proselytize and evangelize and RAGE. So that others might see the example and join in starving the beast and breaking its back. But be loud, clear and committed to your convictions. Pick a time period. Six weeks. Set a personal trackable goal so you can see results in your own life. In your own community. Hold yourself and each other accountable.
We know that the impact of rioting and looting is economic but the optics of it create a conversation that maligns and miscasts us when the media is trained to be sympathetic to the monied system. They WILL miscast our actions as violent and animalistic– they cannot miscast our deliberate inaction. They cannot miscast our refusal to participate. Either way the system will suffer. Both actions are justified- one will change the optics of the conversation against us. Break The Beast’s Back.
-Julian Long

‪#‎BuyOnlyThingsNecessary

A Time To Listen. A Time To Change.

Just listen. Sit down. Be quiet and listen. If you are not a person of color in America, you do not know what it is like to be a person of color in America. Do you want to know why people are angry enough to protest? Listen to them. Do you want to know why parents of minority children are afraid for their kids to go the store? Listen to them. Do you want to know why people feel like things such as justice, peace, and liberty are only available to whites? Listen to them. And when you listen, do not respond with any, “Yeah, but….” Do not try and justify. Or deflect. Or explain away. Just listen. Don’t post or share ignorant memes that serve only to inflame. Don’t promote systemic racism by talking about color-blindness and postulating about a post-racial society. Don’t view your neighbors or people in Ferguson or in any community as “them” or “other.” Stop trying to tell people why they shouldn’t be upset. Stop trying to tell people how it really isn’t as bad as they think it is. Stop trying to tell people how they should feel or how they should respond. _________________________ Last night was infuriating. At least it should have been. Although it was not surprising, it still should have made your blood boil. How often does a County Prosecutor act like a defense attorney of the person accused? How many people can shoot someone in broad daylight, have 7 witnesses come forward to say the victim was surrendering with hands raised, have an important detail lied about for 108 days, be tried by someone who should be unbiased yet actually is the chairperson of the accused’s fundraising committee, and still walk away without a trial? Last night was not about guilt or innocence. Last night was about saying that if you gun someone down in broad daylight you should stand trial and let your guilt or innocence be determined by a jury of your peers. You may not like to hear it, but the message last night was that black lives do not matter. At least, not to the people in power in St. Louis county. Last night was infuriating because the majority of protests were peaceful and quiet yet the news networks decided to cover only the violent ones. Last night was infuriating because people cheered the exoneration of the police officer and treated Michael Brown, the victim, as if he was the perpetrator. Last night was infuriating because people who have cried out about injustice and being treated unfairly for generations were essentially told to shut up. Well, I for one hope they do not shut up. I hope they speak up. I hope they cry out. I hope they get louder and louder until those of us who are deaf to our own privilege have no choice but to finally listen. I hope they act out so much that those of blinded to the injustice around us will have no choice but to open our eyes. _________________________ Stop telling people whose experience is different than yours anything. Just listen. And after you listen, start to do something to bring about change. Join in the movement to advocate for greater police accountability. Wearing body cameras and clearly read name tags protects the public and the police. Look for people who are in the business of advocating for those who do not benefit from the same privilege you do. Start to get to know your neighbors; especially those who may be different than you. Start attending churches that have a different ethnic make-up than the one you normally attend. Stop pretending like racism does not exist. Look for it and point it out when you see it. And by all means: stop talking. Just listen.

Sitting Alone At Church

The church I attend has two worship assemblies on Sunday mornings. One of my children likes to help out in the nursery during one of them. So my Sunday routine is usually to attend the first worship assembly by myself; my daughter goes to the nursery and my wife and sons join us for the second one.

So this means I am by myself during early worship. Normally, I sit with a friend of mine, but this past Sunday I sat alone. By alone, I mean there was no one in the seat immediately to my left or my right. I knew the family in front of me and behind me. I was sitting in a row with a family of visitors. But for all intents and purposes I was sitting by myself.

Which led to anticipated questions: where is the rest of the family? So why are you by yourself today? Are your wife and kids sick?

Most of these questions may have been exactly what they sounded like and nothing more. Or, there may have been an underlying question beneath it: is your family about to fall apart? Because it is not normal for someone to be here all alone.

I do not know the motive behind the question (because I did not ask). I was not particularly concerned about the motive behind the question (because my family was on the way). I knew everything was okay with me, so I received the question as a curiosity, nothing more (which is likely how it was intended).

But I started thinking: how difficult is it to be a single person at church? More than that, how difficult is it to be a single again person at church? Churches are not particularly known for having great singles programs. Church culture often venerates marriage, family, and child-raising. So the person who is not married and sits by his- or herself on a given Sunday morning may feel…

  • Different.
  • Left out.
  • Isolated.
  • Odd.
  • Pitied.

None of those are particularly comfortable emotions.

_________________________

Have you ever noticed that the thing that makes us different is often the thing we try and hide?

  • I don’t want to talk about my depression because then you will think less of me.
  • I don’t want to talk about my addiction because then you will think I am weak and lack self-control.
  • I don’t want to talk about my problems with my partner or my children or my parents because then you will think I have a dysfunctional family.
  • I don’t want to talk about my sexual orientation because then you will think I am a deviant and you will turn your back on me.
  • I don’t want to talk to you about my loneliness because then you will think I am weird and you will do everything you can to avoid me.
  • I don’t want to tell you I am afraid because then you will think I lack faith.
  • I don’t want to tell you I am sad because you will think you need to cheer me up.

But here is the difficult thing about being single at church: it makes you different, and you can’t even hide it.

__________________________

I have been writing this year on some things I wish all churches knew about how to deal with recovering addicts and alcoholics. There are also some things I wish all churches knew about how to deal with the single members in their midst.

First, singleness does not equal sickness. There is nothing aberrant or wrong about being single. But our current church culture emphasizes family so much that many singles are left to feel as if something is wrong, or at least lacking, with them. We need to stop acting as if marriage is a victory and singleness is a loss. That is not the case. We need to celebrate the fact that some people embrace their singleness and use it to God’s glory.

Second, not all singleness is alike. Some people are single because of circumstances beyond their control. Their partner may have left them. Their partner may have passed away. They may have never had a partner but are actively seeking one. There may have been a number of different factors that led to them being single.

Others are single as the result of an empowered choice. There are some people who have been called to singleness. They have accepted that call and are not in pursuit of a relationship. Or they are single again and have prayerfully decided they will not seek out an intimate relationship again.

Some are lonely. Some are not. There is no specific formula for “handling single people.” Instead of treating single people as “them,” how about we treat them as human? Single people are not a problem to be solved or an issue that needs a program. They are active, vibrant parts of God’s Kingdom, gifted and talented and looking for ways to be included.

Third, that which makes us different is that which unites us all. And we need to be talking about it. Because whatever I deal with makes me human. Regardless of what I deal with, I am a child of God. And so are you. It is in our struggles that we are all reminded we are not God. We are His sons and daughters, though. We are on a level playing field. Your struggle might be different than mine, but the fact that we both struggle means we can find a common ground.

So if you are single or married or in a relationship that is crumbling, let’s talk.

If you are riding high in life right now or you are mired the depths of your depression, let’s talk.

If you are getting along great with your kids or have no idea what you are doing, let’s talk.

If you are trying to figure out how to keep from feeling alone, even in the midst of a throng of people, let’s talk.

Whatever the case may be, let’s talk. It’s what a community does.