What We Forgot On Memorial Day

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Question: If you went to church last weekend, what holiday, if any, did your church acknowledge? If your church is like mine, you acknowledged Memorial Day and, hence, the U.S. military. Across the country last weekend, church projector screens donned digital American flags, choruses of God Bless America filled the rafters, and prayers were uttered thanking God for “those who, like Christ, have given their lives so that we might worship here in freedom today.” For many people and churches, this is standard operating procedure for patriotic holiday weekends, and it would seem strange, even offensive, not to honor those who have served in the military on such occasions.

Here’s my question, though. When we gather together to worship, as whom are we gathered? Are we gathered as citizens of the United States who happen to live in the same area and worship at the same church? If so, by all means let us salute our flag and thank God for our soldiers.

However, if we are gathered as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14), a Kingdom that transcends national borders and unites the Church as one people regardless of nationality, socio-economic status, or gender (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), we are a new community—a counter-culture—that operates not by power, violence, and coercion, but by humility, meekness, and death and resurrection (Romans 12:14-21). As a people baptized into this new community, we worship God and God alone in our assemblies. Our new identity in Christ supplants prior allegiances, and the King of kings becomes the sole object of our worship (on Sunday and every other day of the week). Any other power of this world, including nations and their soldiers, we choose to honor in our assemblies is, quite simply, an idol.

Honoring a power of this world in Christian assembly detracts from the worship of God and introduces a competing allegiance to that of the Kingdom of God. To honor the United States or any nation in Christian assembly is to lose sight of who we truly are—we are followers of Jesus, baptized into his new community, no longer defined by worldly socio-political boundaries. Thus, when we salute the American flag, sing patriotic songs, and adorn our sanctuaries with red, white, and blue, we divide our allegiance to God and his Kingdom and we make an idol out of the worldly kingdom in which we live. Our Kingdom, however, is not of this world (John 18:33-38).

Now, back to the holiday question. What I find perhaps even more disturbing than the blatant nationalism displayed in many churches last Sunday is the special day most of these churches failed to acknowledge. There was another day, a holy day, on the calendar last Sunday. At least it was on the liturgical calendar (our calendar). Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.

Most evangelical churches do not acknowledge or operate by the liturgical calendar (outside of Christmas and Easter), and many would dismiss it as antiquated or too “Catholic.” I couldn’t disagree more. (Well, I guess it is kind of Catholic, but I disagree with that being a bad thing.)

The holy day of Pentecost, which coincides with the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22), occurs 50 days after Easter, and on Pentecost Sunday, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon those gathered for the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension.

In more liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday is a day of great rejoicing and celebration. Festive, colorful processions make their ways through the gathered people of God as the church universal experiences anew the story of the Spirit descending upon those assembled in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I worshiped with an Episcopal church on Pentecost Sunday one year, and at a certain point in the service, about twenty people in the congregation stood and simultaneously read aloud a passage of Scripture in different languages to incarnate afresh the coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of the people to speak in tongues at Pentecost. This was one of the most memorable and impactful moments of any worship service I have ever experienced.

Calendars carry formative potential. Calendars shape us. Think about how the weeks leading up to Christmas alter your mood (either positively or negatively); so, too, with other holidays. The liturgical calendar is no different. The season of Lent is a time of purging, penitence, and preparation before the celebration of Easter. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is a time of special reflection and meditation on the last week of Jesus’ life. Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is a time to both remember and give thanks for Christ’s first coming and eagerly await and pray for his second coming.

The liturgical calendar reminds us who we are. It reminds us where we’ve come from and, with God’s help, where we’re going. For some (myself included), it even acts as a subversive alternative to the American calendar. I love Arbor Day as much as the next person, but disciplining myself to observe the liturgical calendar and its special days and seasons helps me further solidify my identity in Christ, my connection to the communion of saints, and my allegiance to the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom whose soldiers carry crosses, not guns.

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  –A prayer for Pentecost Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer

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Confession of a Single Guy…

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In the American evangelical church, a lot of our efforts are focused on families. We offer parenting seminars, we hold marriage banquets, we honor fathers and mothers on their appropriate made-up and non-liturgical holidays, we have youth groups and children’s activities. Much of our language regarding events is pointed toward families (each family bring a dish…or the price is $10 a family…etc.). We gauge the growth of a church by how many babies are in a nursery (which seems borderline cultish when you want to grow from within like that).

As someone who grew up in the church, I loved most of these things. But when I graduated from college and realized that I was going to be working in a church as a single person, these things began to stand out more and more. Let me make one thing clear: I love families and I love seeing families grow toward Christ together. This is by no means a post saying that we should forget about families.

This is a post saying that we need to remember a group we have forgotten: the singles.

When I say singles, you probably immediately think of people somewhere in the age range of 18-35 who are putting off getting married until they establish themselves. But I am not just talking about these people. I am also talking about the widows and widowers who became single due to tragic events. Or to the newly divorced person who is navigating what it means to be single again. This is also about those who took a vow of celibacy because it was something they wanted to do.

Look around, church. There are singles everywhere. And they desperately want to be a part of a family but they don’t know how or where they fit in.

Do they fit in to the numerous sermon series dedicated to marriages? Because the only time we hear singles being mentioned in those series is usually in reference to remaining sexually pure and to stop looking at pornography (because all singles are sexual deviants who continuously look at porn and/or have sex).

Do they fit into the countless married small groups? It’s not that we want to be in a “singles” small group…we really do want to be around married people because they are just people…but many times we hear that we aren’t allowed because we aren’t married.

Do they fit into the illustrations about frustrations with a spouse or with children? As a youth pastor, every time I go to a conference, other youth pastors who speak talk about their kids or their spouses…and I realize that the key to a successful youth ministry is really a family.

Do they feel at home in your church or do they feel the pressure to get married or remarried? You might say that you have singles in your church but how often are they asked about who they’re dating, when they plan on getting married, etc.

Recently, I read a book from Deb Hirsch called Redeeming Sex. Very rarely do I read a book that speaks to the soul as much as this book did. I found it saying everything I have felt and wanted to say for so long. And it was refreshing to know that I was not alone in my feelings for how singles are treated in the church.

As a single, I feel alone quite a bit. This isn’t to evoke feelings of sympathy for me (if you know me, you know that I would just laugh at those feelings). Surprisingly enough, I feel more alone at church than I do when I’m at my apartment.10392377_634829361283_6032125750710341341_n

At church, sometimes I feel more on the outside as families plan outings together and dinners (hey, I get it, if you take a 5th wheel to a theme park, rides get confusing).

At church, I hear sermons about marriage and I hear pastors say, “now if you’re single, this might not apply to you now…but it will someday.” Really? You know that for sure? You know, without a doubt, that this will apply to me?

At church, people ask about my dating life. Luckily, I have not had to endure many of the people who say, “oh…well if you’re still single, I have the perfect girl for you!”

At church, I see marriages celebrated all the time in a variety of ways. I immediately think of those whose marriages ended poorly. Or those who lost a spouse. Or those who took vows of celibacy. What does it mean to them when they see this?

It makes me feel alone because it reminds me that I don’t quite fit the mold for who should be attending an American evangelical church. Because I’m perfectly content with remaining single until I’m 35 or even older. I don’t have an end in sight. That’s okay with me. But it’s not okay for a lot of people. They think I won’t be happy until I find the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. But I am perfectly happy, as is.

As a single guy, I do not…

order takeout or pizza every night

have a crazy messy bachelor pad

get super depressed because I come home to an empty apartment

abandon my responsibilities (just because I don’t have a family doesn’t mean I can get up and do whatever I want whenever I want…I have other responsibilities)

pile on extra work because I don’t have a family to worry about

go to clubs or bars picking up women

or have a computer that’s filled with images of porn.

My typical day includes: cooking, cleaning, reading, watching some tv, hanging out with friends, talking with friends, and maybe going out to do something fun. It’s not that bizarre. And it’s not unfulfilling.

So please, church, let us stop making singles feel like outcasts. It’s not that we get upset when: you include a sermon about us in your series over marriage, or when you include us when you celebrate moms and dads, or when you graciously open up events for us by saying something like “it’s not just for families…but for everyone (thanks for that),” or when you remind us that one day we will have a family, or even when you tell us we can come to your small group but we should really try to find a small group that we can really identify with.

We don’t get upset by those things…we just feel like we don’t belong. And we desperately want to belong. We don’t hate marriages and we don’t hate families. We don’t want the church to stop celebrating these things at all. But we do wish that the church would start celebrating us.

I love how Hirsch reminds us that Jesus redefined family. He really did. Everyone was His mother, brother, father, sister, etc. We all want that. We all want to be a part of that family. But we don’t have to already have a family to be a part of that family.

Easter Is Not About You

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crosslambAs we finish out this Lenten season with the hope of Resurrection Sunday, I have been reflecting on some of the verbiage that I know will be used on Easter Sunday. Many evangelical churches gear up their services for this weekend (albeit, we do not do much remembering up until that weekend — in fact, many churches neglect the entire Lenten season and instead only focus on Easter Sunday, which I have written about before). They add extra “elements” to attract those who have not been at church in a while. They make sure that everything sounds and looks great. They will add extra services to make sure that people will attend.

We do all of this in hopes that the Gospel message of Easter is heard by many.

I am not here to discuss the effectiveness of these techniques, although I do have my opinions. What amazes me even more is the language that many pastors will use this coming weekend.

“God loves YOU so much…”
“On the cross, Christ thought about YOU…”
“He rose so YOU wouldn’t have to go through…”

Much of our language around Easter centers around individuals. Whereas this might be true, I believe it does a great disservice to the heart of the Gospel message. The Easter message has digressed into a selfish plea.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock considering that even when reading the Bible, many of us ask the question, “What does this mean for me?” We have taken God’s grand story and dwindled it down to a personal application. Our lens for reading Scripture is, “How can this help me in my life?” When this represents many in the evangelical church culture, of course our message on Easter Sunday will contain verbiage focusing on individuals.

As a kid, I remember someone telling me that if “I was the only person in the world, God would’ve still sent His Son for me.” It was a nice sentiment, but I think it does a great injustice to the nature of God. In trying to express God’s love, we have, instead, romanticized God’s love.

You are not the single affection of God.

Easter is about a reconciliation of ALL things. Easter is about ALL of creation being reconciled to God. Easter is about God.

It is true that Easter is hope for you. That because of what Christ did, we no longer have to fear death. That resurrection of all will occur. That death has no victory over you.

But it isn’t just about you.

If we continue to dilute the Gospel message, we will continue to perpetuate a selfish society. Instead, we need to take the complete Gospel message and penetrate a selfish society. It is like we are trying to preach Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John without preaching the entire Old Testament.

This is the difficulty of Easter. In order to understand the significance of what Christ did, we need to understand the story of Israel and the story of God…we need to understand the Old Testament.

The story of Easter is larger than you. It is larger than me. It needs to be. It has to be.

Let us move away from speaking the Gospel message to individuals and instead move toward inviting individuals to be a part of the Gospel message. This is one of the things I love about liturgical/high church services. I never walk away with a little fortune cookie saying of God’s love for me. I always walk away with a better understanding of God’s relationship with the world and what that means for creation.

May we not try to look at the Easter message in a new, fresh, or relevant (horrible word) way, but in the way it was meant to be viewed. This Easter, let us focus on what it means for everything…not just what it means for you.

Sabbath For Yourself

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IMG_3159I usually know when I need to sabbath (or rest). My personality is usually a bit more cynical and I am easily angered. Stress seems to be all around me. It becomes difficult to remember my daily schedule. God is likely a distant thought for me.

Unfortunately, when I know I need a sabbath, it is usually too little too late. When your body tells you to rest, it’s usually because you should’ve rested long ago and now you are running on fumes. Is it any wonder why we see so many health issues among people who are young? They feel like if they stop, then they will fail.

For those in the church world, we tend to ignore the Sabbath because we are “doing God’s work and God never takes a break.” This thought is utter nonsense. Of course God takes a break.

Some equate their love for God with how much work they do for Him. This is disheartening because it loses sight of the Gospel message.

Some believe that the eternity of mankind rests on their shoulders. It must be hard to play God like that…which is why it is probably better that we let God play God.

Most that I know in ministry will say, “I rely on God.” However, that statement proves false unless sabbath happens. Our reliance on God is directly connected to how we sabbath.

We need to get rid of the image that working late from home is a good thing.

We need to get rid of the mindset that turning off our phones could be disastrous.

We need to stop fostering a culture that enables people to become solely dependent upon someone other than God.

We need to stop thinking that the eternal fate of humanity lies on the shoulders of those who work in a church.

We need to learn that it is okay to say no.

We need to learn that the same email will be there tomorrow.

We need to learn that work was never meant to destroy.

We need to learn that martyrdom is not spending all your time working in a church.

We need to know that we aren’t God.

I say that phrase a lot because I have to remind myself of that frequently. This is why I believe it is so important to sabbath for yourself. As a pastor, I can easily succumb to the thought that I am God. Of course, I wouldn’t come right out and say that; otherwise, I would be a heretic. But it is easy to think to yourself: “If I don’t meet with this person, what will he/she do?” Or “If I am not at every single thing this person does, then I am failing as a pastor.” Or “The more I do, the further God’s Kingdom is advanced.” Or “People need to know and I’m the only one who can say it.” Or “I am in charge of their discipleship and I have to be there for them at all times.”

When I begin to think those things, I realize that I think I am God.

If Jesus needed to get away every now and then, why do you think you don’t need it?

If God, after creating the world, decided to rest, then why do you see resting as weakness?

I fear sabbath because I fear the truth about my motivations.

Clear away all of the religious phrasing (doing it all for the Kingdom, running on Jesus, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, etc.), and I find that I refuse to rest because I fear my motivations. Pastors, just like everyone else, want to leave their mark. They want to be remembered. They want to be the next Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We can say that we want to impact our community for Christ…but that can often transform into, “Caleb impacted the community for Christ,” or “Caleb’s church impacted the community for Christ.”

Sabbath puts us in our place. Sabbath humbles us. Sabbath reminds us that we are not the most important person in the world. Sabbath forces us to admit that our motivations are not pure. Sabbath tells us that God does not desire a martyr who died because he/she refused to take a break. Sabbath is the truth that in my weakness, Christ is strong. Sabbath points us to community. Sabbath is part of the Kingdom. Sabbath lets God be God.

How about you?

Do you really work as hard as you do to provide a good life for your family? Or are you working as hard as you do because you want to be remembered? Because you want to be successful?

Did you really take that second job to make ends meet? Or did you take that second job because of greed?

Do you refuse to rest because you don’t have time? Or do you refuse to make time because you are fearful of what you might hear from God?

If you take a break, I’m sure the world won’t come crashing down…but if it does, at least you’ll be reminded that God is God and you are not.

What I Learned While Sitting in Irish Pubs

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Recently, I went on vacation to Ireland. My knowledge of the country was very limited. I knew of some things because of films, books, or vague memories of Social Studies in Junior High. Overall, however, I went in without much of an idea as to what I was going to do and see.

To some people, this freaks them out. They need a plan that tells them minute by minute what they are going to do and see. To me, however, I don’t view that as a vacation. When I go on vacation, I want the locals to tell me where to go and what to see. It’s how I found out that the view from the Rockefeller in NYC was a far superior view than the Empire State Building. It is how I found little hole in the wall restaurants on a strip filled with KFCs, Taco Bells, and McDonalds. I have always believed that for the best vacations, one needs to find out where the locals gather.

In Ireland, that was in pubs.IMG_3168

Pubs are much different than American bars. Bars are filled with overly loud electronic dance music. Pubs are filled with conversations, laughter, and whatever music they feel like playing. Bars are filled with overpriced cocktails, pubs keep drinks simple and relatively inexpensive. Bars are where people go to get drunk to forget their problems, pubs are where people go to drink (and yes, sometimes they get drunk) and converse about their problems.

In pubs, I learned that we, as Americans, have little knowledge about our history. It seemed like everyone in Ireland spoke about their history as a nation. And in their speech, there wasn’t a tone of entitlement, but a tone of appreciation and pride. Not only did they know about their country, they knew about my country, as well.

In pubs, I learned that storytelling is the best remedy for anything. People love to tell stories there. They will tell you about stories of the country, stories of their lives, stories of famous people, stories of Guinness, and stories of the town. As I sat and listened to these stories, I lost track of time and for a moment, I forgot about worries and troubles in my own life.

In pubs, I learned that they take pride in what they produce. Every single pint of Guinness was poured the exact same way. They would grab a Guinness pint glass, tilt it at a 45 degree angle, pull the tap handle until the Guinness reached a certain level, straighten out the pint glass and continue pouring until the Guinness reached a certain level, let the Guinness settle for about 109 seconds, push the tap handle and top off the Guinness, and serve. Every single pint was poured the same way. They took pride in their product. They knew that good things come to those who wait.

In pubs, I learned that no one is a stranger. People were excited to get to know you. Once they heard my American accent, they asked from where I came and then proceeded to try and make a connection with me to make me feel welcome (everyone there kept saying, “you are very welcome here”). They wanted to know what I thought of their beautiful country. People truly listened to you because you weren’t a stranger in a strange land there.

IMG_3200Ultimately, I learned that God is present in pubs. I had the chance to attend Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. The music, the architecture, the carefully crafted liturgies, the eloquent reading of the Scripture, it all came together to show a piece of the Kingdom. But that wasn’t the first time I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in Ireland.

Shockingly enough, I experienced a piece of the Kingdom in the pub. There were musicians in the corner playing songs everyone knew. People were lifting up their pints of Guinness and singing along. Strangers were becoming friends over a pint or over a cigarette outside. Stories were being shared, laughter could be heard, and embraces could be seen. In pubs, like churches, people might come in pretending to be someone else. But after a few drinks, they tear away the facade they created. People walk into churches all the time pretending to be someone else. After a while, though, they hopefully drop the facade.

God is as much present in the local pubs as He is in the cathedrals. The Kingdom could be experienced through a pint and through the Eucharist. Worship was in the Gaelic tunes and in the hymns. Truth was told in conversations and in the reading of the Scripture.

There are a lot of similarities between pubs and churches. And I think there is a need for both. Pubs remind us that the Kingdom is messy because we are messy. We are drunks stumbling outside trying to remember where we live. But churches remind us to try and create beauty. We are called to create beautiful liturgies, gardens, parks, and art. Both the pub and the church collide to create a picture of the Kingdom that is sloppy and beautiful. But isn’t that what Jesus talked about? The world being in labor pains. It is messy and ugly, but something beautiful is coming.

Pubs reminded me that this world is messy and ugly but that something much more beautiful is coming.

I Can’t Do Anything About Racial Inequality

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This weekend, Saturday Night Live had a pretty provocative cold open. You can take a look at it here:

There are some pretty pointed statements that are made regarding racial equality and America’s struggle to achieve that. Of course, with the snub of the critically-acclaimed Selma, this sketch came at a perfect time. Personally, I was a little shocked because of the trend I have been seeing with the Academy. My expectations were that they were going to continue to move forward.

As a white guy from rural Illinois, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about racial equality. I went to school at Johnson University (formerly Johnson Bible College) in Knoxville, TN and didn’t really experience racial diversity there either. It wasn’t until I was doing my internship at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas that I began to see what racial diversity could look like. When I began working at Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, IL, I experienced my first multi-ethnic/racially diverse community — and one that was proud to talk about it.

Oftentimes, because of my skin color, I feel like I should be the last one talking about racial equality. Really, I feel like I can’t do anything about it. I haven’t lived the life that others have lived. I haven’t experienced the things that many others have experienced. I don’t notice things that others notice. So why should I lend my voice to it?

But do I keep quiet out of lack of experience (perhaps ignorance) or out of fear? I know I tell myself that because of my lack of experience in this area, I should remain quiet and let those who have experience fight. The truth is that I am motivated by fear. Fear of saying something wrong. Fear of not being able to do enough. Fear of not knowing what to do or say.

However, if there is a struggle of humanity, then we are all called to speak. Each of us must learn to take our own separate life experiences and combine them to speak against the inequality that exists. Just because I am not an African-American doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t speak out against racial inequality. Because as long as it still exists, everyone is called to speak up.

The church is at a pivotal moment to fight for the oppression that occurs each and every day. Unfortunately, I think a majority of churches feel the way I do — what can we do? We become too obsessed with making the wrong decision…so we decide not to act instead.

I recently watched the movie Pride which deals with a group of gays and lesbians that help raise funds for British miners during the strike of 1984. Many asked what the LGBT community knew about miners? It was an unlikely friendship. But the beauty is that one oppressed group came together to help another oppressed group. It showed that someone did not have to live the same life to help.

In the same way, it’s not necessarily about us knowing the exact oppression that is occurring, but being willing to see the oppression and speak out. The hardest thing is seeing that oppression, though. Most of the time, we refuse to see it because it doesn’t happen to us. And it is hard for us to imagine it because we like to think that America has progressed past that point and anything that occurs today is purely the fault of the African-American community. We are so dismissive because we might have not intentionally done anything racially insensitive. We want to remain blind because that is far easier than seeing the confusing truth.

I don’t know where to begin with the conversation toward racial equality. But I know that a conversation needs to occur. And that might not seem like a lot, but at least it’s a step forward. The church needs to be having these conversations even though they might not see what is happening around them. They might even be dismissive at first. But at least start with a conversation and see where it goes from there. It might be a group of old white guys sitting in the church basement, but a step forward is a step forward. The only time we can’t do something about racial inequality is when we don’t talk about it at all. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job at that for some time now and it’s time to stop. Let us stop and listen. We may not be able to completely relate with the struggle, but we are still called to do something. As Christ-followers, we must.

The Judging of the Pitter-Patter of Little Feet

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2589Home is a sacred place to me. When I get home I like to sit down, read or watch television, and ignore everything outside of my door. So I guess one could suppose that I’m not the most friendly neighbor. I’ll say “hello” to someone if I see them. But I don’t go out of my way to get to know my neighbors. I’m not that much like Jesus.

Lately, I’ve been challenged to get to know my neighbors more. It could be because a few weeks back, one of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished. I realized at that moment that either A.) I didn’t look like Jesus in the slightest bit or B.) I didn’t talk to anyone that lived around me. In fact, that was the first time I learned her name…and I had been living here for a little over a year.

One of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished.

Every morning, I am awakened by the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet in the apartment next to me. Only it doesn’t sound like pitter-patter. It sounds like a stampede of elephants have been frightened by several gunshots. This usually happens around 5:45 in the morning and then it will happen around 6-7 at night. I am less than thrilled. I would think to myself, “Goodness…get your kids under control. Teach them the proper way to live in an apartment. I don’t have kids so I shouldn’t have to suffer the early mornings of parenting.” Throughout the rest of the day, I’ll hear them scream or cry and sometimes I’ll even loudly say, “Shut up!” in my own apartment…loud enough that they might hear…but not loud enough that I know that they hear.

This has gone on for over a year. It’s a single mother with three kids. I judged her situation. I figured it was another statistic of a single, African-American woman raising three kids because the dad was out of the picture. It hurts me to write that because I don’t consider myself a racist. But looking at that statement, I see the lens with which I viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.

I justified my thought because every morning they scream and run. There’s not enough coffee in the world to get me in a good enough mood to deal with that.

Something happened today, however. I was outside trying to clear away my potted plants because I knew the unforgiving winter was upon us. I hear a quiet, “Hello?” I turn around and I see my neighbor standing there. I put on my smile that says, “Oh gosh…please don’t ask me to do anything difficult.” She says, “My mother-in-law saw a dresser on the side of the dumpster that she was wanting. Would you be willing to help her move it? She told me to ask you and I didn’t really want to, but would you be willing to help?” At this moment a thousand thoughts race through my mind:

“I just had an epidural a few weeks ago to help my back because of issues I’ve been having.”

“This probably isn’t the best thing for me to do today.”

“How long is this going to take?”

“You’re going to owe me a pound or two of coffee if I do this…”

But I pushed those thoughts aside and said, “Sure, no problem.” As I go inside to put on my shoes, I begin wondering, “Mother-in-law? Where’s the husband then? Divorce?” I walk around to the dumpster and look at the dresser. It looks heavy. “Great,” I thought. “Guess I’ll be back to the doctor soon.”

We load up the dresser and the mother-in-law is telling me how excited she is because she has 6 grandchildren and this will provide the perfect piece to store all of their toys for when they come over. I smile and agree. I ask her if she has someone to help her unload it and she says she does and that if that person won’t, she’ll just call her son to come help. “The son who is the father of those three children?” I wonder. Through a longer conversation she then says something that catches me off-guard, “Since my other son, her husband, died a while back…” I immediately stopped listening because all of a sudden I realized what a horrible person I had been…which not listening made me an even more horrible person but this was a baby step for me…one thing at a time. I had judged the pitter-patter of little feet.

The lens with which I had viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.

I had to fight off tears from the realization that I had been terrible in my judgment. The sound of the pitter-patter of feet isn’t the sound of children running wild. It is the sound of children trying to find their father. The screaming isn’t spoiled children whining because they’re not getting their way. It is the sound of questioning and sorrow. The sound of their crying when their mother leaves for work isn’t the sound of children missing their mom. It’s the sound of children worrying that she, like their father, might not come back.

People need more grace than we are willing to give. Judgment is much easier for us than giving the grace of God. We probably don’t give grace because we don’t know the person and their story. That, at least, was true for me. Or maybe we don’t give grace because we have a hard time accepting grace for our own lives. Whatever the case, less judging and more grace is a good prescription for how we should live.

I guess I’ve misjudged many a person. I guess that puts me one step further away from being like Christ. I should extend more grace. Lord knows I need more grace. But I’ll probably judge people again. I’ll try not to, but I know I will. But here is what I also know: I will never again judge the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet.