Daily Devotional: Seeing Christ in the Other

body-of-christ.independencemochurchActs 21:37-22:16

What stands out to me as I read Paul’s words before the tribunal, is how in his experience of the risen Christ, Christ tells Paul that it is He, the living Christ, whom Paul is persecuting as he persecutes Christians.

I believe there is a sense in which Christ is ever saying this to all of us.   If we had the ears to hear it, when our Christian ancestors persecuted other believers in the early Christian era of the Roman empire whom they deemed “heretics”, they could hear the voice of Christ saying “Why do you persecute me?”   When later, the Inquisition persecuted and tortured Jews and Muslims in Spain and elsewhere, if we had but listened right we could have heard Christ whispering to us, “Why do you persecute me?” When my ancestors were complicit in the kidnapping of human beings from Africa, selling them into slavery, and keeping them enslaved across the United States – and almost every white family that dates its arrival back that far is somewhat complicit due to how entrenched slavery was into our American economy – I would have heard the voice of Christ saying “Why do you enslave me? Why do you whip me? Why do you take my children away from me and sell them up river?”

JohnGiulianiTheCompassionateChrist_500In truth the cry Paul hears is one made by the living Christ on behalf of all who face persecution in our world. Christ appears in our midst if we have eyes to see and ears to hear saying “Why did you do this to me, or not do what is right to me”, for whatever we do or fail to do on behalf of the cast down, forgotten, and oppressed in our midst we do to Christ.

In my life, I can say there have been times I heard this call – such as when I sat with a man who told me “here’s the thing preacher, I am gay” and by listening to his voice I began to hear the cry of Christ “Why do you persecute me? Why do you kick me out of my church and stand by why people kick me out of their families?   Why do you not embrace me in love?” a cry found in the voice of countless gay and lesbian people.

I also began to hear it far too late, in the voice of people around me of other faiths, as I began to see the living presence I know as the living Christ in them, who began to say “why do you persecute me?  Why do you speak of me as if God does not live in me and through me, though I call God by other names?” as I began to realize the subtle ways my way of living my faith put down people of other faiths by speaking as if only my own path, Christianity, had truth.

black sacred heart of jesusBut also I have to confess times I look back and see I didn’t listen. Or heard but found myself uncertain as to how to respond.  Even these occasions — these moments of conversion to the living voice of Christ — came after already walking down paths that unknowingly caused me to be a persecutor of the living Christ who was to be found in others different than myself.

I think we must listen, learn to look, pray to have our eyes, like Paul’s, opened more clearly, that we may see the living Christ in our midst, in each person be they outcast, friend, family, neighbor, stranger, exile, or seeming enemy. In each we encounter Christ lives. In each we meet we have a call to recognize the living Christ in our midst, and respond in love.

Let’s work together to do that today and all our days.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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“Because I Love My Country…”

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Growing up in Fayetteville, NC, the southern town that supports one of the largest military bases in the country – Fort Bragg – the Fourth of July has always been an important time for me. Just thinking of it I can taste sweet watermelon in my mouth and smell the barbecue grilling thing up. My toes are already imagining being wet and wrinkly, since often times we would go down to a man-made lake in town to swim. One year I remember my dad being in a contest where folks swam into the lake, trying to compete to win holiday watermelons.

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I remember my excitement laying down by the car, watching the fireworks by Fort Bragg exploding with light and fury.

Without a doubt, nearly every year since I was child I heard the following every fourth of July:

Some of you, like me, begin to hum along and sit up straighter as those notes begin to play.

This year as I join family and friends for fourth of July celebrations, I have an odd mix of feelings.

As I mentioned earlier, this past year my wife Kat and I were blessed to host an international exchange student from Kenya. As the one of the two of us who reads history books for fun (yes, I am that much of a nerd, believe it or not), I ended up being the one who got to help her study her US history class. That, together with watching together this year’s US election and also following the news for the election in her home country of Kenya put things in perspective.

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On the one hand I can say, with Lee Greenwood, that I am very proud to be an American. Our exchange student who, like my wife, has spina bifida and thus gets around in a wheelchair, told us many times how nice it was to be staying this year in a place where, although discrimination against people with disabilities happens, it is against the law. She told us that the US was the first real place she’d been to where every business and institution had to put in wheelchair ramps and other features to make sure people like her were not excluded. Her dream, she said, is to become a human rights lawyer like the one who works with my wife Kat when she encounters barriers. “I want my country to become a place where people don’t have these barriers to get around too”.

Also when the election came – and she was an Obama supporter (“His family is from Kenya, after all”) – I heard questions like this: What if the election is contested? Will there be violence in the streets? She was reassured to be told, no, we have not had that happen in a long time over an election. She told me how in Kenya that had happened in the recent past, and how often concerns about corruption happened. For the first time in my life I told the tale of George Bush, Al Gore, and the hanging chads not while hanging my head down low, but proudly. Whatever can be said about that incident, it didn’t end in violence. Instead the rule of law prevailed.

This year there are many reasons to be proud to be an American. We have in around 200 years or so gone from enslaving black people, to having the first president of color. We have just ended two laws that have been very harmful to GLBT people – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

For many, many reasons I am proud to be an American.

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Yet talking to her this past year, also got me realizing that there are many things I don’t think I would stand up next to you and defend America about still today. One moment in particular that made me think about this was when she asked me, “So, you all are not Europeans?”

“Um… not exactly.”

“So you are like my people in Kenya – your ancestors are from here.”

“No, my ancestors are from Europe”.

“What happened to the people who lived here before you?”

This led into a discussion of how my ancestors took the land of Native American tribes, of the Trail of Tears, and of centuries of systemic discrimination.

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This reminded me that we need to be careful of thinking loving our country means agreeing with all it does.

Reverend Jarrod Cochran, who helped found the association I serve in and is its current chair, once said that too many “believe that the American flag and [their favorite political] Party were baptized in the blood of Jesus”.  Too often, especially here in the south, we identify American culture and government with Christianity, as if the American way is the same thing as the Gospel.

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Philippians 3 tells us, on the other hand, that “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our Lord himself encourages us in Luke 20 “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This means that, yes, we do need to give some honor, respect, and appreciation to our country, but we can’t make it take the place of God and God’s kingdom. Instead loving our country should challenge us to sometimes. A part of loving our country is helping let it know when it is not living up to the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. It is being able about certain issues to say as Dr. King said in his sermon opposing the Vietnam War,

“I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love.”

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In reality, this side of glory there will always be areas where any nation or community will fall short of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Our call, if we are to truly love our country is, in those moments, to show our love by speaking out against how we fail to live up to our best ideals and calling us back.

How do you live out that tension? About what things can you say proudly you would stand up next to me and defend our country for today? About what things would need to say “I oppose” this “because I love America?”

And I’m not just whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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