“The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring; these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings.”Parker Palmer
Kenosha, Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Charleston, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Sacramento, Louisville and Minneapolis. These are just a few of the cities where in the last few years black people have been killed by police. These deaths have led to rioting, protests, calls for reform, athletes speaking out, boycotting of sports and organizations, heightened tensions, vigilante citizens, heated conversations about race and whether there is or isn’t racism, people defending police, and those calling for police departments to be defunded. Many have perhaps seen the horrific video of Jacob Blake in Kenosha being shot by police. And yes, there’s always more to the story. But at some point, when will all this stop or better yet when will we rise up in love to put an end to bigotry, racism and hate? It’s so much to absorb or take in. And I suspect for many of us, it’s too much or we think it’s really just not our problem or issue. Or, worse yet, we just don’t see a problem at all. Most recently, in a series of my daily Fireside chats, I suggested the possibility of one day in the future our kids, grandkids or great-grandkids coming up to us and asking us the question: “What’s hate?” Wouldn’t it be marvelously outrageous if this world had become so full of love, that hate itself became extinct? And some of you are saying, “Yeah right, PJ…nice pipedream.” Ultimately, I am reminded of Langston Hughes’ famous poem:
Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.We must not only dream but work to make those dreams a reality. I think because God is love that love will, in the end, win out. As school ramps back up I’ve been thinking about 3 basics of Christian living we all need to re-think, re-learn and re-imagine in these days. Because this is no longer a race issue. This a human and spiritual issue. Maybe these three simple things- patience, discernment and kindness– might be the tools we need to keep the dream of love not only alive but thriving.
Patience helps us to wait on saying or posting anything hastily or without giving it much thought. Perhaps part of the current cancel culture we will live in is our lack of patience to listen or even try to understand what others are saying. I came across this great meme illustrating this point. It says “Only you can prevent Facebook drama.” Posting, speaking and writing in anger, haste or without thoughtful consideration shows a lack of compassion and understanding. Our society in general lacks patience. Remember, patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset. I can’t help but think that Jesus had to exhibit a considerable amount of patience dealing with the disciples, the Pharisees, unbelievers, the crowds…pretty much everyone he encountered along the way.
I love listening to Anna and Peter watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a cartoon version of Mr. Rogers). They will sing the simple songs Daniel teaches…one comes to mind: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar; take a deep breath and count to 4!” Beautiful wisdom that we often forget as adults. Even Peter will say on long road trips, “Guys, it’s hard to wait.” We all find it hard to wait. But in waiting we can find clarity, calmness and God’s direction. What would happen if we all practiced “patience” in a world that demands instant and immediate responses? As God practices tremendous patience with us, let’s try practicing it with one another and ourselves. There will be resurrection in time. Patience will help you to see your life as a marathon and not a sprint. It helps ground us in thoughtful rhetoric instead of a quick hot take which does us or no one else any good. Wait and pray. Then wait some more.
I think the second tool patience will lead us to is discernment. Essentially discernment is the power to see what is not evident to the average mind. It stresses accuracy. It offers us the ability to read someone’s character, appreciate art, make difficult decisions besides other things.
Discernment really helps us to identify what we see before us. Martin Luther once wrote: “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed” (LW 32:24). Discernment is learning to think God’s thoughts after Him, practically and spiritually; it means having a sense of how things look in God’s eyes and seeing them in some measure “uncovered and laid bare.” How often might we hear an expressed opinion or viewpoint from someone that disappoints us? Perhaps we say to ourselves “I thought that person would have thought more deeply or have more discernment than that.” Or how often might people think that of us after we offer a quick response or thoughtless opinion? Understanding discernment from a biblical viewpoint can be helpful. The word used in Psalm 119:66 means “taste.” It is the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action. It includes the ability to “weigh up” and assess the moral and spiritual status of individuals, groups, and even movements. How different might our world look if we “tasted” or discerned things like this? Jesus’ discernment penetrated to the deepest reaches of the heart. Thus, while warning us against judgmentalism, Jesus urges us to be discerning and discriminating, lest we cast our pearls before pigs (Matt. 7:1, 6). This is discernment without judgmentalism. Jesus assessed every situation in the light of God’s Word and love. Discernment means seeing the world through the lens of faith and discipleship. It means trusting God and your gut. Discernment helps us to “taste and see” that there is more than meets the eye. When we can view things from this vantage point, we begin to see racism, bigotry, poverty, privilege, a fallen world that has been there around us the whole time.
The third and final tool is kindness. Our patience gifts us with deliberate time to discern. These tools lead us to ask the question: what is the kindest choice to make? Kindness sows the seeds of trust, hope and love. Kindness marks us as humble. When the world is cruel and unforgiving, remain kind and honest and when we live into that kindness we will be a good representative of Jesus, who is our measuring stick as his disciples. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. We’ve heard about doing “random acts of kindness.” How about we do intentional acts of kindness? Take care of the stranger, learn about different cultures, volunteer your time helping others, becoming a mentor, don’t yell at your spouses or kids, respecting the beautiful colors of every single person. The biblical stories of Jesus are overflowing with kindness: touching the untouchable, spending time with the outcast and rejected, showing compassion on those suffering, offering his life for others. Jesus demonstrated that if we step outside of our lives and create acts of kindness to the unsuspecting, the undeserving or the hurting, we could change the world. We could make the world a real community where love and joy flow and heal broken places. A life that is patient, discerning and kind is one that could change the world.
We are in an age and world that profits from and supports cheap digs, verbal assaults, physical attacks, hot takes, bullying, vitriol spewing, cancel culture and so much more. This is a challenging time for the human race. When people are bold enough to cry out with their pain, it is an act of noticing God to receive their cries without defensiveness. If this is challenging for us, I pray that you might adopt these practices…patience, discernment, kindness…taking a deep breath…trying to receive the experiences of others as experiences of others, rather than something to be debated. Let’s remember our humanness these days.
You and I have the opportunity, though, to swing the pendulum through the Spirit. What if we all were more patient, more discerning and more kind? Love in the end will win out. I wonder if these three tools might help us reach that world and kingdom a little more quickly. Try it. Try being more patient, more discerning and more kind in your marriages, friendships, with your kids, co-workers, neighbors, church members…and yes even try it with those on the other side of the political spectrum. Try being more understanding and compassionate with people who have different skin colors than yourself. Try being patient and kind with yourself. Ask God each day to help you be more kind, patient and discerning. These are lessons and tools we all need to be learning and re-learning. Let’s hold fast to the dream God has envisioned for this world and make it a reality!