There have been some interesting conversations in church over the past several weeks and months. Important conversations that I hope are proof that our diverse little church might actual be united and unified, and not just different special interests in the same room.
One of the more memorable friction points for me was not one that I directly participated in. I was asking about a young woman who was about to graduate, but whom I hadn’t seen for a while. The response was something to the effect of, “Oh, she’s staying away. She can’t take the pressure of everyone asking what she is going to do after high-school and them offering to help her apply to college.”
Later, a friend was talking to me after being exasperated with a young man who talks about going to college, who wants to go to college, but who hasn’t applied. In fact, he is waffling a little about it as he finds his niche in neighborhood ministry. It’s great that he is in ministry, but my friend also thinks he is hiding and playing it safe.
What these two conversations have in common is that both the kids are Latino, and the friends talking with them are Korean-American. What amazed me was how wide the gap is. There was love, but each side was incomprehensible to the other. The KA side was incredulous at not having a plan and ambition. The LA side seemed overwhelmed and put-off by the intensity.
What took me off-guard was how the Lord opened my eyes because of these conversations. Not on the issues of education, ambition, etc.; but in the deeper places of my heart.
In the swirling miasma of these different ideas and conversations (let’s not forget the other conversations going on like immigration reform, the middle east, killing non-Muslims in Iraq…) I found myself brought up short in my morning devotional. It was Acts 15. In this chapter there was a big gathering in Jerusalem because one group says you have to be circumcised to be a believer and another group says you don’t. Peter stands up and shares his opinion:
“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus just as they will.” (Acts 15:8-11… Peter’s reference to the Gentiles can be found in Acts 10)
There it is – the unbearable yoke. While sometimes scripture uses “yoke” in a good way (Jesus’ yoke is light and his burden is easy), this Acts 15 sense is just the opposite. Here it is enslaving people to my well thought out convictions. Limiting others’ freedom with my burdens and preferences so that they can pull me along as I carve out my own vision for the world (all in selfless service to the name of God, of course).
I’m not saying there are not standards or things that people have to grow and mature into. I’m not saying there are not things in the old nature that have to be guarded against so that the new life of Christ can progressively grow and change us. I’m not saying there are no “yokes”, just that I confuse Jesus’ yoke with my own. The difference, as I look in my own heart, is that my yokes are a requirement for respect and acceptability.
Behaviors and decisions that reveal immaturity are points of loving discipleship and growth, but they do not dampen relationships and commitment. They don’t determine who is in or out. Rather they strengthen our commitment to others as we love each other into being more like Jesus. But an Acts 15 yoke doesn’t do that. This yoke keeps people from being free in Christ. It keeps others bound up and holds them back until they are first like me – even though Jesus has already made us one in union with him.
In the sudden revelation of my duplicity I had to ask the Lord to show me the yokes I put on others. What expectations, wounds of my past, failures of my own do I project onto others in order to accept and include them? What judgments and assumptions do I make?
I spent the day really burdened by this. As I was moving about my neighborhood I tried to not simply react to the people I saw, but I tried to look closely at what response they evoked in my heart:
- The Muslim women walking to the market in flowing robes
- The homeless men shuffling along with their bags and carts
- The young African-Americans walking and laughing down the street
- The Asian in the Mercedes
- The prostitute on the corner
- The drug dealer near the gas station
- The white lady with all the school and the half-marathon stickers on her SUV
- The day workers huddled at the corners looking for work
Underlying my well-honed, religious filters of love and concern was also a deep vein of judgment, condemnation, and presumption in my heart. It’s was ugly. Like a snot-filled sneeze on a pastry right before a big ‘ol bite. Totally gross.
I don’t know any of these people, but I put yokes on all of them as if I do. I also realize that those I disregard or fear the most or think of as “enemies” are the most important. They are, in the words of one author, “cruel but necessary friends”. They show me what I really think and what I am really scared of.
Now that I more clearly see my heart and mind I can step back onto what is both the door and the path of my faith: repentance. The process of transformation that starts with the truth and brings me back to mercy and grace. The process that suffuses the soul with humility and that stirs up thanksgiving for both God’s love and his patient dedication to not leaving me as I am.
Gracious Lord, thank you for the grace of repentance. The first step in transformation that keeps us growing and changing and being more like Jesus. Show me the yokes I place on others that I might remove them and live a life of gospel integrity, freedom, and love. Show me, I pray, that I might dismantle both the yoke and the dividing wall that keeps me from loving relationship with others. To shed the hypocrisy of a heart that only thinks it loves because it puts distance and justification between it and the people it fears.
Thank you for the blessings of those I think of as enemies, for they show me my true heart. I pray that through them I will see more clearly those areas I need to grow.
Thank you for important conversations. I pray that I will enter into them without condemning those with whom I disagree. That I will keep the principles of the Faith at the center of my interactions with others. Not simply reacting in a way that feeds the never-ending melodrama of my own self-worship.
May all of us be drawn to you even as we draw each other to you by every act of kindness in true, abiding humility.