Removing the Politics out of Loving my Neighbor

I think that one of the greatest disservices that we commit against one another is that of labeling each other. I understand that sometimes we need labels, especially in this culture we live in, but far too often those boxes that we label people into are boxes of judgment and stereotypes. I was born and raised as a Baptist, and up until a few years ago, I was content with that label of a Baptist. However, during that time if someone had labeled me into the same box as a Westboro Church Baptist, I would have been deeply offended, because not all Baptists wield picketing signs that read “God hates fags”.

I am guessing the same sentiment is true for my Muslim friends who are so often immediately labeled as a “Radical Islamic”, and yet we do it. Last week I saw a Facebook post that made a blanket and ugly statement about Muslim people, and I literally wept in horror. Later that evening I was talking to my husband about it, and I shared that I did not understand why I felt so much pain and responded with so much grief to what I had read. He answered, because when you read that, you picture all of your Muslim friends in Ethiopia, who you love and who you know fit none of those labels. He was right.  I think that what hurts most about labels is that they mostly happen outside of a relationship. We share posts on Facebook that box people into just one way of being – we judge the heck out of someone that we do not even know and we excuse ourself from the greatest command that we were given – love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Sometimes love looks as simple as thinking twice before we share something on social media that unjustly labels an entire group of people.

We use labels to determine who is worthy of our love and who is not – who is in and who is out. Inside the polarizing political climate that we find our country in, we are so quick to draw a box, a dividing line depending on what side we veer to. The political labels are especially divisive and hurtful, and can never really tell you the whole of a person’s heart, because labels never can. I fear that we have allowed our political leanings to give us permission to not love that neighbor. It is a sad commentary when we have reduced someone to a singular label that allows us to forget their belovedness and the fact that they were created in the image of God. It is a sad day when our politics have become our god, and the filter in which we view all of life is which political party we align with. Perhaps this generation’s biggest blindspots will trace back to our love for political labels over our love for our neighbors. I fear this as I look around me and into my own heart.

The same Jesus Who died to free us, died to free them, and loves them with the same love that He loves us. Honestly, I do not really line up anywhere on the political scale, and most days I feel like an outcast because of this. I have very swiftly been pigeon-holed into a side and labeled, but the reality is that I don’t fit on the right, and I don’t fit on the left. I am a mess of contradictions and all over the place as I try to navigate this life loving God and loving my neighbor, and maybe we were never created to be labeled into one box.

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I am guessing if the people who choose to label me would instead choose to sit down and share a pot of coffee while I share my heart, they just might walk away with a different label for me or none at all. They might see that I am apprehensive about the safety of my Black children, not because I am listening to the left and believing lies and fake news, but because of real life experiences that have happened to them here in America. They might see that I have a heart for Muslim people because of the community of Muslim friends whom we did life with in Ethiopia. They might see that I am tender toward refugees, because I am a bleeding heart who knows how hard it is to live inside of a foreign country and not speak the language or understand the culture. Maybe they would understand why I am so passionate about sanctity of life, and why that reaches farther than just the unborn lives. Maybe they would walk away agreeing with me, or maybe not, but it would certainly be a better start than just boxing me into a label without knowing me. The same is true for everybody.

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I believe a lot of the tension in this country could be relaxed, even just a little, over pots of coffee, steaming cups of tea and a cozy kitchen table. Maybe this will not fix everything, but it gives us a place to start.  When we step into the lives of people, it is so much harder to label them into a box. People are nuanced and contradictory and unique, and worthy of our time and our love and of our listening ear. Maybe loving our neighbor should stop being political and start being practical and relational. Love is always the best, first step. When we don’t know what to do, how to think, where to go, loving someone over a cup of coffee is never wrong.

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To My Kids As They Go Back to School

Summer with you was beautiful. The older you get the more I fall in love with each one of you, and the more I want to slow down these years with you. I am all too aware of how quickly these days are flying by, and how before I know it my last baby will be in a cap and gown, and there will never again be a need for a  ‘back to school’ post. As always the seasons seem to pass so swiftly, and here were are on the verge of another. As you prepare to start another school year, there are three things that I want to tell you.

Grades are not everything.                                                                                                                  While it is true that we have you attend school for an education, and we believe that is an unalienable right for you, as it should be for every child, academics has never been the most important thing to your Dad and I. I know that the the world around us places a great emphasis on grades and academics, and there is a place and necessity for them,  but listen to me when I tell you that is not the most important thing. Your worth and value as a person does not come from a letter grade or a test score. There will be some subjects that you excel in, and there may be others that you struggle in, and that is all okay, because that is how life works in the real world. I want you to be diligent in your school work, and as long as that happens, your grades matter little to me. Because I know that an A or B or C or any other letter can never tell the whole story of the wonderful, incredible person that you are. So, yes, be diligent, follow directions, work hard, but please understand that grades are only one very small piece of a much bigger picture. There are far bigger, and dare I say far more important, lessons to be learned inside of your school than the ones that you will take tests about. I hope that you learn character traits that will serve you well, and that you will develop a personality filled with love, sensitivity and empathy. I want you to learn to be courageous, brave, and strong, and to lead by gentle example. I want you to learn how to navigate this world as a follower of Jesus by first learning how to navigate the halls of your public school.

You will never regret being kind.                                                                                                             My hope for you this school year is that you would walk so closely with Jesus that you are a beautiful reflection of Him as you walk your hallways, sit in your classes, eat in the cafeteria, and kick a ball out on the pitch. More than good grades, I want you to be a good person. A good person is a kind person. Every single day you will have opportunities to be kind or to be unkind. You will have a choice to be a person who includes others or excludes others. There are kids inside your school who are picked last, picked on, and left out. Be intentional about looking for those kids – the ones that are different, not cool, the kids that are hurting, the kids who are new and nervous. When you find them, run to them, these are the kids that need your kindness – they are desperate for it. These are the kids that will remember your smile, your words of encouragement, your invitation to the lunch table, the recess circle, or the seat on the bus. You will never, not one single day, regret the kindness that you give, so give it freely, give it often.

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It’s okay to make a mistake.                                                                                                                      In this life, and in your time at school, you will make mistakes, because you are human. You will fail, you will flounder, and you will fall, and unfortunately that is just a given if you have a heartbeat. But the real test of characters comes after the mistake is made. Your response to your mistake is important. Take responsibility for your mistakes and  allow them to teach you to make a better choice the next time. Admit your mistake and apologize whenever necessary, and then move on. Keep walking forward, and heed the wise words of Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better.” I don’t expect you to be perfect. Dad and I are not perfect. Nobody is. We love you regardless of any mistakes that you make in this life. Mistakes are good learning lessons for the rest of your life. They do not define you, but they do help you to grow and to change. Life is a journey, and there will be bumps along the way, there will be good days and there will also be bad days, but at the end of every day, know that you are beloved by your Creator, and that Dad and I will be right here to help you navigate this big, wonderful life you were given.

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Dear Bathroom Scale; It’s Not Me, It’s You

I know this may come as a surprise, but I have thought long and hard about this, and I think we need to take a break. I have known it for some time, but I have been too scared to live without you. I have lied to myself that I need you in my life, but I don’t need you. I never did. When I lived in Ethiopia, I did not bring you along with me. You didn’t live in my bathroom, and I found a freedom from you, but the freedom was short lived. I started to walk by other bathroom scales right out on the street, and I began to pay one birr to step onto that scale. While the culture I lived inside viewed the scale differently, I could never adapt to that kind of different.  My Ethiopian friends took great pride and joy over increasing numbers on a scale, and they would cheer and congratulate one another when they had gained a kilo. I, on the other hand, would hope nobody would get close enough to read my numbers on the scale, and I would cringe if I had not lost a kilo. After all, even being a small person, the scale read me as close to the same number as many of the grown men in Ethiopia, and that was mortifying. Even though you didn’t live with me, you still had control over me.

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In moving back to the states, I immediately put you back in the bathroom, and I became loyal to you once again. Every morning I would visit you first, and I allowed you to determine, not only the kind of day I would have because of the number you would give me, but also, as ridiculous as this is – my self worth and my value as a woman, as a mom, as a human being. You became a vehicle of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. And I allowed you to have that power. I gave it to you many, many years ago. Somehow it seemed that a number told my story. It is true that some of the time you did bring me happiness, but it was always fleeting and it was always false.

I think that I knew that it had to be over between us when I found myself unexpectedly in Barcelona on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. Of course I did not carry you in my luggage over the ocean. But every time that I bit into a buttery, flakey perfectly chocolate filled croissant, I thought of you. When I sipped chocolate cappuccinos or Spanish reds, you crept into my thoughts. When I got to try paella for the first time and discovered it to be one of the best meals that I had ever eaten, you were in the back of my mind. When I only intentionally did one workout in the entire two weeks of travel, never mind the almost 90 stairs I climbed to get to our flat, and the literal miles I walked – 6 hours of actual walking the first day while trying to unravel the mystery of using the metro – you were constantly in my thoughts. I must have spoken aloud about you no less than ten times. I feared returning to you, and what you would say to me. It didn’t matter that my clothes still fit fine, and that I had accumulated so many amazing memories and experienced things some people can only dream of experiencing; the sad reality was all that really mattered to me was what number you would give me when I came back to you. You had become my master.

Today is the day bathroom scale. I am calling it quits. I am kicking you out of my life. I have deeply depended on you to predict my day, but I don’t need you for that. I can choose to have a good day despite a number. Our relationship has been unhealthy for so long, and I need a clean break. I know that I am the one who pursued this relationship, and that is why I have to be the one to also end it. The only thing that you have ever really given me is an obtuse number that means absolutely nothing. You have never been able to tell me my true worth, or my true health, and you most certainly do not define me. I am done listening to your lies. I am walking away from you, and I am walking into freedom.

Sincerely, Tiffany, your slave no more

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Sadly, I know I am not alone in these thoughts, and that many can find solidarity in this battle. If you are one of those people, I would love to hear from you. Let us encourage one another in this journey toward freedom. Please drop me a comment or an email, or come find me on Facebook or Instagram. You can even take a photo of yourself saying goodbye to your scale and tag me tdarling02 and hashtag it #ditchthescale, as I would love to cheer you on in your own journey.

 

 

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The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

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If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

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