The Hatefulness of not playing favorites

I’m a terrible person.  Or so I am tempted to believe as a result of a phone conversation that ended a few minutes ago.

Of course, I can think of all kinds of reasons he was wrong, but all  of these reasons are playing less loudly right now than the reminder of his voice.

“So, you hate veterans?”  He hung up before I could answer.

Of course I don’t hate veterans!  But, while I could have shot this simple statement out before he disconnected, I didn’t even mutter these words because that wasn’t an answer to what was actually happening.

He didn’t really care if I cared about veterans.  He cared if I cared about him.  Making things even more difficult than that, the only way I could prove to him that I cared about him was if I gave him exactly what he was asking for.

He did what he was supposed to do, right?  His best play was the card he had that could most likely win; his best card was the “veteran” card. He had already played the “my grandfather was a pastor” card, and that hadn’t worked.

In that moment, he wanted me to play favorites. More accurately, he was hoping I would both play favorites and that he, in one category or another he had presented to me, was in my list of favorites.

At this point it would be easiest for me to call up the “God is no respecter of persons,” which is how the King James version translated it.  The Common English Bible renders it “God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.” (Acts 10:34)

That’s where most of us go to fight playing favorites. There are plenty of other places in the scripture we could go, if we wanted to. Matthew 19:24 and Matthew 25:31-46 come to mind quickly.

So was I playing favorites by choosing that verse?

Are we are always choosing to play favorites, one way or another? Is it really a matter of being honest with ourselves and with others about how we choose favorites?

I am left with the story of the starfish.

White finger starfish and seashells
White finger starfish and seashells

However it is that we play favorites, may we realize that in helping one, any one, we at least offer help to that one. Whether or not we change the world in doing so, we might hope to be part of the change in that one’s world.

The Hatefulness of not playing favorites

W’s Qs #2

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples.  He established small groups everywhere he went.  When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the second question:

  1. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

Many congregations have at least one of these people, but in one church I served her name was Esther.  Esther believed that she should always speak her mind, no matter who it hurt along the way.

I read in a Chuck Swindoll book of that same era that “honesty is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue.”

I think this misconception of honesty – sharing my opinion no matter the personal or relational cost – is exactly what this second question of Wesley’s small groups intends to address.

Notice it asks, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” (emphasis added) I think honesty in our actions will sometimes cause us to limit the words we use. Honest actions make us choose our words more wisely.

So, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” Is a great question for any of us who would follow Jesus to consider regularly.  Additionally, we are most likely to grow more honest in acts and words when we hold ourselves accountable to someone else.

I believe that, at its best, honesty in acts and words means consideration for one’s own worth and that of others.

W’s Qs #2

You Don’t Preach Right!

“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”

This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently.  This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.

Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.

My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.

I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.

For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach.  Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.

I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.

A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether.  What I think really happened was an incident of either

  1. “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
  2. “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.

Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?

You Don’t Preach Right!

Racial This, Ethnic That…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Or, in this case, the first step is admitting you have an identity.

A racial identity.

An ethnic identity.

Once more I received notice from something/somewhere United Methodist offering “racial/ethnic scholarship”

Does this mean that anyone who has a racial or ethnic identification, but only those who have such identification can apply?

Of course not!  It clearly means that emphasis is being made to attract and include people of racial and ethnic minority groups to participate.

Am I opposed to that?  As Pete the Cat would say, “Oh, heavens no!”

Rather, I think that recognizing the condition of racial ethnic minorities as such is not enough.

I think that we ought all recognize our own racial and ethnic identities.

Using “racial/ethnic” as shorthand for “racial/ethnic minorities” maintains the fiction that some of us have no identity except as individuals.  It’s just all those other people – the hyphenateds – who have some specific identity.

That some people have an identity as individuals and others don’t is fiction.

All of us have a story.  More importantly, every one of us has a story and is part of a larger story.

If or when some of us pretend we all have the same story we deny the reality of another person’s story.

If or when some of us pretend that we have no story at all, that we are each just absolute individuals in the moment, we deny social reality and the fact that we live in time.

There is no subset of humanity that can be defined as “racial/ethnic.” We all are.

And I am quite confident we will be better off once we admit it.

Racial This, Ethnic That…

Thinking without thinking

We had a fascinating discussion yesterday at our Lenten Wednesday Lunch Study.  As you might expect, the discussion really got me thinking.

We were talking about being righteous. Specifically about whether or not we are. Righteous, that is; whether or not we are righteous.

Of course, the talk quickly moved toward our being righteous “in God’s eyes.”  This, many Christians understand, is the work and gift of Jesus.

God sees us as righteous thanks to Jesus’ life and sacrificial death on the cross.

Good news, right?

Yes, except that thinking of ourselves as righteous tends to get us into trouble.  (See “self-righteous”)

On the other hand, refusing to recognize that Jesus actually opens this opportunity to us, leaves us as miserable sinners, condemned always to fail.

How do we carve out space in the middle – acknowledging AND accepting this good gift from God – to understand that, thanks to Jesus, we are (first) seen as righteous by God and (second) actually grow in righteousness as we follow Jesus?

I’ve got a few ideas, and invite yours as well.

  1. We must keep in mind that the righteousness that indeed becomes ours is given – offered freely – to us.
  2. In would likely help if we focused more on recognizing everyone else as someone who has been offered this gift even more than remembering that we (ourselves) have been offered the gift.  In other words, practice this: every person you see, think to yourself “God sees that person as righteous through Jesus’ gift.”
  3. Take some time each day to reflect on the ways God has worked in your life that day.
Thinking without thinking

Do you really want what you want?

snowroofAfter a few fleeting moments of playing in the snow this morning, the kids were inside, warm, and dry. And ready to watch something.

Hello, Netflix!

Eliza wanted to watch Annie.

Liam wanted to watch Mater’s Tale Tales. Then Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

It turns out it was Liam’s turn to choose, so two things happened:

1) we started Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and
2) Eliza threw a small fit.

It was a very small fit: actually fairly worthy of the moment, and quickly left behind.
Within minutes – no more than 10 – both of them were enjoying the movie.

This is how it often goes with our kids.  Loudly (and proudly?) claim your preference.  Get louder if someone else claims an alternative preference.

Stand your ground

Raise the stakes

Refuse to listen, negotiate, or compromise.

Throw a fit if you don’t get your way.

I realized yesterday that we don’t necessarily unlearn this pattern as we grow up.

We don’t always want what we want. Sometimes we just don’t want to let someone else have a say.

It’s hard to listen when you are shouting, “My way or the highway!”

While this is worth considering for anyone, I particularly hope my church, the United Methodist Church #UMC, will give it thought.

We’ve not been listening so well to each other lately.  On some things, we have dug in for decades and refused to actually listen.

We want what we want. Or do we?

Do you really want what you want?