Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It Is Autumn in America

The other day, my husband had a doctor's appointment.  I went outside to wait for him and I walked over to a little park.  I watched the morning breeze gently move the last dried leaves clinging tenaciously to the branches of the oak trees. They made the rustling sound that reminded me that soon sound would disappear altogether from the trees.

Trees in winter are silent and stand as a mute witness to the season that just passed.

It was one day before the election.  I stood there looking at the trees and wondering, what season is America in?

The fiery colors in the leaves had given way to a dull brown, dry and ready to fall to the ground at any moment.  The oaks give me an insight to where I believe we are.

The green leaves and the fiery leaves are now dry.  We live a culture where kindness is derided as weakness and bombast and vulgarity (unless it's too specific in its targeting of certain groups) is celebrated as "transgressive" and "edgy."  Certain groups--minorities, women and gays--are to be treated with respect, and rightfully so.  Yet, people of faith can be mocked and excoriated--those who cling to their Bibles and their guns, as our President so tactlessly said.  His words were allowed to stand, because certain groups do not need to be treated respectfully.  Wrongfully so.

No, I am not waxing nostalgic for the "good old days."  The 60's were a time of great upheaval and the social fabric of America was torn.  Some ideas had to go--racial discrimination, women as second-class citizens--but some ideas needed to stay:  respect for differences, and treating others as you would like to be treated.  Yup, the Golden Rule in a nutshell.

We are now in autumn in our country. The leaves will all soon be upon the ground. The post-election anger and rioting is disturbing. The acrimony is overwhelming.

 Jesus spoke about anger and its results: “You have heard that it was said to the people in the old days, ‘You shall not murder’, and anyone who does must stand his trial. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction." (Matt. 5:22, Phillips)

I love the Phillips translation.  It captures so well where angry words can lead.  Jesus associates anger with murder--wow.  But what you believe, you will act on.  Eventually.  Anger has a habit of building up--like molten lava. Lava bubbling up from the earth builds up the crust.  Anger about sin and its destructive effects can well up inside of us and cause us to right wrongs.  But molten lava, building up over time, will explode and cause great destruction.  Anger that is not channeled into positive action will build up and explode, leaving destruction in its wake and the fundamental problem still unsolved.  

The anger I see is explosive and sinister.  Why?  It is divisive and not seeking to unite, but ignite.

Jesus knew all too well the human heart: "But the things that come out of a man’s mouth come from his heart and mind, and it is they that really make a man unclean. For it is from a man’s mind that evil thoughts arise—murder, adultery, lust, theft, perjury and blasphemy." (Matt. 15:17-20 Phillips)

Evil thoughts are not just thoughts--they will eventually lead to action.  Jesus' list of behaviors resulting from evil thoughts is sobering.  They are also a warning.  Any generation, any group, anyone, can become an instrument of hatred.  Ideas can spur us to great good or great evil.

Those oak trees in the park reminded me that after autumn, comes winter.  Winter tests us with its cold winds, snow and rain. The skies are gray day after day, and the sun rarely shines through.  But, in the words scratched upon a wall by a Holocaust victim:

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

I believe in love, even though I don't feel it.

I believe in God, even when he is silent."

But He is not silent in the winter.  We need to sit at His feet and listen, and not be distracted by the winter storm's howling and the biting cold.  We need to be His hands and feet and bring the only antidote to hate that truly works:  love.  Not mushy, gushy, sin-ignoring love, but the love of Jesus, expressing Himself through us.

Winter leads to spring.  Let this time in our nation be a clarion call to those who follow Jesus to be His voice, His love and His action.  

Spring means renewal and growth.  

Jesus means renewal and growth.


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