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.
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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