Life Unedited

by susan on August 2, 2015

 the-truth-shall-set-you-freeSo then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  -Ephesians 4:25-5:2

A couple of years ago after walking the downtown bridges, I returned home to see a recent photo posted of our beautiful city. It was not just any photo. I immediately noticed it was a photo from the very place I had walked at the same time I had been there. I was very confused by it. I kept thinking, I don’t remember the sky looking anything like that. The colors were bright & bold & mysterious. The clouds & sun were so well-defined. It was not until this happened a few times that I realized: duh…these were edited photos. And, then I started playing around with my handy-dandy new phone and realized that I, too could altar my pictures (& that this is actually a lot of fun!).

Photo-shopping, filtering & editing are possible in all kinds of ways now. They are like short-cuts to perfection, faster ways to get good results and great tools for creating a more refined version of reality. While there may be nothing wrong with sharing an edited photo (unless, of course, you didn’t take the picture yourself), this trend seems to be part of larger, more problematic habit.

We don’t just edit our photos, we filter truth or avoid it altogether. Whether it’s the elephant in the room or the truth about our lives or the struggles facing our neighbors, we are becoming conditioned to avoid reality.

When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, to people he knew & cared about, by this point in his writing, he’s getting real honest. Appaarently, there were some widely accepted cultural practices like sexual promiscuity, hoarding, violence, and out of control oppressive political power that needed to be challenged. According to Paul, these cultural norms were in conflict with the life-giving way of Jesus.

These new Christians were not born Jewish, so they were having a hard time distinguishing which cultural practices fit with their new way of living and which did not. They had not grown up hearing the Torah. They had not made pilgrimages to holy places or attended community festivals. Instead of growing up on stories of Abraham & Moses, they heard stories about the ancient Greek gods & goddesses. They began following Jesus with very few traditions & practices to guide them.

On the one hand, this was a very good thing. They had no religious baggage. They could develop an authentic faith. They could create practices that were meaningful & significant & transformative and not just follow old patterns that had deep significance to previous generations, but felt devoid of meaning to them.

On the other hand, this was a huge challenge.
What would those new patterns look like?
What would help them grow up in their faith?
What cultural norms would need to be rejected and what could stay?
What would move them toward becoming a community that ignited the same healing & change that Jesus had initiated?

Into their struggle, Paul gives some very clear guidelines. While following Christ is not merely a matter of altering behavior; there are some behaviors that can help followers live this resurrection life. They sound a lot like some things Jesus mentioned in his famous Sermon on the Mount:
Do not let anger get the best of you. In fact, don’t even let anger linger & fester; instead, deal with the source of it
Do not steal. In fact, find an honest way to make a living so you can help those who can’t work.
Do not tear down others with your words. In fact, only say what is helpful (& by the way, less is more).
Do not take the Spirit of God for granted. In fact, trust that Spirit lives and breathes and moves inside of you.

If taken seriously, these clear instructions could change the course of our relationships and revolutionize the world.

And, they all stem from a small phrase that begins this section of Paul’s letter. Everything that follows seems to hinge on this: put away falsehood & speak the truth. The ancient Greek word for truth literally means “the state of not being hidden.” It can also be interpreted “reality”. It means “No more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbors the truth.” (Eph. 4:25, The Message translation).

And, it’s the hardest thing we can choose to do, especially in a culture that celebrates pretending,
that rewards well-polished personas
that glamorizes plastic-surgery-perfected-bodies and
encourages the use of social platforms which inevitably turn into pedestals…from which people fall & fall hard when the truth comes out.

I think what Paul was telling these Christians is that before they could ever hope to make a collective difference in this world, they needed to be honest with one another – honest about their lives and honest about what is happening in the world around them

Last Sunday evening, I gathered with a group of strangers for a vigil in Hemming Park. It was to a collective response to the recent & seemingly preventable death of Sandra Bland in a Texas prison. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I was afraid it would be too hostile or that things would get out of hand or that I would feel out-of-place (which I did), but I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to be with people who were doing something to acknowledge injustice.

It was a moving hour of some planned & mostly spontaneous poetry, soap boxes, silence & candle-light. Songs were sung, asking some simple & straightforward yet very powerful questions: “What’s going on? What’s going on??” and “How can we heal the wounds of the world if we cannot heal our own? Where does this peace on Earth begin if not in the home?”

Something important happens when truth is shared – unedited, unfiltered truth.
Something important happens when we wake up, ask important questions, share stories & trust the Spirit to make the same change in us that God is longing for in the world.

If living this resurrection life means getting honest, where do you and I begin?

According to Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, we begin with God, with his way of love which was made known through Jesus. We look to Christ as our model for how to speak and live the truth and we trust his Spirit to guide us.

Dishonesty is killing us.
New life lies in setting aside pretense and speaking truth.
Help us, Lord, with your help to walk in this way.

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