Learning to share

I can remember when I was a young boy at home playing with my toys. Whether indoors or out, I would be all alone, yet conjure up an assortment of imaginary companions as I conducted the work of play.

Actually, we learn from developmental psychology that play is for children the practice of work. We learn, indeed, to do adult work by participating in child’s play

So I would be playing along just fine as a young boy. Me, myself, I and my imaginary companions. Until with a knock on the door, I would find my playground party crashed by the neighbor kids, cousins, or whathaveyou. These others would want to play with my toys. And I used to think of them as “messing with my stuff” when I was a kid.

Wisely, my own Mom, God bless her, would use such vulnerable occasions in my impressionable years as “teachable moments” in which to say, “now you need to share your toys with others.” Grudgingly, I’d back off from my position of selfish control and give my visitors free reign over the toys I used to have all for myself. I’d go along with their messing with my stuff after all. Together, these visitors would become my playmates, and we would learn how to negotiate, how to compromise, how to “play nice,” and how to turn imaginary companions into actual friendships. I would forsake my unique privilege of ownership, and turn my Me into a We.

All of this comes back to me now in my 70th year of life as I consider my life as a healthy white anglo-saxon male protestant Christian American. I was truly born into privilege. Amen?

In fact, my life may be a rather accurate metaphor for the United States here in 2016. A nation of mostly white Christians, we have had a grand old time playing with our own stuff all this time.

Haven’t we?

Our imaginary companions have all been pretty much like us, doing as they are told, and letting us decide the rules of conduct if they dare to mess with our country. We were here first, so we claim ownership of our toys as if we went to work earning them all fair and square for a living. We won’t count all the ones others designed, made, sold, bought, or gave us. We have pride in ownership. So don’t confuse us with the facts.

Now there’s been a knock on our door.

We’ve got company.

Some we had invited. But who invited these “others?”

They all want to join in playing with our toys. And in the invention of new rules, new games, new uses for toys we’d always imagined belonged to us alone. It’s called immigration. It’s called democracy. And, truth be told, a bunch of us want “them” to leave, go back home, and be “walled” off from our own unique privilege. We want life to be “our way or the highway.”

Wisely, Jesus, God bless Him, will use such vulnerable occasions in our impressionable years as “teachable moments” in which to say, “now you need to love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, “now you need to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” All of us white kids…….and, let’s face it, we never stop being God’s children……..who hear what Jesus has said are tempted to rebel against such re-direction. If someone else pops up who says, Make America Great Again, we’d maybe prefer thinking God sent him to us instead. We’re going to build a wall. We’re going to stop those refugees from coming to our land.  Finally!!!!    Someone God has sent with permission for us to rebel against Jesus!    

Well, I didn’t always appreciate what my own dear Mother had to say in such teachable moments as those in my childhood.

But I do now.

Because it sounds an awful lot like what Jesus is still saying to me, and to all of us as white Christian Americans in 2016, if only we will learn to pay attention to the God who actually owns all our toys in the first place.   And who still says, as in Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him!”

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God’s plans — part two

The Bible is divided into two essential covenants between God and God’s people. The first, which we call the Old Testament, involved God’s covenants, promises, and, yes, plans as revealed by the prophets of Israel as a nation. It was exclusively for the Jews. It revealed God’s good plans to prosper his Jewish people if they would love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with God. Such “good news” involved plans God made that mostly failed. Life, one might even say, is what happens when God is busy making other plans.

We sometimes like to say that if we want to make God laugh, tell him our plans.

The Bible’s Old Testament, ironically, indicates that if God wanted to make people laugh, he should tell us his plans. And if you don’t believe me, just consider once again the prophet, Jeremiah. He became a laughingstock among his own Jewish people for telling them God’s plans. Only the false prophets of that day were taken seriously. The true prophets such as Jeremiah were scorned and ridiculed. God’s plans to allow Judah, like Israel to the north, freedom of choice but responsibility of consequence, made folks laugh. All the way into slavery in Babylon for the next 70 years!

The Bible’s New Testament reveals God’s next plans and even better good news not through the prophets but through God incarnate coming himself to earth in the body of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s see how that goes over.

Will these plans still make people laugh?

What do you think?

Well, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion suggest there were likely some soldiers who scorned, ridiculed, and actually laughed out loud at him. In between their spits to his face.  Because God’s new plan, new covenant, was the promise of God’s Kingdom of peace and justice to come not only for the Jews but for the entire world of God’s human creation. Yet, this would not be a political Kingdom but rather Spiritual. It would come only when people followed the moral example of Jesus as taught by both word and deed. Doing what Jesus said and what Jesus did would bring peace and justice for all the world, Jew and Gentile, male and female, old and young. God’s plan was for all, not just some, to prosper. Indeed, the plan God revealed himself, in the form of his own human body, Jesus Christ, would fulfill the good news of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Only this new plan, New Testament, would be for all the world and not just some, because the whole world is in exile away from the Kingdom of God as originally created for all humanity. We are all in captivity or bondage. We are all slaves, all oppressed, all poor, all sick, and all hungry. We are all stuck in the Babylon of our own sin.

And we, seeking our own kingdom of national exceptionalism, exclusion, and triumphalism over our enemies, are laughing. God’s plan of universal privilege, prosperity for all rather than harmful poverty for some, hope and a future rather than fear of the future, inclusivity and not exclusivity, and one world full of peace and justice…………….is making us laugh. Our own life is what happens while God is busy making other plans. God’s Kingdom as revealed by God himself in the person of Jesus is our ultimate LOL.

May God have mercy on us.

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God’s Plans — part one

Have a few more questions to ask today if you’d be willing to consider them for yourself. Starting out easy, do you like to plan ahead sometimes? Do you ever have to cancel your plans? Have you ever cancelled a plan you’ve had because someone else offered you an even better plan they happened to have?

Stayed tuned to find out why these questions are important.

Many, perhaps most, Christians think that in the Bible God reveals his own plans for our future. If you’ve personally thought in those terms about the Bible, perhaps you also have a particular verse in the Bible that you might associate with God’s plans.

I sometimes hear folks say they claim God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, that reads: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Typically, they find this verse reassuring in terms of their own personal future they believe God has all planned out for them. These folks think in terms of their own individual prosperity to come. They like that kind of plan on God’s part, for rather obvious reasons, and like to claim its promise.

As a pastor, I used to inwardly cringe at hearing folks refer to this verse. I hated the thought of bursting their bubble by telling them the truth about its meaning in context, so typically I’d let it go as is. Let them interpret it to their own personal satisfaction. Even though the biblical truth is God was NOT making this promise to Jeremiah personally, or anyone else personally or individually. The whole idea of salvation from God throughout the Bible was that it is collective, not individual; something God continually does for the whole group, not just one member. Personal salvation was never even mentioned throughout the scriptures of our Old or New Testaments. Rather, God was telling Jeremiah in 29:11 to promise all the captives taken from their nation of Judah to the nation of Babylon that he planned for “their” future return home and their collective, not personal, prosperity.

Hope in reading this now you don’t find it offensive, but God’s plans may not be for you personally but rather for you socially or culturally. That’s what the Bible consistently says about God’s plans. God manages the macro, not the micro; the big picture and not the little details.   Supposing God actually counts the hairs on your head today, he has no plans for how many you’ll have left tomorrow.

I know. This spoils any hope that God is a U.S citizen, or a champion of western civilization with its post-medieval emphasis on self-determination. So much for our own “rugged individualism” or personal prosperity as being a “God thing.” The prosperity gospelists will now label me a heretic for sure, as if I really cared.

Staying a bit longer with Jeremiah in the Old Testament, we may learn a lot from its reading about how God goes about making plans. Besides doing so for nations or cultures, not individuals. The jist of God’s plan as revealed to Jeremiah is that God will not interfere to prevent the nation of Judah from reaping what it sows, or you may prefer “from experiencing the full consequences of their own collective choices.” God plans NOT to prevent either Judahs’ freedom of choice or responsibility of consequence. Even if that consequence would be the destruction of the Temple located in Jerusalem. And, as you may already know, this is exactly what happened. The nation of Babylon came to Jerusalem and destroyed everything, even the Temple of God. God never did reveal to Jeremiah any plan to protect even his own Temple, let alone the good individuals of Judah, from bad suffering.  Never promised to prevent “harm” from any individual member of that larger social body called the nation of Judah. God only planned to save the nation; not its individual citizens.

Already you may be thinking up objections to use against me here, at least in your own mind, and you may especially object when I tell you that the Bible’s final book, the Revelation of John, should probably be read applying the same lesson we learned from Jeremiah. God’s final plan is not about you. Or me. The book of Revelation, like the book of Jeremiah, is not really about even us. That’s right. It was about the 1st century Christians, especially those of Jewish background, who were in exile away from second-Temple Jerusalem, where yet again the Temple of God had been destroyed by Rome, also known in Revelation as “Babylon.”  And as with the original Babylonian exiles to whom God promised through Jeremiah, God’s plan through John was for these current 1st century exiles to have a future with prosperity and not harm.

You see, God has used the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle John to communicate God’s own plans for the larger community of people now suffering while away from home. Communal prosperity, not communal harm, is the plan. And from these two books of scripture we can learn that God’s plans for people, as a whole community or culture, will always be good, and will always come true. Trouble is these plans are never the same as we had for ourselves, which were indeed about “self.”    Yet, they are, we learn from scripture, so much better than ours that, given the choice, we may well cancel even our own plans in order to participate in God’s plans.

Next time, I’ll be referring to God’s ultimate plan as revealed by Jesus. Spoiler alert: it’s even better than the plans revealed by Jeremiah and by John. Similar as they may be in some respects dealing with collective prosperity instead of harm, this ultimate plan is the best ever possible.   I can hardly wait to share it with you!!

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