Compassion over Condemnation

“Neither do I condemn you…” John 8:11

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

“You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” John 8:15

Condemnation. This word basically mean disapproval at the strongest level. When we condemn someone, there isn’t a lot of hope left for them; they are too far gone. Condemnation is the outcome of judgment. We look at someone’s actions or we hear their words and we judge them as doomed, condemned. There is no hope for them, they are too far gone. But condemnation is a choice we make.

No one has to condemn another person. We have another option: compassion. I love the story of the interaction between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8. She’s been caught in the very act of adultery. There is no argument out there she can use to prove her innocence. And the truth is, she isn’t innocent, she’s guilty of the charge against her and she knows it. This act of adultery is going to cost her everything, literally. She is not taken to court and given a fair trial, she is tossed like garbage in front of an accusing group of people and sentenced to death by stoning. No hope. No grace. No love. Condemnation. And then Jesus steps in and the whole world flips on its head.

Jesus, knowing the hearts of every single person He is looking at in this moment, brings grace. The religious leaders demand He agree with them, uphold the Law and condemn her. There would be absolutely no earthly reason for Jesus to do anything but pick up the first stone and throw it at her. Instead, He brings heaven to Earth and chooses people over everything else. He, knowing that every person standing there is a sinner, invites the one who is perfect to throw the first stone. I picture Him looking directly into the eyes of each person as He invites them into this moment. Not with a look of condemnation but, with a look of love and compassion. Finally the weight of their own sins become too much and they all walk away, knowing they are no better than this woman. Finally, Jesus walks over to the woman and pours grace out on her life by offering her another chance to live. He releases her in love and declares, “neither do I condemn you..”.

We have no right, no authority and no command to condemn anybody, ever. Jesus at no point in any of the Gospels bestows any power on us as His followers to judge anybody. He actually tells us the exact opposite. Jesus tells us to do things like love each other unconditionally (Matthew 22), pray for our enemies (Matthew 5) and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5). All of those activities are about compassion and not about judgment. They are about bringing heaven to Earth in a moment when it feels like hell is winning. They are about showing another person that they hold tremendous value and are deeply wanted.

We don’t have to agree on every point, but we do have to love and not condemn. It is possible to have a calm and rational conversation where we are sharing ideas and learning from each other and, where we walk away in respect and disagreement. The saying, “agree to disagree” is really powerful. I don’t have to convince you that I’m right and, even better, I don’t have to be obsessed with being seen as right. I can be like the people standing around the woman caught in adultery and walk away knowing that really, I’m no better I’m just sinning in a different way.

Compassion over condemnation. When given the choice, choose compassion and in that choice, find yourself following Jesus and bringing Heaven to Earth.

Shalom,

KA

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On Being a Shepherd for the Wandering Away

I love all people but, I’m drawn to the ones who walked away, and radically devoted to finding them. Walked away because the pain was too much to bear so they numb it with drugs and alcohol. Walked away because someone lied to them and said God couldn’t love them if they were gay. Walked away because the depression they are feeling is real and needs to be treated, not just ignored and labeled “teen hormones”. Walked away because their first love left them and no one wants to see their pain because they’re “too young to know true love”. Walked away because they are suffering under the cruel and painful hand of abuse every day and they don’t think they deserve better. Walked away because being in the group was just too painful.

People walk away in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons. You can walk away from people, communities or locations. You can emotionally disconnect or physical pack it up. Walking away, leaving the group, happens for all kinds of reasons and unfortunately, many times the people left don’t notice or don’t seem to notice. They may wonder what happened to someone and then, often, they go back to their lives. That’s not said in any type of judgmental tone, it is just simply what happens. I believe fully that God raises up some as shepherds who are always looking, always watching for the ones who walk away and those shepherds, they go after the wanderer to make sure they are safe and when possible, brought back into a community. Not necessarily the community they just left, but a community where they can thrive. I believe I’m one of those shepherds.

Over the past several months, I’ve been volunteering as a crisis counselor (CC). I spend between 6 and 10 hours a week as a CC and as a guess, I imagine about 70% of the people I chat with are actively considering suicide. Some have an actual plan in place with some fairly graphic details that almost seem like I’m reading a movie script. Others are playing around with the idea like putting your hand over a flame to see how long you can stand it. In all cases, seriously contemplating suicide or not, this time as a CC has confirmed for me that I am a shepherd who is almost desperately running after the one who is walking away. I know I can’t actually save anyone, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, I have been able to help these wandering ones feel seen, heard and connected enough to step back from the ledge for just a moment and feel some connectedness and love. Ultimately, I have no idea if they choose to live or if they choose to die and, that’s not my role. I am called to find them and hold space for them so that in their moment of crisis, they know that they are not actually alone.

Suicide prevention and connectedness are my new vision. I’ve been a vocal advocate of unconditional love and community for a long time and now things are just coming more into focus for me. It’s hard work. It brings me to tears and my knees often. It brings me to heaven in prayer always. I love it and, it’s a space for me in terms of ministry and work that I never really saw coming. What a gift!!

Just to make sure we all understand the lives at stake, here are some suicide statistics.

From the CDC (www.cdc.gov), AFSP (www.afsp.org and Suicidology (www.suicidology.org)

* In 2016, close to 45,000 Americans 10 years old or older died by suicide. In 2017, that number rose to over 47,000.

* Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.

* On average there are 129 completed suicides daily in America.

* In 2017, white men ages 45-54 were the highest demographic in America completing suicide.

* Based on 2017 data, every 27 seconds someone in America attempts suicide and every 11 minutes, someone completes suicide.

These numbers break my heart because these are my people. I hear stories of kids feeling unheard, unseen and unwanted by their parents. I hear stories from addicts who just need to feel like they have one redeeming quality and reason to not get high or drunk today. I hear stories from women who are just believing with all their might that they won’t get hit today because leaving feels even more painful. And here’s the deal, because coupled with my CC work I also meet with people 1:1 and provide pastoral counseling as a chaplain, I’m here to tell you that you know these people struggling to find a reason to breathe in air for the next minute. And if you think you don’t you are in deep denial and I would strongly encourage you to open yourself up to the world around you. You may also be one of the people desperately clawing at the ground to find a footing if any kind to keep you safe.

So why am I writing this blog? To raise awareness and to bring love. If you have a friend or family member in crisis or if you yourself are in crisis, you need resources. If you don’t know anyone in crisis right now, just stick this information in your back pocket so you have it when you need it. I encourage all of us to be asking our friends and family if they are feeling safe and able to cope with life as it feels appropriate to ask. Guess what, studies show us that simply asking someone if they are contemplating suicide in no way plants a seed. You are not causing someone to think of suicide by asking, so ask! How many people have you heard say “I had no idea…” after someone attempts or completes suicide? LOTS! So be informed about your people.

Here are two excellent resources for people in crisis:

Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741. You can also follow them on Facebook and use messenger. This service is free and 24/7/365.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255. This service is free and 24/7/365.

We aren’t all called to shepherd the one that wanders off. We are all called to unconditionally love each other. In moments when you know your words will do more harm than good, stay silent. If you are facing something that you don’t know how to handle, get resources and education. There is enough love and support for us all. God is pretty big and ridiculously able to do more than we can imagine.

Shalom,

KA

Hold Space, Not Judgment

Judgment. It’s an easy trap and we all fall in to it at some point, or many points, in our lives. We look at what someone else is doing and based on our experiences, we judge them as not doing the right thing. We compare our experiences with their actions and we make declarations like, “I would never do…” or “I’ve faced that and I didn’t…”. There is a massive flaw in this kind of comparison, besides the simple fact the comparison is flawed, and that is we believe we are comparing apples to apples when in reality, we are comparing apples to oranges. Alike in that we are human. Not alike in that we have completely different sets of experiences and DNA.

Women who faced abortion and chose not to have one, look at women who faced abortion and chose to have one, and they say things like, “I’ve been there and I chose life, why didn’t you?” The truth is that the only similarity is you faced the same decision point, but each person went into that decision point with a different set of variables at play and so no, you didn’t have a shared experience, at best you had a similar decision point. And then, as if that singular judgment isn’t bad enough, words like, “I’m not judging you…” or “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings…” come out and they add insult to injury because at the core of the judgment is the desire to have someone be right and someone be wrong and that, in and of itself, brings about pain.

(I use the example of abortion not to focus on that issue in particular but because right now it’s a hot topic across the United States and it’s where I see so much judgment and venom.)

The simple Truth (yes, I know I capitalized “T” because for me, this is a universal truth), you have no idea what came into play when a person made a particular decision even when you have had to make the same decision. All of your DNA, all of your childhood, all of your trauma, all of your joy, all of the millions of moments you have experienced layered on top of your chemical makeup came together and produced your decision and that decision is absolutely specific to you. While we may make the same decision, we are making it for different reasons and we may not even understand those differences. We have to get to the place where we stop thinking we understand exactly what someone else is going through because in the end, we really don’t and when we try to get that close to identifying with someone, we run the risk of judging them. I always go back to a favorite phrase, “same same, but different”.

Compassion is how we live in a space of “same same, but different” and allow for others to choose differently from us without judging their actions. Jesus, clearly one who operated out of and through compassion His entire life, made a bold statement about Himself and us and it’s one we need to use as a compass. In John 8:15 He says, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” Mic drop! Jesus, heaven made flesh and come to earth, Son of the living God, one-third of the Trinity, certainly had the right to judge considering who He was and yet, He opts for compassion and a non-judgemental approach. If Jesus didn’t feel like judging people was His role, then how can we?

Now, the immediate pushback is, “I wasn’t judging, I said that clearly. I was just expressing my opion.” Guess what folks, no one really needs one more piece of unsolicited opinion or advice. We’re full! Overflowing even with opinions and advice. And yes, of course you have the right to express your opinion (look, I’m doing it here myself!) but the words being chosen are hard, cutting and unkind. If you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t get to use language that harms people. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are commanded to use a language of unconditional love. A language that says to the person facing a tough decision “let me hold space for you to share your feelings and I promise, I won’t tell you my story unless you ask me.” Holding space is where we have the largest amount if impact.

Holding space for someone is scary, can we just be honest about that? If I hold space for you, allow you to open up and spill out your mess, then I’m going to have to get messy with you and that’s terrifying. I’m going to have to hear things I maybe don’t like and hold my reactions. I’m going to have to make the moment all about you and not about me. I’m going to have to listen to understand and not listen to reply. Holding space is one of the hardest, most loving gifts you can give someone and the cost is great. And, the cost to not hold space for someone is greater.

Live a life of compassion, holding space and not judging, where people feel valued and honored. You will find yourself growing and changing and God will use you in ways you never imagined.

Shalom,

KA

Being Holy

I posted a quote out of the book “Shameless” by Nadia Bolz-Weber the other day on Facebook and it sparked a conversation with a friend around what it looks like to be holy. Here’s the book quote:

“Let us treat ourselves and others, no matter what our talents, as if we are all holy. Because we are.”

The conversation was about the truth/untruth of this statement. Are we really all holy by virtue of our existence or is holiness more around working or striving to be holy? So I set out on a short journey to see what scripture has to say about holiness.

In 1 Peter 1:16, we see the direction to be holy because God is holy. Without much reason to think otherwise, it is easy to think Peter is quoting Jesus here when actually, he’s quoting the Old Testament. Leviticus 11:44, 19:2 and 20:7 all give us this direction: “be holy because I (the LORD) am holy”. Ok, so knowing where the direction comes from helps in setting the context. We’ve always been called to holiness, it’s not a New Testament call. That means to me, it’s something foundational about us, not empowered by our idea of what it means to be a Christ follower, but rather, it is part of what it means to be the creation of God.

In Genesis we are told that we are created in the image of God (1:27). We are representative figures of who God is in His being. Does that mean God has a physical body that looks like a human? I don’t personally think so but there isn’t anything I’ve ever seen in scripture to describe Him in that manner. There is, however, lots of verses in the Bible that explain God’s character and nature and it is in those things we find the image in which we have been created. Holiness, based on the verses Peter is using to support his direction, is one of the facets of God’s character.

Ok, so if we can agree that being holy is something that is part of our nature, why isn’t it something easy to do? I mean seriously, the word “holy” feels like a high and mighty word so how do we go about being holy? Holy means to be of God and set apart. In the creation story, humans were of God (in His image) and set apart. All throughout scripture, Old Testament and New, we see people who have dedicated their lives to God, made horrific mistakes, failed over and over, and who are still holy. Holiness doesn’t seem to be something you work at attaining, as much as it is something you simply are, of God and set apart. Because we are offered free will, we can of course choose to live unholy lives. Our actions may not be holy and actually, the may be in direct defiance to holiness, but our created nature is always in and of itself one that holds holiness as a feature.

I think it comes down to whether or not you see holiness as a state of being or an action. I see it as part of our nature and out of it, we act in ways which are loving and life giving. There are certainly holy moments where you know that presence of God is thick in that moment. There are actions that feel holier than others. So perhaps, holiness is both: being and action. Regardless of how you define it, I don’t see that holiness is something you strive to be, I see that it is part of who you are and whether or not you tap into it is your choice.

Be holy because God is holy.

Shalom,

KA

Be Curious

I haven’t been spending as much time in Facebook world as I used to lately. One of the reasons is I’m having a hard time with some of the absolute statements folks make when really, it’s just their opinion. I’ve done it hundreds of times myself in the past so I get it. We believe something strongly and for us, that belief is a foundational truth. It then morphs into a perceived universal Truth when really, it isn’t proveable and it’s personal to us.

I had the opportunity to attend an Interfaith community dinner last night and as my daughter would say, I am shook. I had the insane honor of sitting next to a new friend from Samalia who is Muslim. After building a little rapport, I bravely asked if I could ask him a question. He kind of smiled, I’m sure knowing what was coming, and agreed. I asked him to tell me what he thought about Jesus. We then entered into this gorgeous conversation around the Muslim faith and how it overlaps with Christianity on so many points. I had no idea! Here’s one thing that made me sad…he knew a ton about Christianity while I knew next to nothing about Islam. Here’s one thing that made my heart soar…we both agreed that no matter what we believe, we are called to love and not judge. God is the judge and He is the one who turns a heart toward Him.

I fear that we’ve gotten to a place in the American Church where our opinion and our interpretation shuts us down from engagement and curiosity. We close the door and lock the windows to anything and anyone who doesn’t hold the same “truth” as us and we scream at them our personal truth. We assume our position is the right position and any listening to other sides is sin. We lose all opportunity to gain insight and wisdom, to grow in really rich ways by learning, because we are terrified that everything we think is Truth is really just opinion and personal belief. As if somehow you aren’t allowed to hold personal beliefs because they aren’t valuable.

Curiosity is such a powerful tool. Asking questions appropriately, with kindness and genuine interest, shapes our world view and allows us to grow. Jesus asked lots of questions and I believe in that habit, He is modeling for us how we should approach people. We can declare our side, draw the line in the sand or, we can choose to understand the other person and ask questions. Not questions meant for accusations, questions meant for sharing and growing.

I’m convinced that the more we stand on our podiums and shout what we believe with no regard for the harm and trauma we could be causing, the more we render ourselves ineffective. I fully believe most people have great intentions and aren’t trying to harm. They believe they are protecting, helping or promoting something good. Unfortunately, when we assume a position above people, looking down to tell them where they are wrong, we only do harm and eventually we force everyone away because we lose our approachability. Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who didn’t force His Truth on anyone, He simply loved, asked questions, and stayed approachable.

Be curious. Love all. Judge none. Ask questions.

Shalom,

KA