For Such is the Kingdom

Love Comes Naturally

 

 

One of the most frequently told stories of my childhood in a Southern Baptist Sunday School was of “Jesus and the Children.” Matthew records two events in back-to-back chapters.

In Matthew 18, Jesus uses a child to answer the adults’ adult question, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  We see some adults today who are obsessed with being “the greatest” or “the best.”

Jesus answered the question by calling a child to stand beside him.  “Here’s the ‘who’ you were asking about…and if you don’t change and become like this child, you won’t even enter the kingdom much less be the greatest in the kingdom.”  Whoa.  Probably not the answer the adults were expecting.

In the next chapter, Matthew records the disciples acting like Jesus’ gatekeepers, rebuking parents for bringing their kids to Jesus.  The disciples must have thought Jesus had more important people to see than children.  Jesus came back with,  “Your thinking is wrong.  Let the children come to me.  Stop stopping them.  For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

As a child, these stories gave me comfort  – “Jesus loves me!”

As an adult, these stories give me pause – “What does Jesus mean?”

I don’t know.  Do you?

My experience with my 8 year old lunch buddy helps me a bit.  “Lunch Buddy” is a program of the Big Brother’s organization. He and I have been “buddies” for 4 years.

We were playing “Go Fish” and I asked him if he liked to play games with his family.  He said he did but that his uncle gets mad when he loses the game and throws things.

“What do you think about that response?” I asked.

“I think it’s stupid,” he answered.

“Why is it stupid?” I probed.

My lunch buddy, in a matter-of-fact manner replied, “Because it’s just a game.  Get over it.”

A wise 8 year old.

Children often show more wisdom than adults.

A 3-year old said, “It’s ok if she isn’t kind to me.  I can show her how.”

After seeing a spider web, a lady said, “That’s a pretty web.  I don’t like spiders, though.”  Her 6 year old nephew, in a serious tone replied, “You have to appreciate the spider to appreciate the web.”

A 2-year old said to her mom, “Mommy, I make you happy; you make me happy too.  Everybody should make everybody happy.”

Children seem to have a goodness, a sense of fairness, a generosity, a wisdom, an innocence that adults have lost.  Is Jesus telling us in these events recorded by Matthew that there is something good and pure at the core of our being that needs to be re-discovered and nurtured?

Is that the conversion Jesus describes in Matthew 18:3 (change and become like children)?

Thomas Merton puts it like this: “For me to be a saint means to be myself.  Therefore the problem of sanctification and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”

I saw in my lunch buddy who I wanted to be.

I saw in him who my true self is.

That’s the kingdom.

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Am I Racist?

Am I Racist

 

One thing I did to honor Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, was to take a test: The Implicit Association Test.  The test is designed to reveal how we really feel about certain topics.  The test-taker can pick from 14 topics.   I picked “Race IAT”.

The test took about 5 minutes.

“Are you a racist?” is a question that’s been in the news the last few days.  It’s a good question – a question I needed to ask myself, not just someone else.

Here’s what the test said about me:

“Our data suggests a slight automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.”

Really? That’s terrible!  That’s not what I expected – at all.

Maybe I’m just a bad test-taker.

Maybe I got distracted.

Maybe I didn’t understand the questions.

Maybe it’s a bad test.

Or maybe the test is accurate and I’m not as unbiased as I thought.

It got worse.  The test-givers had a series of questions the test-takers might ask.  Here was one of them: “What can I do about an implicit preference that I do not want?”

That’s me. I didn’t want that evaluation.  I didn’t like my test score.  There have been a lot of test scores in my education path I haven’t liked.   But these results mattered more.  They hurt.

I don’t want to have any bias toward any group over another.  But I guess some part of me does. In Thomas Merton’s terms, that part of me is “the false self.”  So, what can I do to change it?  Here’s the answer from the test-givers: “Nothing.”  Here’s what they specifically said:

“Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated.”

Well, that stinks.  I’m not going to accept that.  If I need to change, I will change.

I can be a “new person.”
“Old things have gone away, new things have come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That’s hopeful!

“Everyone thinks about changing the world but no one things about changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy   That’s challenging.

No one comes out of the womb a racist.  No ones born harboring hateful, prejudicial thoughts or views toward others.  But, that baby grows up, and like a sponge soaks up the liquid into which it is dipped, children soak up the attitudes and perspectives of those people into whose lives they are submerged.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to this when speaking of the Commissioners of Montgomery, Alabama who opposed him and his movement:

“They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they are taught these things.  From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior.  Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers taught them that…”
“because they are taught these things.”
It was gracious of Dr. King to chalk up the hateful, racist, murderous views and actions of people to their upbringing.

If he is right, then Yoda’s words to Luke are right, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”  If I unlearn what I’ve learned, what do I relearn?  Maybe Jesus offers me the education I need:

“Take my yoke upon you. Learn of me because I am gentle and humble in spirit…” (Matthew 11:29).  

Jesus invites me to learn a new way. It is the way of my identity in God – my “true self” – Thank you Thomas Merton.  The way of gentleness and humility, the way of love.

God creates us in God’s own image.  Take a moment to let that sink in.  That’s big.  Teresa of Avila says our soul refers to our God-given godly nature.  Our God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of us.  Since God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8), we are love.

Let’s learn to live out who we are – to live out love.

And then let me take the test again.