God comes to us in strangers. And lots of us don’t see him.
This week: Get practical - HOW this plays out practically in our lives.
Kadhim Albumohammed (Pic)
Earlier this year, I was contact by an organization here in town called Faith Coalition asking if I would be willing to meet with a Muslim man who was in Sanctuary at a church here in town. For those of you who don’t know, what that means is that he was facing deportation and ICE was essentially actively seeking him to deport him. And sanctuary in a church is the really the last resort for someone in this case.
I said of course I’d be willing to meet with him, so me and a couple other pastors from around town head over and meet with him to pray with him and to hear his story.
(Here’s a pic of us with Kadhim)
His case in still in progress.
The reason that I tell you that story is because a story about meeting an illegal muslim immigrant instantly causes something to happen in you. The first thing happens in many of us when you hear a story like that is you process is through how you feel about illegal immigrants and muslims.
Well part of the challenge of this series is to retrain our hearts to, in every circumstance, first see the person, and then see the issue. But in that order. That this is the order you see in the life of Jesus.
Jesus - Step 1: Embrace / Step 2: Cleansing
And that all comes down to how you see people.
In 2006, at Princeton university they did this study on emotion. Specifically 4: Pride, pity, envy, and disgust.
And so they hooked these average college students up to brain monitors and showed them pictures on different types of people.
Pictures of middle-class Americans and American Olympians to were shown to trigger ‘pride’. Elderly and disabled people were shown to trigger ‘pity’ rich business people were used to trigger ‘envy’ and homeless people and drugs addicts were used to trigger ‘disgust’.
So they were monitoring this part of your brain called the ‘medial prefrontal cortex’ which is a part of the prefrontal cortex. This part of your brain lights up when you’re interacting with a human being instead of, let’s say, a rock.
And they found something disturbing: when they looked middle class Americans and olympians, they reported feeling pride and the medial prefrontal cortex lit up, when they say the elderly and the disabled, they reported feeling pity and the medial prefrontal cortex lit up, when they saw rich business people, they reported feeling envy and the medial prefrontal cortex lit up, but something unexpected happened when they were shown the homeless people and drug addicts to trigger disgust.
(From the book:) When the participants looked at these people, the medial prefrontal cortex didn’t light up. The brain was not recognizing the homeless people or the drug addicts as a human being. The brain saw the homeless people and drug addicts not as people, but as objects. This is what dehumanization looks like at the neuron level.
What this brain-imaging research shows us is that we can be looking right at people and not even see then. We can be looking at someone, like a homeless man sleeping on a part bench, and not even see him as a human being.
And I don’t even think we’re trying to be mean, we’re just BLIND. And that’s why we have to do the emotional work of reprogramming ourselves to see people who before we would have just felt disgust towards.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with David Foster Wallace. He's an author and teacher that died in 2008. I've never read any of his books, but he has a very famous commencement speech that I've quoted many times. At one point in the speech he ask the audience to imagine the himself at the grocery store after a training long day at work after picking up some food and you get stuck in a long checkout line. You're tired you're grumpy and you get annoyed. Here's what he says:
“Because my natural default setting is a certainty that situations like this are really all about me … it's going to seem like everybody else is just in my way…
[But rather than looking at my situation that way,] I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am. And that some of these people actually have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do…
It's hard. It takes will and effort… But if you really learn how to pay attention… it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars: compassion, love, the subsurface unity of all things.
He's talking about being intentional about how you see the world and other people.
Ticketing counter - Human Being The book uses the example of being in an airport when your flight gets canceled, and how that's a super tough situation. And the ticketing people who were working for the airline who obviously have nothing to do with the flight being canceled, are the ones that end up getting the brunt of it. And how easy it is in frustration in life to instead of seeing somebody else in this case may be a sweet young girl at ticketing counter as a human being, we just see our own issues and inconveniences.
(From the book:) The kindness we extend to others envelopes them in the space where they are protected from the meanness of the world. The practice of seeing a ticketing agent in the midst of your fatigue and anger is letting your kindness carve out a space where that agent is protected from the meanness of the world, especially your own meanness.
Good Samaritan Experiment - In 1970 at Princeton theological seminary they didn't experiment to replicate the parable of the good Samaritan. Of course most of you're familiar with the parable of the good Samaritan told by Jesus where men passed by a man who was beaten on the side of the road and only the dirty Samaritan would stop.
Keep in mind, that they were at seminary, testing people who were preparing to enter the ministry. So they set up the experiment outside. Essentially what the test was : they sat a man up at the doorway who was keeled over in pain and as people would pass by he would let out of painful groan, implying he needed help. And the test was to see which of these “pastors in training” would stop and which wouldn't.
And they set up to this variable, all of the students that were a part of the test were told that they had to come into this building to give a talk. And first some of them they gave him plenty of time so that they weren't rushed to get into the room.
But some they were told at the last minute so they were in a rush to get over there. And sure enough the amount of time that people felt like they had made all the difference.
(From the book:) the results of the experiment were clear. Only one variable predicted who would stop: time. The seminarians most likely to stop for those who had the time.
It’s this idea of “interuptability.” - I’m not sure if that’s a word, but we’re going for it tonight. Stopping to take time for people, especially in our frenetic, rushed culture is something few people do.
Panhandler - Honking The other day I was in my car and the car next to me rolled down his window to give a homeless man with a sign a few bucks. And the light turned green and the person behind them instantly layed on their horn. I just thought “My God, we’re in such a hurry that we can’t even wait four seconds while SOMEONE ELSE gives the poor money.
Look at the life of Jesus:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. (Mark 10:46)
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48)
Jesus stopped.” (Mark 10:49)
Good Samaritan stopped, Jesus stopped, will we stop?
The author of the book has a great blog called experimental theology, and on it they were talking about this idea of being willing to stop and one commenter on the blog for the story and I thought it was really cool:
I heard of this study many years ago and was just telling a friend about it yesterday. I was reminded of it when I headed out in a snowstorm for my graduate class on death, dying, and bereavement. My neighbor, an elderly Cambodian man with schizophrenia and terminal cancer, was walking to the bank and asked if he could accompany me.
I knew it would make me late for class and keep me out longer in the storm, but I also realized that it was a good thing to do. We had a lovely chat and he sweetly bowed to me as we parted. I was late for class.
The next day he died of a heart attack while receiving his chemotherapy treatment. I am grateful for our walk together.
Jesus will make you late. Will you stop anyway?
Find someone who, for whatever reason, is being ignored or excluded and offer a kind word and a smile.
Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, we don’t have many enemies in modern day. People we’re coming into contact with on a daily basis who are trying to kill us. But we do have many people who we’d rather avoid.
(Action: Raise your hand if you’ve ever detoured around someone at church?)
We talked in the first week about our tendency to walk into a room and instantly gravitate towards the people who already know and love and pass by the people we don’t know.
(From the book:) That's the social autopilot at work. No one is being wicked when looking for their friends, but that automatic instinct narrows the circle of our affections, causing us to detour around people. So the practice of approaching is disengaging the social autopilot and taking over the controls to move toward people we wouldn't otherwise welcome.
Canadian philosopher “While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone." (Jean Vanier)
When you're not in active relationship with people, it's easy to deceive yourself into believing you're more loving than you actually are.
It’s so easy to love people in this general, abstract way. I think it the shortcoming of a lot of more socially-aware, progressive Christians - that it’s easy to “”LOVE EVERYONE”” but is that actually translating into how you treat people in your everyday life?
Social Media enhances that illusion. You all know my riff on social media - It’s just the fake you trying to impress the fake me.
One thing I think might be the FAKEST: Social Media Compassion. B/C it doesn’t cost you anything, it mostly just makes you feel righteous. I think that compassion is mostly a face-to-face thing.
It’s the exact opposite of what we talked about last week : “The Little Way”. Social Media Compassion is loving everyone in a super generic way.
The Little Way is loving one person in a very specific way.
(From the book:) Far too many of us love issues more than human beings. When were alone on social media, we trick ourselves into thinking that we love everyone. This happens because we love and care about all the right issues.
Imagine if instead of all these posts on war and shootings and refugee crisis, and poverty, and abuse. What if instead of doing that, we actually went out and took care of someone who’s been the victim of abuse.
Can you do both? Yeah absolutely. Best of both worlds. What we DON’T want to do is replace loving locally with posting stuff online.
And so that’s the challenge: Instead of loving globally in a super generic way, learn to love locally in a specific way. Or again, do both, but make sure you’re loving locally.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. (Acts 2:43)
All the believers were together and had everything in common. (Acts 2:44)
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:45)
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, (Acts 2:46)
praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
So you can see the very practical implications of their love for each other. That in this community, they were sacrificing of themselves for the sake of others.
If anyone had a need, they had a ‘social network’ that would help them.
And the book explains that this type of social network is exactly what’s lacking in concentrated poverty in the US. Think of the words: slums, ghettos, trailer parks, projects.
These are the places not just with extreme poverty, but where people struggle to get out of the poverty.
If an extremely poor family lives in a more middle class neighborhood, they have a much better chance at escaping poverty.
‘Weak Ties’. The reason is what the book calls ‘Weak Ties’.
This is our social network that's not our family and not our super close friends, but the more casual friends. And interestingly it's this extended group of casual friends that really play a huge role for people wanting to get out of poverty. This is what people in extremely poor neighborhoods don't have.
(From the book:) This is the power of a rich social network– it's a mixture of deep and wide relationships. And this is what gets undermined by concentrated poverty. In concentrated poverty, people are cut off from the rich and diverse networks of friends, acquaintances, and neighbors we need to navigate life and solve our problems.
And I bet if you think right now you can think even now in your own life times when you're weak ties those casual friends are actually the friends that have a way of helping you out. Because they have resources that you don't have. See you're close family and close friends tend to have the same connections that you do. But that extended network of friends have connections that you don’t have, and end up helping us out.
For a lot of us, this is something that happens when you’re a part of a church family.
Grace ICPC When we went out to California to adopt grace, the last thing we had to do was ‘ICPC’ process. This would allow us to take Grace across state lines. We were told this usually takes between 3 and 5 business days. So we were talking to Mary Eden, who’s a friend of ours. Mary Eden was shocked at how stupid that process was. She and Gordon Eden decided to try and help and so they figured out who oversaw the ICPC process in Albuquerque, and it was a lady they knew. So Gordon shot her a message somehow asking her to call him.
Mary Eden went on and on about how this is practically their granddaughter and we need to get this family home soon. The ICPC lady said she’d keep an eye out for it and would move on it as soon as she could.
The ICPC normally takes 3-5 business days. But amazingly, we got a call from our adoption agency lady (Cristine) who said ‘I’ve got good news. Your ICPC is all done and you can go home.’ We were SHOCKED by that news. We asked how that could possible be, and she said ‘Man, SOMEBODY really loves you guys. So all together our ICPC approval took a matter of a couple hours instead of 3-5 business days.
That’s the power of a social network.
And the point is, that’s what many people in our city DON’T have, and it’s one reason they have such a hard time getting out of really hard situations in their lives. And so we need to work to include more people into our social network of ‘weak ties'.
Love - overused. As we close the series with the idea of kindness. As Christians we all know about love. It's the greatest of all christian virtues. But it's so overused that it sometimes can mean anything. "I love him, so I need to teach him to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, so I completely ignore him." - Well ok.
So let's talk about kindness. The book calls kindness 'Kindness is the tutor of love. Kindness is love on training wheels.' Learn to ask yourself "What does kindness look like in this situation?" - Let's not forget that 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is kind.
Closing paragraph of book is great closing statement
"I think it's time to pull love out of the game. Let's let love take a seat on the bench to rest a bit and get a second wind. Let's erase the chalkboard and sketch out a new, simpler game plan to welcome the stranger God. Let's start a kindness revolution."
pend a minute thinking about what an average week looks like for you. Where are those small moments where you can practice kindness.
And take just a moment and let God speak into that and then we’ll receive communion together.