Where Is Your Brother?

#mikkikimmitravels

Siblings . . . 

Sibling rivalry was real in my house. We didn’t have arguments; we had wars. I remember frying pans to the face, doorknobs to the teeth, and golf balls to the head as things that actually happened between my siblings and me.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I met a Christian family who behaved very differently, I wanted to know what this Jesus thing was all about. I didn’t know people could act that way with their brothers and sisters.

I’m very grateful to say our kids never engaged in fisticuffs. (Grateful because they didn’t and also because I got to use that wonderful word.) Jesus made quite a difference in my outlook on appropriate sibling behavior.

God’s children do not, however, always follow this pattern. Almost the second question in the Bible, after God asks the leaf-clad Adam and Eve where they are and why they’re hiding, comes the question he addresses to their oldest offspring.

It’s a pretty serious question.

Where is your brother?

When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” (Genesis 4. 2-9)

Spoiler: God knows the answer.

Cain must know God knows, so why he gives this patently flippant answer is anyone’s guess. Although, I suspect we know too well why all of us give God absurd answers to things we don’t want to look at too closely.

I don’t know. Am I supposed to be looking out for my brother?

Apparently, we were still pondering it in Jesus’ time, because someone had to ask Jesus exactly who his neighbor was, and Jesus had to tell another story that asked the same question God starts the whole human race with here—Where is your brother/neighbor?

Everywhere.

That was Jesus’ reply. Are you your brother’s guardian, Cain? Why yes. Yes, you are. I’m surprised you didn’t know that. It’s the way I made people to be.

In his new book Everybody, Always, Bob Goff suggests that God created us as one big neighborhood on this earth–all made for one another no matter where or how.

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God decided it wasn’t good for people to be alone, so he made us for one another. Then he made it clear right after the first sin that we were going to have to take that very seriously, because the world was going to get a lot harder. We would need to be one another’s guardians, or no one would make it out alive.

That’s one of the scariest parts of our current obsession with tribalism. When we start to form our groups, deciding who’s in and who’s not, denying brotherhood to those who are outside our boundaries, we become cadres of Cains, denying to God that we have any responsibility in the welfare of anyone beyond what we’ve declared are our lines.

Even when our brothers’ blood cries out from the ground.

To make this easier, we find reasons they don’t deserve our attention. That’s why Cains find it easy to believe sensational news stories with questionable data. If we can make it Abel’s fault, our hands are clean. Humans, and by humans I mean me, will do just about anything to avoid guilt.

“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”

I think we’re helped in our answer by the words just before this story. Eve gives birth, and she also gives thanks to God. Remember, the birth process was going to be rough, and Eve not only accepts this part of the curse but gives gratitude to God for bringing her through it and giving her a child.

Gratitude

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Eve’s approach too life oozes gratitude. She chooses to live, after her first unfortunate choice, with constant thanks to God for his provision of everything she needs.

Cain, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have inherited this attitude. We don’t know why God chose to accept his brother’s offering and not his, but he responds with anger. He feels cheated. He wants what he thinks he deserves. He chooses resentment rather than gratitude.

Interesting studies into the attitudes that have created our tribalism in the US point to the same conclusion. Those who choose resentment also choose to close themselves off to their brothers. One study reported by the Washington Post reveals that, 

 Economic anxiety isn’t driving racial resentment; rather, racial resentment is driving economic anxiety. Racial resentment is the biggest predictor of white vulnerability among white millennials. Economic variables like education, income  and employment made a negligible difference. When white millennials scored high on racial resentment they were 42 percentage points more likely to indicate feelings of vulnerability than those who scored low.

People who would prefer to blame and resent rather than open their arms and hearts in gratitude for their lives are the people who refuse to see “brother” in the refugee, immigrant, person of color, or sister.

Interestingly, this is true regardless of the person’s actual economic or physical circumstances. The well off are just as likely to shut out their nonwhite, non-American-born brothers as the poor if they are already inclined to resent others for what they think they don’t have.

It’s as old as Cain. And as devastating.

The answer isn’t anything complicated. It’s gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for everything God provides to children of Adam and Eve who don’t really deserve anything at all but who are granted so much.

It’s utterly impossible to take the attitude of Eve and have the heart of Cain. We can’t revel in the undeserved graciousness of the Lord and refuse to invite your brother into the circle.

If we live consistently grateful, humble lives, we will always know exactly where our brother is. He’s all around us. He’s everyone. And we are his keeper.

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*I’ve signed up for the Human Race again, raising money for World Relief and refugee resettlement. These wonderful people I have come to know and love as I work with them more and more are certainly those God calls our brothers and sisters. With God’s help, I’m going to walk it and meet my fundraising goal! If you’d like to donate to my walk, please follow the link. I and the amazing refugee population I know and love would appreciate it greatly!

Five Favorite Charities

11012109_10208027679833277_8014582040523728440_nIt’s Friday Five time again, and here is something I get very excited about. We are supposed to list 5 favorite charities. I love to throw love and awareness toward these five, so bring this one on! Here is the link at Mrs. Disciple to others’ great ideas.

I do hesitate to call them charities. It has such a negative connotation in our language. And these organizations are so very far from negative. They don’t do charity work.

They do love work.

Respect work.

Restoring work.

Rebuilding, reconciling, renewing, re-everything-I-love work. It’s re–ally beautiful.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 7.33.27 AMSEED. Have to mention my own denomination’s arm of hope, here. In their words, “SEED partners with holistic livelihood groups connected to Free Methodist churches around the world to do micro-enterprise that makes sense in their local communities.”

In other words, they offer fair prices, a market, and dignity to people who make very cool stuff. I have some of this cool stuff. Christmas presents . . .

IMG_0057TWLOHA. The mission: “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

In brief, everything my own daughter went through. They are there for daughters (and sons) in so much pain they hurt their own precious God-image bodies. Maybe those who don’t have the safety net of family that won’t ever let go. I cry just writing this; it’s so real for me. If anyone gets hope from these people, just anyone. Yes, they sell Tshirts (and other stuff) for support. But more importantly,They tell the stories. They let hurting people be heard and seen. 

Prison Fellowship. I have a thing for overlooked people, don’t I? Ive been involved with this group for about thirty years, so that’s saying something. Restoration for prisoners and hope for their families. Win-win. Right now, it’s Project Angel Tree time, so presents for prisoners’ kids. Great program.

“Supporting prisoners, ministering to families, supporting successful reentry, advocating for restorative justice.” Love their willingness to help those Jesus told us to help but few really want to.

d57f1-p1040945World Relief. I am VERY excited about this group, because very soon I will be matched with a family to be their friendship partner and introduce them to American culture and weirdness. Like Chicago hot dogs and pizza. Oh, and library cards, busses, job applications, English — all that, too. But there will be pizza. All those refugees you hear about? These are the people on the front lines. I love them.

“Our calling at World Relief is to stand for the vulnerable.” I am so thrilled I get to be a part of that.

We are even thinking that, instead of the usual too-many-presents-we-don’t-really-need Christmas at the Richardson house this year, we may create a Good Neighbor Kit for a refugee family rather than exchange gifts. To make one family’s welcome here easier, after what they’ve been through when they have nothing? Yeah, I think that may be what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Set Free Movement. OK, another shameless plug for my own denomination’s work. But really, this is so cool.

“The Set Free Movement seeks to END modern slavery and CREATE new futures in PARTNERSHIP with others through COMMUNITY-based action.”

They mean that. They’re doing it. They’re teaching others how to do it.

Of course, I wish I could list more. But these are favorites. Ones that touch my heart with the great things they do. What are yours? I would love to know.

Five Truths I’ve Learned about Fear

Five fears? No problem. I am an expert at fear. At least, that’s what my (former) blog title tells me.

IMG_0057I’m well acquainted with fear. I’m the kid who refused to step too far into the backyard after dark. The one who slept with a nightlight when she was twenty. The woman who still would rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a really close friend of mine. For too long.

I’m linking up again today with my friend Kelly over at Mrs. Disciple, and the topic of the day is – fear.

In teaching about fear, I’ve learned a lot about the beast. So, here we go. Five truths I’ve learned about fear.

Fear is a lie.

Well, that’s blunt enough. Think about it. Pretty much every time someone is afraid in the Bible (unless it’s of God’s power), something bad happens when he or she gives in to it. Think Abraham basically giving his wife to Pharaoh because he was afraid he’d be killed. Abraham having a child with someone else because he was afraid he’d have no heir. Joseph’s brothers afraid of their father’s obvious favoritism. Paul’s shipmates afraid of the storm. Adam and Eve afraid of God in the garden. This is a short list.

And every time someone steps our of his or her comfort zone and obeys, with trembling hands and heart? Golden.

Gideon. Mary. Ananias (Acts 9). You know you know others. (In fact, do comment with your favorite examples.)

Satan’s first lie to humans was this: You need to be afraid that God is keeping something from you. You need to be afraid of Him. Worry, and take things into your own hands.

Basically, that’s it. And we’ve gleefully done so ever since.

Fear lets us believe the lie that we have to be in control.

I cannot tell you how devastating that lie can get.

Fear lets us off the hook.

I just signed up to volunteer with World Relief. I’m terrified. I do not do strangers, conversation, or awkward situations. I don’t like intrusions on my time and very busy world. All of the above are absolutely guaranteed in this new venture. I have to meet refugees, walk into their lives, and learn how to be a friend. In a language I don’t speak.

For a long time, I have avoided this. I’ve known it was a heart call. But I was busy. Had other callings. Was too introverted. Something else would come along.

I was afraid.

Even though some of these things were true, they were also excuses. Finally, I had to look at that. People are dying. They’re fleeing real-time nightmares, losing everything they know and love, washing up on unknown shores half alive, just for the chance that someone will care. And I was sitting here afraid of giving up my time and comfort.

Fear was letting me get away with waiting for a life and ministry that wouldn’t hurt too much. 

Fear keeps out love.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4.18)

If perfect love expels fear, it kind of makes sense that fear expels love.

If I’m afraid of what someone is going to think of me, or or what someone will say 33422_445689050125_6454112_nabout me, or that everyone will finally know what a fraud I really am, what am I really afraid of? That there is some cosmic punishment for not being good enough. And I’m in line for it. I’m afraid “someone” has the power to punish me for being human.

Someone does. And He chose not to. Enter Jesus on the cross.

That means no one else ever can.

I can choose to give all the power to love or all the power to fear. I can’t choose both.

Fear fuels too many of the wrong things in our world.

Because fear keeps love at bay, it can make even good people do not good things. The moment my first reaction to a news story, a statistic, or a facebook viral post is fear, I’m dooming myself to respond with less than love. Fear is the gasoline that people pour on fires to make them spread. Christians participate.

Love is the water. If I refuse to look at a person of another color, language, political party, religion, or country with fear but look instead for his humanity, I can knock fear out cold. If I insist on seeking the truth about something before I pass it on, I can stop the deadly spread.

I can choose to be gasoline or water. Every day.

Fear can be good.

IMG_0767Yes, it can. Fear is not always bad. This is the most shocking thing I’ve learned about fear. Sometimes, it teaches us humility. For me, it forces me to lean into God and remember that He is the vine and I am a vulnerable branch that needs His power every minute.

We can react to fear by walking into it. Go toward that terrifying thing! But we can also react by feeling it, living it, taking the moment to accept our weakness and glory in His strength.

Fear teaches me where real strength is found.

Five things. What do you know about fear?