the All Our Minds project | On Disagreeing Well

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the All Our Minds project | On Disagreeing Well

A few weeks ago, I went to see the new Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. I went with my husband, who had already seen it once...less than 24 hours prior. Clearly, he was a fan. And it didn’t take long for me to understand why.  

Confession: I actually have no memory of ever watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority. From what I can tell, most people who grew up in America any time between the late 60s to the early 2000s remember this show with fondness.

After watching the documentary, it’s obvious to me why so many people have been impacted by this man’s work. It’s because he genuinely loved his neighbors—and he did it with courage, compassion and kindness.

“You know, I think everybody longs to be loved,” he said, “and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And, consequently, the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”

As an ordained minister working in television, Rogers was constantly interacting with people who thought and acted different than he did. Many of his Christian values were likely challenged on a regular basis. But instead of insulating himself from opposing viewpoints and hiding in a Christian bubble, he held tightly to Truth and brought love into the messy middle.

Here’s today’s question...

Is it possible to love someone like Jesus loved while still disagreeing with something that's a huge part of who that person is? If so, what does that look like?

Mr. Rogers would say yes, and so would I. I absolutely believe that it’s both possible and crucial for us to love in this way… but that doesn’t make it easy. As fond as I’ve grown towards Mr. Rogers over these past few weeks, I know a guy who sets an even better example of Christ-like love. A perfect example, if you will. Enter Jesus.

Our perfect example of loving people we disagree with

The only way that we’re going to get a good pulse on how to love like Jesus loved is by looking to His example. Literally every person who Jesus crossed paths with during His time on this earth had something in their life that He disagreed with. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our sin is offensive to Him and it’s the reason why He suffered so intensely on the cross. But despite all of that—despite the anguish and sorrow that only He knew that He would suffer—He still chose to love unconditionally.  

In one of the most widely quoted Bible passages of all time—second only to John 3:16—Paul tells us what love is and what it isn’t. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Jesus’ greatest commandment tells us to follow His example of love in our own lives: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived this out in His ministry on earth, despite disagreeing with the choices and lifestyles of the people around Him.

He broke bread with them

Some times, I think about why God created us to need food. Our bodies literally can’t survive without it. We have this regular cycle of hunger and satiation that repeats itself from the day we’re born until the day we die. But why? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I believe that one of them is because our hunger for food is a need that creates fellowship. It gives us one more reason, one more opportunity, to step outside of ourselves and interact with the communities around us.  

Jesus was notorious for eating meals with people who were thought of as unclean. Lepers. Adulterers. Liars. Cheaters. Tax collectors. The Pharisees were pretty confused by the company He kept. “They asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-12).

Jesus’ fellowship with sinners—aka all of us—is an act of love. By gathering and conversing with people whose lifestyles He disagreed with, He broke down the barriers and excuses pushing sinners away from His unconditional love. This is what His mission was all about. Eliminating the barriers that keep us away from God.

He spoke the truth in love

In thinking about this question, one story that immediately came to mind was that of the Samaritan woman in John 4. She comes to the well to get water during the hottest time of day because she is ashamed of her many sins, and Jesus meets here there to begin a conversation with her. He reminds her of all she’s done and tells her exactly who He is: the Messiah who can redeem her from it all. Through their brief, honest and raw exchange, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony” (4.39).

This type of grace-filled truth speaking gives us an example to aspire to. Often, we let our own judgments get in the way of loving others the way Christ does. In a previous post, I wrote that when we speak the truth without love, it reads as judgment—and none of us are in any position to judge anybody. That same idea is relevant to this conversation. It’s not our job to punish people for disobeying God. Our job is to love Him, to love our neighbors like ourselves, and to proclaim His Gospel {of love} with our words and deeds.

Following His example of unconditional love today

So now that we’ve taken a glimpse at how Jesus showed love to people He disagreed with, let’s think through how we can apply His example in our own lives. This quote by Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian theologian {and friend of Mr. Rogers}, takes us to a good starting point.  

He writes: “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

It might seem like a no-brainer but it’s worth saying: To love somebody, you need to see them. Take the time to learn how they became who they are. Listen before opening your mouth. Replace judgment with empathy. And speak the Truth in love by remaining humble in the knowledge that the Gospel covers your sins just as much as it covers theirs.  

When Jesus prayed for His disciples the night before His crucifixion, he said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). With this simple prayer, Jesus made it clear that His followers are not called to insulate themselves from a world of people who think and act differently than they do. On the contrary, His entire earthly ministry was a living example of standing firm in Truth in the midst of opposition.

We’ve all heard it said before: good communication plays a significant role in healthy relationships. And I believe that it’s particularly critical in relationships with people who think differently than you. Love finds its strength in understanding, and you can’t understand somebody without first seeing and hearing them.

In my own efforts to understand people who lead lifestyles that don’t align with God’s Word, I often ask myself this question: Why would that person care that they aren’t living by God’s standards if they don’t believe in God? I definitely wouldn’t. This goes back to the motivation for obeying God’s law that we talked about a few weeks ago. Instead of approaching these conversations with judgment and condemnation, consider the heart of the matter. Introduce them to the living God of hope, redemption, love and new life. Once a person truly knows Him, the Holy Spirit begins the work of sanctification.

There are a lot of ways to show love to somebody. Some times, it means speaking a hard truth. Other times, it means offering a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. But if the love you give to somebody leaves them feeling hopeless, there's something missing. Let your love be hope-filled, Truth-filled and grace-filled, just like the love of our Savior.  

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the All Our Minds project | On Obeying God's Law

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the All Our Minds project | On Obeying God's Law

I have a love-hate relationship with check marks. 

If I’m not careful, those little asymmetrical Vs can have the sneakiest way of measuring my worth—or lack of it—on a given day. I’ve got my running tally of to-dos. Go to work. Buy groceries. Make dinner. Do my devo. Write. Swing by Target. Go to the gym. Call this person. Email that person. Sleep? 

At the end of a long day, I’ll take inventory, weighing out the success of my day based on how many check marks I see. If I started out with ten tasks on my list and only completed six of them, the six that I accomplished don’t matter nearly as much as the four that I didn’t because those undone tasks register as failure. Maybe you can relate. 
 
But here’s what I’ve realized. Operating under this work-equals-worth mindset will lead me down a very slippery slope. And the only things that wait at the bottom of it are self-doubt, disappointment, emptiness, exhaustion and separation from God.

Today’s question challenged me to think through this mindset even further. Here it is: What motivates you to obey the rules in the Bible? What do you gain from following them?

The list-writing perfectionist in me would say to obey God's rules because you’re supposed to or because you’ll get more check marks if you do. She’s wrong, so I try not to listen to her much, but I can’t deny that she’s constantly nudging at a little corner of my heart. Because let’s be honest: making detailed lists with check marks is much easier than doing the work to truly discover the heartbeat of God and make it your own. 

In Christian circles, we’re constantly talking about “the heart.” It’s all about the heart, we tell each other. Where was your heart at when you made that decision? or I need to check my heart in this area. This is basically a Chistianese way of saying that motivation matters. Your reasons for choosing to honor God are an important aspect of your faith. And those motivations flow from your heart.

So what is it that motivates us to obey God’s law?

The free gift of salvation in Christ
Jesus is where our freedom from sin begins and is therefore where my response to this question begins. Romans 3:23-25 reads: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.”

A speaker at the local Bible study that I attend summarized the message of this passage in a way that made perfect sense to me: “God requires 100 percent righteousness, which can only be achieved through the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.”

Salvation in Jesus is the free gift that atones for every moment of sin in our lives. Every shortcoming, evil thought and poor decision is covered by the blood of Jesus. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through Jesus, we are fully reconciled to God. His perfection pays the price for our imperfection. That is the great exchange.

Gratitude for that free gift
When we truly accept this reality, our posture toward God shifts.

In attempting to follow His law, we’re no longer grabbing at straws to prove our own worth or earn our salvation through good deeds. On the contrary, we are humbled by the certain facts of both our own insufficiency and Jesus’ total sufficiency.

Out of this humility comes an earnest desire to lead lives that honor the selfless sacrifice of Jesus. Our actions become an outpouring of our gratitude for His saving grace, which both frees us from the debt of our sin and binds us in perfect unity with God.

Our desire to be sanctified
To truly reconcile the biblical imperative to follow God’s law with the assurance that salvation is by faith alone, we need to understand sanctification.

It’s a process that begins the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and continues for the rest of our lives on this earth. Sanctification is a product of our salvation, not a means of achieving it. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes, “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (2:12-13). 

Accepting Christ as our Savior constitutes a core change in our identity. We are no longer slaves to sin, so why would we still act like we are? (Romans 6: 1-2). There’s no doubt that we will make mistakes and fall short of God’s commandments—that’s the whole reason Jesus had to come in the first place. If we could be perfect in our own right, Jesus wouldn’t be our Savior because we wouldn’t need saving. But through the strength of the Holy Spirit, our active decision to resist our sinful nature is a testament to the power of Jesus in our lives.

What do we gain from following His law?
In Mere Christianity—I know, I cite that one often—Lewis writes, “But the truth is that the right actions done for the wrong reasons do not help build the internal quality or character called ’virtue,’ and it is this quality of character that really matters.” He then goes on to say, “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules; whereas He really wants people of a particular sort,” (Lewis 80).

That sounds a lot like the process of sanctification that we looked at a moment ago. This idea that through the work of the Holy Spirit, our lifetime of actions—the good and the bad—will actually form us into people who embody the kind of virtue that pleases God. 

Let’s take it one step further. In Romans 16:25-27, Paul writes about “the obedience that comes from faith.” And in an exegesis of this passage, John Piper shares his commentary on the connection between faith and obedience. He says, “The gospel strengthens us in faith so that we will live obedient lives. This is called ‘the obedience of faith.’ The gospel is the means to obedience because it is the means to faith and obedience comes from faith,” (Piper, par. 9).

Faith gives us the strength to be obedient. And that obedience helps us draw closer to God which in turn makes our faith stronger. The second we start to think of our actions as the end in themselves, we’ve missed the point entirely.

Today, I challenge you to truly reflect on what drives you to obey God’s rules. Is it the desire to be “good” or “right”? Maybe you do it because it's how you were raised. Or maybe you just love lists and check marks.

And be honest with yourself. Our motivations tell us what we value. Once we identify them, we can begin the work of aligning them with the heart of God. 

Resources:
www.biblegateway.com
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
www.desiringgod.org/messages/command-of-god
 

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the All Our Minds project | On Christianity and Feminism  ft. Sarah Schwartz

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the All Our Minds project | On Christianity and Feminism ft. Sarah Schwartz

Throughout history, women of faith have often struggled to discover their place in the church—and more broadly, in the world. Take my friend Sarah Schwartz for instance.

Since childhood, Sarah has always been a natural leader, but as she grew up and began stepping more fully into this gift, she started to receive conflicting messages about what was expected of her as a woman. More specifically, as a Christian woman.

In college, these conflicting messages drove Sarah to Scripture. As someone who takes Scripture seriously and wants to follow Jesus with every part of her life, she started reading different books on different theologies of gender. “I read everything I could get my hands on,” says Sarah, “and I really just came to believe that God's heart was one for women to experience the same dignity and respect in this world as men experience.”

Sarah recently graduated with her M.A. in Theology from Biola University and actively advocates for the equality of men and women, both inside the walls of the church and beyond. That’s why I reached out to her for an interview after receiving today’s question:

Question #3: What does it look like to be a Christian feminist?

Instead of trying to answer this one on my own, I connected with Sarah. Here are some snippets from our conversation, which started with her defining feminism.

Sarah: I'd say that I define feminism as a Christian woman the same way that a non-Christian woman would. I think the definition remains the same. Feminism is a movement for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. And while I'm a Christian and that is a part of my identity and there are women who aren't Christians who believe in feminism, I would say that my Christian faith makes me believe in feminism all that much more. I believe that the idea that women deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as men in every sphere is actually very deeply Christian. So while it's entirely possible to be a feminist and not a Christian, I would say that my Christian faith actually inspires me to pursue feminism that much more.

Can you talk a little more about that?

Sarah: Yeah. So in following Jesus and trying to better understand the heartbeat of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and in the life of Jesus Christ, I see our God as one who is always on in the corner of the marginalized. He's always advocating for fair and just treatment for those who are vulnerable. We see this particularly in the way that the Old Testament law talks about how Israel is supposed to treat the foreigner, the widow and the oppressed. There's consideration taken for those who are vulnerable in society.

We see that in the Old Testament and then we see it continue on with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. And women throughout the history of the world to present day are overrepresented in those categories in terms of violence and systemic poverty, abuse, harassment, mistreatment. So then it follows that God's heart is also for women.

So what does it look like to be a Christian feminist?

Sarah: For me, being a Christian feminist means to think about the words of the Old Testament where it says, "What does the Lord require of you but to love mercy and to do justly and to walk humbly with your God?" I want to structure my life in a way where the money that I spend is helping empower women. I'm gonna buy things from companies that treat their female workers well or who put fair labor laws in the factories that they own. I want to be sure to call out the very best in my female friends and in my sister and my cousins and I want to be a voice that reminds them that they're capable. And that they should ask for that job promotion or they should go for that degree.

At the end of the day, I believe that in the kingdom of God, women are and will be celebrated as the full image bearer creations that they are. So how can I live that now? By following Jesus and following his commands to their logical end in every sphere of my life.

Many people point to Genesis 2:22-23 and say that women are not in fact equal to men because woman was made from man. What are your thoughts?

Sarah: So I would say that that's kind of sloppy interpretation. It’s generally the very theologically conservative people who interpret it that way and they would never apply that kind of hermeneutic to any other passage. Because it’s implicit in the text rather than explicit in the text.

The text doesn't then follow and say, "And because of this, woman is inferior to man." Right? I think it's important to recognize like what the text does and does not say. And also, as always with any responsible exposition of scripture, we have to look at big picture things and we can't isolate verses.

The creation narrative is actually really beautiful in it's affirmation of women being full image bearers. When God says, "Let us make man in our image," he created them and affirmed that both men and women bear the image of God fully. Then, when Adam and Eve are commissioned to rule over the Earth, to sustain and care for the Earth and tend to it, it isn't "Adam, you rule over the earth and Eve, take notes." It's a command given to both of them.

What do women’s marches represent?

Sarah: I've found that a lot of the hesitation of Christians to participate in the women's march is that the women's march organization did decline to work with a pro-life organization in the initial planning of the original women's march. A lot of Christians associate feminism with abortion rights, and that’s when I like to draw it back to a comparison to Christianity.

So within Christianity, we have a variety of expression and beliefs and practices within our faith tradition, right? We have a variety of denominations and people who are Calvinists and people who are Arminian and everything else under the sun. What makes all of those people Christian is that they believe in who Jesus is and what he did for us and what that means for humanity. And so they disagree about a lot of things but they come back at the end of the day to those core truths that define them as Christians.

It's the same with feminism. You're gonna find a lot of feminists that disagree with each other about a lot of things including abortion rights, but at the end of the day the umbrella under which they all fall under is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women. So I am a feminist, I am pro-life and I don't support abortion. There’s a major misconception that in order to participate in things like the women's marches you have to support abortion, which is just simply not true.

What would be your challenge to Christian women today?

Sarah: I would challenge Christian women to live fully into the giftings that God has given them. And I’d challenge them to be careful not to import our own culture’s ideals and ideas about femininity when thinking about what gifts it's possible for them to have. In the white, middle to upper class evangelical culture, the ideal way to live is to have a husband who makes more money than you so that you can have kids and stay at home. That's great if that works out for you and if that's what you wanna do. I was raised by a stay at home mom, I have benefited from that particular set up within my own family unit, but also I think sometimes we forget that we are like 5% of the world where that's possible.

The many luxuries that we are afforded are not afforded to women in other parts of the world. And if I'm gonna be an advocate for women, if I'm gonna think critically about womanhood, I need to be thinking about women who don't look like me or experience the world like me.

What is the question that I'm not asking? What piece of this conversation do you feel is missing?

Sarah: Well I've been thinking a lot lately about how often we don't know our own history. It’s only through my own research and digging that I feel like I understood the movements of feminism and the sacrifices that were made by women. So I never learned about how women during the suffrage movement were beaten and arrested and force fed in jail because they were advocating simply for a woman's right to vote. My own grandmother, who is 88 years old couldn't have a credit card in her name until the 1970s. And things like domestic violence between a husband and a wife—there wasn't a law against those things until the 70s. Sometimes we approach these things without even realizing how close we are to them in history.

For people who are interested in learning more, can you recommend some books or articles that might be good resources? Maybe some people who think the same as you and others who have differing perspectives?

Sarah: A book that I recommend all the time is by Sarah Bessey and it's called Jesus Feminist. For people who are more interested in the theology, Discovering Biblical Equality by Ron Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis is a really good book. The counterpart to that, which is the complementarian theology, is Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. And then also another one that people really enjoy and I think is a really good read is Rachel Held Evans A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans both also have blogs.

So there you have it. One woman’s experience of thinking through her faith and her feminist values. I hope her words and recommendations will help you form your own views on this topic. Please share your thoughts and responses in the comments below.

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