Kimberly Russell is a board certified chaplain currently serving at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. Kimberly earned her Master of Divinity degree at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX and completed her clinical residency at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite in Atlanta, GA. Kimberly loves the educational process and continues to learn and grow in the areas of clinical spiritual care and diverse populations. She also loves the arts and enjoys the creative opportunities available in Memphis and surrounding.
"Grow Up!" This phrase is probably quite familiar to you. Whether you said it to someone else or you were on the receiving end, there is an expectation for adults to act like...well...adults. What is the difference between acting like a child and acting like an adult? In the first letter to the Corinthians Paul briefly mentions growing up, "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11, NLT). This scripture is used by Paul as an illustration of knowing in part to full understanding, partiality to fullness. Are children part and adults whole or is Paul referring to a child 'not knowing better' but as adults we do?
In my experiences with "Grow up!" the desired result was more realistic expectations. The ideal is a childish notion. Absolutes lose absolution. We live in a world of grey. If a child is shocked that everyone is not treated equally, we admire the innocence and naïveté but if an adult is shocked that everyone is not treated equally the response is, "Grow up! The world is not fair." A child can express emotion openly; anger, sadness, happiness, fear. The older we get, the more reserved we are supposed to be with our feelings. Infants cry, yell and laugh as a means to communicate. Once we gain the ability to speak, we are expected to keep our emotions in check and use our words instead. As adults there is a time and place to expressing our emotions and to do so inappropriately is childish.
There is a lot to say about growing up. Through experiencing life we gain insight, wisdom, understanding, knowledge. We learn how to function in society without causing too many ripples. We learn how to sedate our dreams, stifle our passions and quiet our expectations. What is so wonderful about growing up?
As children we long to grow up. We want the freedom to make our own decisions, go where we want to go and do what we want to do. We have such high hopes for our grown up selves and those hopes are fueled by our dreams, our passions, and our expectations and rooted in our innocence and naïveté. What if we can succeed? What if those high hopes are achievable? Would the world be a better place? If not, would it be any worse for wear?
Get ready for an awesome 80's movie reference. Twelve year old, Josh Baskin, goes to an amusement park for a night of fun. He gets turned away from riding a roller coaster because he was too short and turns to a quarter fortune machine with a wish to be big. The next morning Josh awakens as a twelve year old in the body of an adult. He is forced to adjust to this new adult world while still grounded in his childlike nature. It was no easy task but Josh is not only able to function in this new found existence but thrive. Instead of stripping away the childlike parts of himself, he embraced them and shared them with the world. In the iconic scene in FAO Schwarz, Josh begins to play on the giant piano, jumping from key to key. There was no thought on how other adults might see this behavior, he let go and embraced the joy. And do you know what happened? Children and adults alike stopped and enjoyed the music. His joy spread like wildfire, and his boss (an adult in an adult's body) joined in and together they played chopsticks.
How can being childlike seem so wonderful but we are quick to tell one another to "Grow up!"? There is a difference in being childish and being childlike. To act like a child, after growing and learning and maturing, is childish. To retain the spirit you had as a child, even though you have grown and learned and matured, is childlike. There is an account in Matthew, Mark and Luke involving Jesus and the children. Like so many accounts of Jesus, where he goes people gather and in this particular account it is children that gather at the feet of Jesus. The disciples dismiss these children as a burden or not worth the time of Jesus and Jesus responds to them saying, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children" (Matthew 19:14 NLT).
Embrace that childlike spirit within you, the spirit that has been silenced or pushed down by expectations to grow up. Strive for your dreams, ignite your passions and don't limit your expectations. Innocence is not completely lost. Paul didn't have it entirely right. As adults we believe in part, feel in part... As children we fully believe and fully feel. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to those that are like these children; those that are childlike. So "Grow up!" and be childlike.
Luke 9:51-62 CEB
To say the Samaritans and the Jews didn't get along is like saying Elmer Fudd and Buggs Bunny were BFF. These two groups had a history that went back to King David. Call it a power play. David moved the temple from where the Samaritans were in the North and built it in Jerusalem, in Judah, to the South. Strike One. Then years later came the Babylonian Exile. It was those well to do, those who lived in the North, the 'Samaritans', who were exiled to Babylon. Meanwhile poor Southern Judah remained. They had years in Israel by themselves and they began cultivating the land left behind. Eventually the Babylonian King gave those in exile the ability to return home, and they returned home to see their land being used and lived in by the Judeans. Strike Two. When the Northern remnant was invited back to their home they did not come alone. Others came too with Pagan beliefs. The years away had made the tribes of the North, a mixed group with mixed beliefs. With the Temple moved, the South 'invading' the North, and the North no longer as 'pure' as it used to be: Strike Three. You're Out. These two groups might have lived in the same country but that didn't mean they had to relate with one another.
Enter Jesus. When I first read this scripture my brain began to hurt. It is one of those times Jesus just doesn't seem to be acting like Jesus. He seems to be talking in riddles. One asks to follow him and he turns the invitation over to someone completely different. We never find out why he turned the invitation to someone else. We also never find out what Jesus said sternly, or rebuked to the Disciples with when they suggest raining down fire on the Samaritans. There are been those who have added to scripture, in an attempt to put those words in Jesus' mouth, but no real answers.
Well, that was what I was interested in. So I guess I have nothing else to say. Thanks for reading along with me, I will be back next week... Perhaps, there is something. There was a sentence, when literally translated from the Greek turned my head and had me digging through books to learn more. "[H]e was determined to go to Jerusalem." Literally it is more like, "He hardened his face to go to Jerusalem." Now, this was just the way the people said 'determined to go,' but the language itself opened up my imagination and brought me back to another biblical story.
Exodus 7. The former Prince of Egypt, Moses, had been called to free God's people. In the process of trying to convince Pharaoh to let the people go, God hardens Pharaoh's heart. Walter Brueggemann, in the New Interpreter's Bible, suggests what this hardening is all about.
The fact that Yehweh both hardens and does signs appears to be simply a literary device for intensification, but there is a quality of political realism in the escalation. That is, action for liberation leads to greater repression, and greater repression produces more intense resolve for liberation. In that process, it is never known who will be first to lose nerve. Moreover, the very sign itself becomes the means whereby the hardening is accomplished, as the very gesture toward liberation is what evokes more repression- i.e. hardening.
Most of us know who eventually loses his nerve in the Exodus story. Pharaoh let's the Israelites go. Forty years later they settle in the Promised Land. Years following they finally have a begotten King, David. David moves the temple. Strike One, Strike Two, Strike Three, and we are back to Jesus.
Now the Gospel writer of Luke was a researcher. He wanted to get the story right for Theophilus. That being said, I do not believe he was trying to create a connection between Pharaoh and Jesus. I think he was just using a phrase of the day. I am drawing the connection for the sake of understanding Jesus better. It is through Jesus' actions I see we have two choices: we can either harden our face, or harden our heart.
As we already know the Samaritans and the Judeans didn't get along. By the time of Jesus, Samaritans wouldn't even allow visitors a place to stay if they were headed to Jerusalem. Many who travelled just decided to take the long way around and avoid the villages altogether. The Jewish sentiment toward Samaritans were not that different. There was a clear divide between the two groups.
Jesus' call to the world was to the world. The whole world. Everyone. Every being. Not just to the Jews. Not just to the Samaritans. Not just to the Gentiles. Not just to the sinners. Not just to the saints. Not just to the oppressed. Not just to the oppressors. Every single one. That kind of call doesn't allow for choosing sides. Yet, in this scripture that is exactly what Jesus is asked to do. There's the Samaritan's who do not want to give Jesus a place to stay when they discover he is heading to Jerusalem. Jesus could denounce Jerusalem and her people to be welcomed in the village. Instead they continue on to another village. Then there's the Disciples who suggest raining down fire as Elijah did through God to the Samaritans of old. Jesus, in turn, rebuked or spoke sternly to them. Two sides. Choosing either side would solidify a purpose. A people to help. But, Jesus wasn't there to be put on a team. Jesus was for everyone. Jesus wanted to heal the people, not break them further apart. Therefore, he didn't choose the Samaritans or Jerusalem for "Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head." By not choosing he was ostracized by both groups. He hardened his face, his resolve; not his heart. To amend Brueggemann's words slightly to connect it to today's scripture: Action for restoration and true relationship leads to greater disconnect, and greater disconnection produces more intense resolve for restoration.
This is why Christianity is not comfortable. We are called to harden our face, our resolve; not our heart. Our job is to bring God's love to everybody, not just the select group we feel comfortable connecting with. There is no such thing as a safe Christianity. If there was, Jesus would have been the poster child for it, and never would have died on a cross for the failures and disconnect of everyone else. It comes down to fixing our broken and torn up body of Christ. Yes, it is easier to pick a broken remnant and settle, but that was not our call. Our call is to soften our hearts and harden our resolve. It will lead us down roads where we don't quite fit with any one group. It will ostracize us on one side and make us speak up in opposition for our brothers and sisters on the other. To fully and completely follow Christ means there is no place where we can be comfortable, or lie our head. It sends us to the wilderness because the comfortable is simply a false Eden.
The reason I share this with you is this: Every time we step up to injustice we have a choice whether we are going to harden our resolve or harden our hearts. Every time we see broken relationship in the form of party lines, theirs verses ours, or however it looks we have a choice to not buy into it with a hardened resolve or to choose a side with a hardened heart. Because choosing a side always cuts a group out. We have a choice. One choice is easier than another. So, which one are you going to choose? I pray as you accept your call, you harden your resolve.
Philippians 2:6-11 CEB: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
It doesn't matter if we are atheist or theists, it is in our DNA to put our love and worship towards something. For the Philippians, they were told who to worship: Caesar. This was a community part of the Roman Empire. They understood to live within the rules it gave them such great things like roads and aqueducts. It was in their best interest not to speak negatively about the ones ruling over them. But when I say worship the Emperor, I mean worship. He was considered a god. It is in that light, what Paul wrote to the Philippians could be considered treason. See what I mean as I put Caesar and Jesus side by side and line them up to scripture:
It was simply a treasonous statement. He was telling them to worship the one who rightly held the power and used it appropriately, and don't worship the one who falsely holds the power and exploits it. Christians could have been sent to the coliseum to be torn apart by wild animals for following faith in Christ openly, and Paul... Well, Paul knew the statements he had made and continued to make would probably get him killed.AP: Photographer Pablo Martinez Monsivais
So many of my sermons in my childhood were surrounded with the words, "We have it easy." We have it easy, because we are not going to be killed to practice our faith. Before I continue I reiterate that statement, because it is true. Even though the Christian faith is no longer the cake walk it used to be, we still have it extremely easy.
Now the next part, at least for me, is not that easy. It has been one of my goals since my call to ministry to remain politically neutral. The United States is split almost in half. It has been more important for me to speak biblical truth and let people decide for themselves what that means for their politics. I have seen politics at the pulpit create chasms between congregants. I have seen congregants leave over it. Yet this ties so directly into scripture I must address it. I am talking about Obama Christ.
Obama Christ is different from President Obama. Obama Christ is an icon created by the media to exhibit the overwhelming hope created post the 2008 election. Like all icons they are representative of the person and their acts. They are not the literal person.
Just into his first term I began to see images, like the one to the left, pop-up as different photographers wanted to capitalize on the president's seal being used as a halo around Obama's head. This image is subtle but later images/paintings would be down right blatant. I collected them at first. As someone who appreciates iconography I was taken by how obvious the connection was. Then I was down right upset.
President Obama just allowed it to continue. I daresay, he exploited it, using his power and powerplaying the name when it suited him. Obamacare. Obama Phone. Now, as scandalous and aggravating Bush's Patriot Act was, President Obama seems to have taken infringing on personal freedoms to a whole new level of intrusiveness with the IRS, NRA, and who knows what other organization. The corruption is so expansive it either makes the President look like an empty vessel, clueless of the country he is running. Or, he is part of the corruption.
There are people who really believed this guy was the anointed one. Never in my recollection did he humble himself when he was raised to such levels. It begs the question, which side of the above chart does he really belong to? (I mention Obama because I don't see cultural iconography of Congress, but I have issues with any person, no matter what party affiliation, who use their power for themselves instead of the people they are supposed to be serving.)
This even goes further than politics. We should be careful what we choose to iconize. Has Super Mario Brothers, Dr. Who, celebrity, Marvel and DC replaced God? I would say it has when all we have to do is look on Etsy to see quilts, knitting projects, and other homemade wares that celebrate the culture. I am guilty of it too. Give me just a little more free time and I would have a Super Mario Brother's quilt pieced together and on our bed. The culture is full of icons of everything. It has to mean something when we are no longer creating images of each other or the world around us. I cannot express this enough, love and faith is all about relationship. We are not supposed to make secondary deities out of our leaders. They do not sit atop a tall throne like Urtle the Turtle. If they do, that throne will eventually fall. Leaders should be among us and with us. Power comes with responsibility. The more power a person gains the less it becomes about themselves and more it becomes about the people they have power over. This is why good power is self-sacrificing. Real leadership is among the people, not above them. Perhaps even a little below them, so to raise them up.
We have it easy. As silly as the media was in creating these Obama Christs, we live in a society where it is understood our leader is not a god. While there might be a social stigma in outwardly professing our belief in Jesus Christ being our Lord, we do not fear for our lives in doing it. Who or what are you worshipping?
Today's meditation is in cooperation with The Despised Ones. This scripture ties into a synchro-blog. To read other thoughts on Philippians 2:6-11 check out their Facebook page.
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1 Kings 17:8-16 CEB
"Don't be afraid." The sentence haunts the bible throughout the Old and New Testament. In the darkest, most desperate corners it seeps in and expresses itself. It often comes out when the only rational choice appears tragic. An unmarried pregnant woman could be stoned. A father is about to kill his son. A man has fled to the wilderness because he is murderer. A widow is going to starve to death with her son. It is a sentence spoken in the midst of fear. "Don't be afraid."
Then it becomes a life changing sentence. It takes the desperately real outcome and presents a Plan B. It offers up another choice that appears even more dark than the initial options. In the case of 2 Kings with Elijah and the widow, she was about to run out of food and starve. If she feeds him first, she would miraculously have food until the rains came. "Don't be afraid" pushes people out of the darkness when the darkness is so dark it appears doubly dark. Suggesting to feed Elijah only makes the situation appear darker when it will move her towards the light. "Don't be afraid," is ultimately a sentence filled with hope and possibility.
Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the book Lean In created a video that is a little over three minutes long. She wants to show the world just how fearful women are in the world because of the subtle, ingrained messages given to them from childhood. I relate to it because I cannot relate to what it is like to be on the edge of starvation with my children and no husband to help. While the fears below might be miniscule in comparison to the widow, I think it introduces the sentence, "Don't be afraid," in one of the realistic ways we deal with fear today.
God's call can be fearful. God's call can seem to come when life is at it's darkest. Yet, life changing possibility exists when we are willing to accept the call. Yes, in the case of the video and the scripture, the call was sent to women. As a female voice I can see the widow in both genders. I see the widow in the voiceless person crying as loudly as possible just for the opportunity to be heard. I see the widow in the people seeking a hand up and find themselves reaching out to nothingness. I see the widow when a person is pushed aside because social protocol overrides their good ideas. The widow lives on the edges; excluded from everyone else.
It is when all hope appears to be lost this tiny sentence saves us from going over the edge. It give us a call. It is this purpose, or this call that saves us. It empowers us. Yet it is our fear, our rational understanding of the world that scares us when we hear the call. Maybe that is why the call begins that way so often, "Don't be afraid." Of course we are afraid! We have children to feed, a house to take care of, bills to pay. We have mounting debt from student loans and car payments. Of course we are afraid! It seems like the world economy is going to cave in any moment now. Of course we are afraid! We have struggled to just fit in, speak "gooder," and not be taken in by being told we are not good enough. Of course we are afraid! So in the darkness the words come to wrap us up like a blanket. The words are there to comfort us. The words tell us we can do it. We do have the ability, because God is there beside us. Don't be afraid. At the moment we are given a choice, a choice well said in the video: "F everything and run or face everything and recover." What are you going to do, run away or face the call? What would you do for God if you were not afraid? What are you willing to face for God in the midst of those fears?
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