Enjoy your 4th of July BBQ, but don’t swallow the bones

barbecue bbq beef cook out
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This weekend me, my friends and neighbors are going to BBQ and blow up things. My social media feed will be full of American flags and Happy Independence Day GIF’s and memes.

I enjoy a good 4th of July celebration. Fireworks are nostalgia for me. Growing up in a small town of log truck drivers and mill workers (my dad one of them), the 4th meant BBQ’d chicken, which my dad joked was a burnt offering. It meant parking alongside the road up the hill from our fair grounds to watch (for free) the explosions in the sky.

As my sons entered their school-aged years, I began searching for stories and lessons from history that would help my sons know more about their country than the suburban white culture they lived in was teaching them. My mom tried to do the same for me, taping images of babies from various ethnicities to the wall next to my crib. As I began my search for more diverse material to inject into my kids’ senses, I began to learn what I was never taught growing up.

I learned that the White House had been built on the backs of African American slaves.  I read Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass and shuddered. I learned about the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum and the black American’s who had suffered and died to access the freedom this nation sings. I discovered William Wilberforce, John Newton and Hannah More.  And so I began to realized those hot summer night, 4th of July grilled meats sure tasted good, but they didn’t help me realize I’d been swallowing the bones of my American freedom my whole life.

Yesterday I listened to a podcast with Dr. Walter Strickland. Strickland discussed his book, For God So Loved the World- A Blueprint for Kingdom Diversity.  Strickland described the African American Christian community bringing to Christian theology a Berean-like practice that chews the meat of the gospel but spits out the bones of errant tradition. Strickland pointed out this Biblical practice has been part of the African American Christian way from it’s inception. Why? Because if African Americans had swallowed whole the Christian faith they were force-fed as slaves, they would have rejected it all together. The gospel the slaves learned and embraced was filled with a bunch of dead boned theology that their slaveholders used to defend slavery.

The Africans who were enslaved in the U.S. and on whose backs the U.S economy and government structures were built, were able to chew the meat of the gospel that Christ died for their sins to reconcile them to God and spit out the bones of the evil of their slaveholders. How can I do any less?

In Fredrick Douglass’ now famous speech What to the slave is the 4th of July, the former slave eloquently lays out the irony and wickedness that young America was willingly blinded to. He pointed out how our father’s thought it right and noble to seek independence from Britain’s crown, and celebrated their victory in gaining this freedom, while chained to the dark-skinned men, women and children they denied this freedom too.

“You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and
that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country…. ” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)

But even Douglass, so freshly scarred and wounded in a time of open slavery, was chewing the meat of the virtues America ironically violated in their slave holding, while spitting out the bones of our country’s wickedness.

“Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” (What to the slave is the 4th of July, 1852)

I love America. I love her diversity. I love that she has an ethic of hard work and human rights. I love that she invites the immigrant and the poor. I love the bravery of those who fought and died for her. But those very appetizing traits have come with centuries of splintery bones we all too easily swallow in our fourth of July nostalgia. Tomorrow I’ll eat barbecued chicken and cherry pie. I’ll light up some store bought fake fireworks and sing our national anthem. But I want to celebrate with the wisdom of the men and women who perhaps sang the greatest anthem to come from America’s freedom- the cries of former slaves who discerning wisdom from above, took the meat from America’s declaration of independence and spit out all her bones.

Sermon notes: Stay married like you’re not. Stay single like you’re not…

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress
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Today my pastor preached from a section of scripture that stirs up all kinds of conversations and historical prudish or bizarre teachings about sex, marriage and singleness.  Despite the potential for dangerous interpretation, he did a great job of bringing the truth to light.  I was keenly interested in this message because the section of scripture is a section I have gone to many times for wisdom and help in my own difficult marriage.

‘This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. ‘

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I’ve thought a lot on these verses because at a glance they can be misconstrued and when you’re in a hard marriage the Tempter can spin them like an escape clause.  But the truth, as my pastor spoke today, is that marriage is a shadow of Christ and the church. Jesus is the substance!

I jotted down several quotes from today’s sermon, one that struck me and got me thinking even more about the temporariness of marriage and singleness and how we should be holding these gifts with an open hand is this:

“Not everyone is meant to be married. But no one is destined for loneliness. We are all made for gospel community.” 

There is something beautiful and metaphorical about marriage that cannot be grasped and idolized or idealized without it slipping through your fingers.  There’s also a deep beauty in singleness that almost speaks more about the age to come in God’s kingdom than marriage does.  I want to think this through more and write about it more, but for now, I’ll focus on the marriage part.

A week ago in my community group we all told our marriage stories.  Of course when the group started and I realized they were going to go around the circle and I would be last, I thought seriously about excusing myself and leaving.  I didn’t want to tell my marriage story and I certainly didn’t want to do it last.  And as I listened the anxiety about sharing the story that has been the furnace that has purified my faith just got worse.  Everyone had a nice story. They met at a party. They had a few rough patches but they were each other’s best friend… ugh.  Not me. That’s not my marriage story.

Culturally I have a marriage story that most people would say I should give up on.  The culture scratches their head at my story or accuses me of being co-dependent (which I have been and that would be a fair accusation for most of my marriage).  The church has waivered between encouraging me into deep toxic co-dependency under the guise of biblical womanhood or submission and Christlikeness, or joining the culture in finding a loophole for me to get out of my less than lovely marriage. But when I look at Jesus and the church- the historical church and geographically scattered church- I hear a whole different message.

“You’re marriage is just a shadow Sheila, hold it with an open hand.  Stay married like you’re free.  Like you aren’t bound to this man by law but by love. Love him like you have nothing to loose.”  Easily misconstrued I know. But try to listen for the nuance here. Try to hear what the Spirit would say to us through Paul’s controversial words.  He’s saying we should stay married like Paul stayed a prisoner after his chains were loosed in Phillipi.

Remember that story from Acts where Paul and his traveling companion Silas were thrown into a prison (think dungeon, not modern max security facility) for delivering a girl enslaved and possessed by demons (because she was annoying… that’s what it says!). That ruined the business plan of these human trafficking people enslaving and using her tormented soul to make money, so they attacked Paul and Silas and threw them in a Roman dungeon, set gaurds to watch them and shackled their feet to the filthy ground.

At midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing. Yeah, that’s a whole other meditation. But when they were seeking God and praising him with their blugeoned bodies, the passage says their fellow prisoners were listening.  I just imagine, the sounds that must have normally come from such a dark, tortuous place.  Singing and prayers must have caught everyone’s ear.  And it caught God’s too, cause an earthquake happened just then and Paul and Silas’ (as well as the other prisoners) shackles were broken and all the prison doors were opened.

And Paul and Silas took their freedom and ran!

NOPE!

No they did not. In fact, they stopped the guard from committing suicide and showed him that they weren’t going anywhere.  They were free, but they chose to stay for the sake of the guard’s salvation.  (Acts 16:25-40)

Jesus taught this. When Peter pressed Jesus for money to pay taxes, Jesus asked, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

Jesus was teaching a truth for those who have been born again by the Spirit of God: we are free!  But like Paul wrote to the Galatians, we don’t use our freedom as an excuse to sin, we use it to serve and love one another.

This is true in marriage too. Paul isn’t suggesting that we should have open marriages or that we should abandon our spouses when he says, “…from now on let those who have wives live as though they have none.”  He’s saying stay married and don’t cling to your marriage for life.  You’re not bound, like Paul and Silas weren’t bound, by law so much as you are bound by love. Let the love of Christ compel you to stay in your marriage as a child of God free from the culture’s bonds. Use your marriage, like you use any of the “dealings” of in the world.  Not for your own vices, but for building up your spouse, being a light and a voice in their life that draws them to Jesus.

One day all our marriages won’t exist anymore.  We’ll stand before the one who betrothed himself to those he called to be his own from before the world began. And there the thing we’re trying to cling to in our marriages here will be in our grasp, fullfilling our desire for consumation of love and friendship.

Stay married like you’re not married Christian.  Stay single like you’re not single Christian.  Because soon you are going to meet your Bridegroom.  And until then, he is drawing your spouse, your neighbors, your friends at church and work to himself through you.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13