By Sue Sprang
It is what it is… or is it?
It seems a currently common phrase is: “It is what it is”.
And sometimes that’s the way it has to be.
Sometimes whatever the “it” is cannot be changed. Whether or not we like the “it” doesn’t matter. That’s the way things are and there’s no alternative.
But I’ve a sneaking suspicion that all too often it’s easier to say “It is what it is” than to try to come to grips with the “it”.
Dealing with the “it” can be painful, time-consuming, and sometimes, well, just a plain nuisance. Grappling with the “it” can involve tough decisions. The “it” can move us out of our comfort zones and send us kicking and screaming into making changes in our lives that we’d rather not make.
We Christians often find ourselves stuck in an “It is what it is” quagmire. We want to be faithful to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ… yet we find ourselves battling the challenge he lays before us to go beyond the “it”.
For Lutherans, there is no other road other than the one where Jesus leads us. Martin Luther’s teaching that the Bible is the “source and norm” for our lives should grab our attention. Lutherans also stress that in the case of conflicting information, the Gospels override the rest of the scriptures.
That pretty much narrows it down. Jesus is our leader and we look to his words and actions as the “source and norm” for our lives. It shouldn’t be that hard, right?
We try to keep up with Jesus as he leads us into the world, but it can be scary stuff. Jesus has told us from day one that we don’t always need to know where he’s leading us. He asks that we trust him. That’s all it takes.
Easier said than done!
Humans that we are, we have a need to know what lies ahead and are sometimes suspicious – if not afraid – of the unknown. The trick is to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to Jesus and to trust him completely while we grope our way down the path he has laid for us.
I believe that makes the Gospel the blueprint for how we structure our thoughts and actions. It’s… well… I guess it’s our bible.
And what is this road Jesus beckons us to follow? What is this path filled with unknowns that dare us to stretch our faith to its utmost limits and to seriously struggle with the “it”?
Jesus tells and shows us that we are to welcome strangers, treat others with dignity, assist those in need, work for peace, raise up those shoved to the fringes, and… well… just practice what he preaches.
On the flip side, Jesus shows little patience for those who hoard their wealth, abuse their religious or political power, and who spend their energy and resources spreading hate, discord, and those things that bring misery and destruction to the world.
I’m not making this stuff up. Read the Gospels. And read them again. And again. Then one more time. Matthew. Mark. Luke. John. It’s all there. There are no apologies. There are no alternative facts.
Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet and dares us to move beyond the “it”.
Can we do it? Certainly, if we believe that we can do all things in Christ. Certainly, if we sustain one another through love, friendship, prayer, shared triumphs, and mutual tears.
There are people and congregations across our synod who have taken up Jesus’s challenge. For example:
- Christ, Wyoming, is a growing congregation that shares its building with our synod’s Sudanese synodically authorized worshiping community.
- Bethlehem, Lansing, has committed itself to outreach to the neighborhood’s poor and beyond. Mission trips are the norm.
- Prince of Peace, Portage, reaches out to the community’s needy. One project is working with Open Door to maintain a residence for unemployed/underemployed workers and their families to live while seeking employment.
- Immanuel, Mt. Pleasant, has played a critical role in the formation of Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH), which, among other things, provides temporary shelter for the homeless.
- Zion, Saginaw, has an intentional ministry to the Latino population in its changed neighborhood. It also hosts The Saginaw Boxing Club, which promotes discipline, hard work, pride, and self-worth among the youth who participate.
- Bethlehem, Grand Rapids, sold its building and moved into a downtown building that serves as home base for various ministries. Foci are: worship, music, social justice, and growing together in faith and action.
- University, East Lansing, is immersed in outreach, social justice, and campus ministry. The congregation shares parking and a playground with the neighboring Islamic Society of East Lansing, sharing learning, service, friendship, prayer, and support.
- Living Water Ministries, an outdoor and retreat ministry we share with the Southeast Michigan Synod, is gaining nationwide recognition for its cutting edge leadership and anti-racism programs and experiences for youth. LWM has also connected with homeless and special needs persons, while continuing to raise the bar on its long-time summer camp/day camp programs.
- Settlement, Gowen, runs Barrie’s House, a food pantry and clothing distribution. The ministry started as a food pantry in the church building over two decades ago – and is now housed in a free-standing structure.
- Hope, Plainwell, is a key player in Bridges of Hope, a community ministry that reaches out to those in or near poverty. Advocacy and community awareness are also part of its work.
- James and Emmanuel, Jackson, are both part of Faith in Action (FiN), a community outreach group. FiN has partnered with Samaratas* in establishing an Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) home in the county. The residence houses 12 male teens who have been in refugee camps or shelters. The young men have an opportunity to make fresh starts and find roots in a new country.
- Christ the King, Gladwin, assisted by a few members from St. Timothy, Midland, lit the fire that produced a regularly scheduled food truck for those in need in the area and a Backpack Buddies** project for Gladwin County’s two school districts.
These are just some examples of the extraordinary things Jesus’s people are doing across our synod – feeding the hungry; building/renewing homes; reaching out to refugees, the homeless; and the LGBT community; standing with those vulnerable to hate crimes and violence; advocating for those with no voice; and more.
But, as you can see, following Jesus’s lead is possible. It’s not always an easy path. He never said it would be. But he does promise to be with us.
No matter what.
And there is no alternative fact.
Go in peace! Serve the One who challenges us!
*formerly Lutheran Social Services
**provides children from food-insecure homes with healthy weekend meals during the school year
Thank you to the Greater Shepparton, Australia, City Council for permission to use the diversity photo.