Imitate Me!

“I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. ”                                                                      1 Corinthians 4:16

Before I went into ministry, I worked in the corporate world.  I rode the train into Philadelphia every morning. This was a time when both men and women wore business suits every day.  I had suits with skirts and suits with pants.  And many of the men wore 3 piece suits, mostly with however, white or tan shirts.  These were the uniforms of the day.

One year, we hired a new senior executive from outside the company.  From the very beginning, he set a new style.  He wore pink shirts, and frequently sported a bow tie.  Almost every day, while others wore ordinary white or neutral business shirts, he wore a pink shirt and bow tie with his suit.  And despite his colorful wardrobe, he also began to move up in the company, receiving promotions and gaining power and status.  It wasn’t long before pink shirts started showing up on junior executives in his own and other departments.  They wanted to be like him!

Imitation, it has been said, is the purest form of flattery.  It’s also a natural reaction to seeing another’s success.  When basketball stars wear a particular brand of shoe, there are many who go out and buy that same shoe, hoping to be like LeBron James or Stephan Curry.  When a movie star endorses a beauty product saying she uses it, women will flock to the store to buy the same product.  And unfortunately, when a powerful public figure spews hate and discrimination, there are some in our society who will rush to imitate.

Just this summer, the Wellesley, Mass. school system reported that racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic online posts had been made by Wellesley High School students.  This is in an affluent, upscale suburb of Boston, and this kind of language had never been an issue there before.  Over the last year, we have heard too many racist comments and slurs against people groups, words that were likely imitated by these youth.  Is this what we want our culture to become?

The Apostle Paul says “Imitate me!”  And in 1 Corinthians, he expands that: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ!”  We don’t imitate Paul because we want to be like Paul; we imitate him because we want to be like Christ.  God sent us not a book of instruction, but a person, the Son, to show us how to live.  He is to be the one we imitate.

Paul makes it clear in Philippians what that kind of life looks like.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Let these attitudes fill your heart and direct your life.  Let us keep our focus on the God of Jesus Christ who calls us to live holy lives of love, grace and truth..

Prayer:  Heavenly master, help me to keep my eyes on you and your son, Jesus Christ.  Let my life reflect your love.  Let my heart be filled with your goodness.  Let those who look at me see a child of your kingdom who strives each day to be worthy of the grace you have given me.  For I ask it in Christ’s holy name.  Amen.   

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Praying for Clinton and Trump?

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First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

                                                                                                1 Timothy 2:1-2

 

In 1981, James Hinkley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, the actress about whom Hinkley was obsessed.  Although Reagan survived, his Press Secretary, James Brady, was shot and paralyzed.  In 2014, he died from causes related to the shooting over thirty years prior.  After the shooting, Brady and his wife became activists for gun control.  At one point, Brady’s wife was struggling with her anger at the press for what she was as mistreatment of her husband in newspaper articles.  She struggled with her anger, not knowing how to get over it.  A wise pastor counseled her to begin praying for reporters, and not just praying for some amorphous group, but to pray for one or two by name as individuals.

In the beginning Mrs. Brady struggled to pray anything meaningful, but she kept at it. Day after day, she asked God to bless and support specific reporters who had been especially harsh in their words about her husband.  Her prayers were half-hearted at first, praying because she had to, not because she truly wanted the object of her prayers to be blessed.  She reports that it took quite a while, but at last she began to pray in a new way.  She discovered that the act of praying for someone had, over time, opened her heart to care about them and to want what was best for them.  Her prayers became genuine expressions of care and concern.

In the letter to Timothy, Paul reminds us that we are not invited to pick and choose for whom we will pray.  God expects us to offer prayer support to all of our leaders.  If you’re a Republican, that means praying for President Obama and Hillary Clinton; if you’re a Democrat, it means offering prayers for Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.  At first those prayers may be half-hearted and elementary, but if you stick with it, praying regularly for the leaders with whom you disagree as well as those you support, you may find, over time, that your heart opens to care for them as God cares for them.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their policies or support their positions, but it does mean that you and I can learn to exercise that love for one another that is God’s expectation for all people.

When we move beyond simplistic prayers to truly seeking the good for another person, we discover that they are a whole person, not just some demagogue.  We are reminded that each of us needs forgiveness, grace and love.  And we may learn that the ones we like are as flawed as those with whom we disagree.  Furthermore, whether we support a particular leader or not, they are often in a position where their words and actions can have tremendous influence in our world.  Should we not keep them in prayer, asking God to help their words and actions build people up rather than tearing down and destroying?

So I invite you in the campaign season to begin a discipline of prayer, asking God’s blessing not only on the candidates you support, but on those with whom you disagree.  Let us love one another, showing that caring spirit in our prayers, as we lift before the Lord all “who are in high positions.”

Prayer:   Gracious God, you have called us to love one another and to seek the good for each other.  And so today I lift up to you (name of politician you do not support).  I pray that you will bless them in their life.  In this campaign season, give them strength and stamina, clarity of thought and insight into the needs of your people.  Help me to care about them as an individual even when I disagree with their policies.  Open their heart to your love, that they may lead in ways that offer life and love to the world.  For I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

All Right or All Wrong?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.                              image

                                 Romans 3:23

I wasn’t really aware of Gold Star families until the controversy between Donald Trump and the Khan family.  Hearing several of the families discuss the loss of loved ones in active duty, I gained an appreciation for the sacrifice these families gave tad to make for our nation.  So earlier this week, when I found myself behind a car with a license plate indicating they were a Gold Star family, I was immediately predisposed to feel good about them.  That lasted about three minutes!

We were exiting Route 202 and approaching the traffic light where the ramp met the main road.  I watched as the Gold Star family car slowed as the light changed to yellow and then to red.  With his left turn blinker on, the driver had ample time to stop, but after slowing briefly, he seemed to change his mind.  Stepping on the gas, he blew through the red light, careening around the corner as the cars on the main road began to move.

I was reminded that none of us is perfect.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line between good and evil runs through the center of the human heart.  Most of us are a combination of the two.  We are honorable in some areas, and scoundrels in others.  Even Hillary and Donald have good points and bad ones.

Seeing people in terms of absolutes is one way to demonize a person, to steal their humanity away.  It is important not to idealize people as if they had no faults, nor to condemn them as if they had no value as persons.  We are all a mixture of self-interest and self-sacrifice, a melange of greed and generosity.  Too much of our contemporary debate ignores that.  We paint people in monochrome – all good or all bad – whether in political debate or ecclesiastical debate.  When we demonize or idealize people, we structure disagreements in ways that preclude any reasonable discussion.  After all, if they are evil, so is every idea they have and I can dismiss everything they say. 

When we are tempted to dismiss someone’s words, we need to stop and ask ourselves, have I given thought to this idea, or am I dismissing it because of who it came from?  And when we find ourselves painting someone with that monochromatic paintbrush, we can stop and take stock of both the good and the bad they represent.  Most of all, we can pray for those with whom we disagree, asking God’s blessing for them.  In that way, we can move ourselves a little more to the good side of the line through our own heart.

Prayer:  Gracious Lord, through Jesus Christ you came to a people mired in sin and affirmed the  good within us.  Help me to see others in that same way – to recognize the sinfulness and evil while still affirming the good and righteous.  Keep me from reducing people to two dimensional figures who exist only in my imagination.  Show me once more how to love even the unlovely, and to challenge those I admire.  Most of all, remind me that I am a mixture of admirable traits and dishonorable qualities.   Forgive my failures to live in imitation of Christ.  Empower me anew to live in response to your call to my better self.  Amen.

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Setting Aside Bitterness and Anger

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“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 
                                                            Ephesians 4:31-32
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Over the last two weeks, we have watched political rhetoric at its height.  First the Republican and then the Democratic conventions presented their respective candidates and their positions with speeches, endorsements, music and balloons.  Hyperbole and attack language filled the convention halls.  And throughout these two weeks, Facebook and Twitter have been overheating with responses from people on the left and on the right.
This week, I read the words of one friend who wrote, “I hate Hillary Clinton.”  I was very surprised by his words, since we first met at church and I know he considers himself a solid Christian.  I felt his language was inappropriate for a Christian, but I hesitated to respond to him  I thought about simply unfriending him, but finally felt I had to address his words directly with him.  I wrote back to him that I was disappointed to hear a fellow Christian use the words “I hate” about a person.  I explained I was upset by his statement knowing he considered himself a Christian, reminding him that we can disagree with another person, we can hate their policies, but our Christian faith calls us to set aside all hate and anger towards persons.
My friend responded later that day in the most wonderful way.  He wrote on his Facebook page that “a friend” had called him on his language and he realized his words were inappropriate for a Christian.  He apologized for the statement, and then went on in a more reasoned way to explain his disagreement with the Clinton campaign.  And I found myself so filled – filled with forgiveness for my friend, filled with repentance for any ways I myself may have committed the same acts, and filled with gratitude that God had led me to call out my friend on his words.
There are three full months of campaign still ahead for us.  There will be many outrageous statements and efforts to demonize others by both sides of the race, Republican and Democratic.  Let’s commit to setting aside bitterness and anger, wrangling and slander and malice.  And let’s agree to call out anyone who claims the name of Christ but acts in ways that deny that allegiance, whether they are candidates, campaign workers or friends down the street.  Let’s act in ways that will lead others, on every side of politics, on every side of any debate, to see the love of God in our words and actions.  Let kindness, respect and love be our guiding principles even in the midst of disagreement.
Prayer: Eternal God, you have called us to seek justice and love kindness.  You have told us that what we do to the least, we do to you.  Help us in the coming months to see your face not only in the faces of those with whom we agree, but also in the faces of our opponents.  Give us the grace to speak with love and kindness even when we disagree.  Let us lead with love so that all the world will look and see in us the love of the God who welcomed us even when we were sinners, acting in opposition to God’s kingdom.  For I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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God and the Electoral Process

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“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
                                                                              1 Corinthians 13:1

Have you been watching the political process in our country as we’ve seen it acted out in the primary campaigns going on? Listening to the candidates, we might wonder if this is a country of liars or non-Christians who bicker and backbite! Truth and civility seem to be the casualties of the electoral process.  I listened as one commentator talked about his sons, one college age and one high school age, remarking that they would never consider running for office on the basis of the attacks and smear campaigns they are witnessing in this year’s electoral process.  Their reaction saddened me as I wondered, are we driving away the gifted by the nature of contemporary campaigns, and only getting candidates who are committed to misbehaving?

Is it possible to get elected and not lie?  Is it possible to get elected and be decent and civil in he process?  Can a real Christian who commits to truth-telling and love for fellow humans even run for office?  These are questions we need to be asking ourselves.  These are qualities we need to demand in our candidates.  No, it isn’t nearly as much fun to watch a civil debate as it is to see the fireworks in personal attacks; it isn’t nearly as entertaining to hear policy descriptions and factual information as it is to see candidates tear each other apart with innuendo and half-truths.  But we, the American people, will get what we demand, and if we don’t demand civility and truthfulness in our electoral process, we’ll get the alternative – half truths and personal demonization.

Regardless of politics, it pains me to see someone like Gen. Colin Powell step away from the political process because of the potential cost to his family. Are we losing the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of truly gifted candidates because of the process we have created? It may be that the candidate who truly espouses Christian virtues cannot be elected in this country.  That would make me very sad, but I have to consider that possibility.  But I would love to see somebody try; I’d love to see a candidate tell the truth to the best of their ability and refrain from personal attacks.  Wouldn’t that be a novel approach? Perhaps the problem, however, is not in the candidates but in us, the electorate.  Perhaps we get the behavior we reward. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, what do we really want in our election process, because it may be that despite our protests to the contrary, we are getting exactly what we want

 

Prayer:    Almighty God, you have gifted and equipped some to be leaders in the civic arena, and called them to exercise their gifts for the good of all people.  And yet the very process by which we select leaders seems to deny your law and discourage some truly gifted candidates from entering the arena. Help me by my actions to encourage a process that conforms to your expectations of how we are to live together.  Let me not only affirm community with my lips, but let me live it with my life, so that those who are gifted and called will be willing to share their gifts without risk to themselves and their families.  Amen.