Fruitful

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Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. – John 15

Many broken branches are piled up at the end of our driveway, a reminder of the hurricane that barely brushed our county but brought hurricane-force winds anyway. This fruit that survived the winds is a natural hybrid. It’s somewhere between an orange and a lime; the exterior is green like a lime, and the fruit within tastes orangey with a hint of tart lime: a l’orange! Or maybe an orlime? A limornge? Only in Florida!

The leaves on all the broken branches have turned brown, and of course none of the citrus branches are producing any fruit down there by the curb. It occurs to me that this is the imagery Jesus was going for when he used the vine/branches metaphor in teaching his students. Put another way, maybe Jesus is saying,

Hang on to me, and I’ll flow through you.

Without him flowing through me, I will not walk a fruitful Christian walk. That whole “remain in me” is a bit mystical, isn’t it? It reminds me a little of the midichlorians as explained in Star Wars mythology. I confess I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t really know with certainty what Jesus was talking about when he told us to “abide” in Him. I’ve heard many sermons on the topic but still am not sure my mind can comprehend the mystery. The good news is I don’t have to comprehend it to experience those inner whispers to DO GOOD to others.

Feel compelled to have mercy on the homeless man holding a sign out by the road? To give a little extra at church? To smile at the stranger in the grocery store line? To help your neighbor get the groceries up the stairs? To move halfway across the country?

If, like me, you sometimes question that inner voice, wondering if it is really coming from God or if you are just hearing what you want to hear, making God in your image — take heart. A whisper that speaks of Loving God and Loving Neighbor is a good whisper. A whisper that lifts up Jesus’ victory on the cross is a good whisper:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5)

When hard times hit, especially as a result of following that inner whisper, doubt nips at our heels. While moving to Florida felt so much like a “God-thing” at the time, the transition has not been an easy one. The fruit has, at times, been bitter and not very sweet. We’ve had setbacks, a hurricane, health issues and inadequate health care options, not to mention a dearth of real Tex-Mex!

On the other hand, we have this:

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Change is hard and stressful and filled with ups and downs. It’s been five months now, and tears fill my eyes when I think of dear friends left behind…and my heart aches, wondering if we will ever make relationships here, in this new place and in this new season of life. Faith says we will.

So I’ll hang on to Jesus for dear life, trusting that we will see the fruit ripen in our lives. This loneliness will pass, and opportunities for making new friendships will come, if we let them.

I think of one sweet couple I met last weekend as my daughter and I canvassed neighborhoods to get out the vote. I wish I had taken down their address so I could go visit them again: they could have easily been my grandparents. The Nana couldn’t see well and the Papa had a hard time gripping a pen, so we helped them fill out a request for a mail-in ballot. Their courtesy and outright kindness to us stands out in my mind. That was an opportunity for a connection that I missed.  But there’s one across the street I can make today. Or next door.

In this nasty election season, it’s easy to forget that people “on the other side” are people, made in the image of God. We have so demonized each other that I can’t help but think that God must be grieved — especially when the demonizing and name-calling is being done by Christians who have now become more famous for hating than for loving.

Jesus said the world will know his followers by their love.

Christian, what kind of fruit are you posting and retweeting? Are you investigating claims for yourself or are you participating in confirmation bias, believing everything in the news that points favorably to “your” candidate and disbelieving everything negative? I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and read some articles that go against your bias.

I fell for confirmation bias, myself. When I first saw the news clips of Hillary Clinton’s “what difference does it make?” outburst during the Benghazi hearing, I was furious. Four Americans were dead, and she was saying, “What difference does it make?” How dare she be so dismissive!

And then I read the actual transcript of the hearing. I urge you to read it yourself, if you dare, and see if, like me, your perception of Mrs. Clinton was colored by the media’s exclusion of the entire context. Senator Johnson had repeatedly asked Clinton whether the state department/government could have learned, by calling those who survived, whether the attack was out of the blue or part of a protest. I will let you see for yourself how she answered:

Clinton: Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened, and once we got our people rescued and out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries. As I said, I still have a DS [Diplomatic Security] agent at Walter Reed seriously injured — getting them into Frankfurt, Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to start talking to them. We did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. And we did not — I think this is accurate, sir — I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC [Intelligence Community] talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows. And you know I just want to say that people have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of misleading Americans. I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth. Was information developing? Was the situation fluid? Would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially? And I appreciate the —

Johnson: But, Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? That was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained?

Clinton: But, Senator, again—

Johnson: Within hours, if not days?

Clinton: Senator, you know, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one—

Johnson: I realize that’s a good excuse.

Clinton: Well, no, it’s the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because, even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown

Johnson: No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that — an assault sprang out of that — and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.

Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Johnson: OK. Thank you, Madame Secretary.

It’s also important to note that the final report found no wrongdoing by Secretary Clinton. The report did, however, find fault with the Defense Department not having their assets situated in appropriate ways to protect American installations:

The assets ultimately deployed by the Defense Department in response to the Benghazi attacks were not positioned to arrive before the final, lethal attack,” the committee wrote. “The fact that this is true does not mitigate the question of why the world’s most powerful military was not positioned to respond.”

Representative Martha Roby, a member of the committee, also pointed to the Department of Defense’s poor planning as a direct cause for the lack of military preparedness in responding to the attack:

Our committee’s insistence on additional information about the military’s response to the Benghazi attacks was met with strong opposition from the Defense Department, and now we know why. Instead of attempting to hide deficiencies in our posture and performance, it’s my hope our report will help ensure we fix what went wrong so that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

Errors within the CIA led to the “it was a video!” protest story:

  • The CIA’s September 13, 2012, intelligence assessment was rife with errors. On the first page, there is a single mention of “the early stages of the protest” buried in one of the bullet points. The article cited to support the mention of a protest in this instance was actually from September 4. In other words, the analysts used an article from a full week before the attacks to support the premise that a protest had occurred just prior to the attack on September 11. [pg. 47]

  • A headline on the following page of the CIA’s September 13 intelligence assessment stated “Extremists Capitalized on Benghazi Protests,” but nothing in the actual text box supports that title. As it turns out, the title of the text box was supposed to be “Extremists Capitalized on Cairo Protests.” That small but vital difference—from Cairo to Benghazi—had major implications in how people in the administration were able to message the attacks. [pg. 52]

After reading the official Benghazi report and the transcript of the hearing with Mrs. Clinton, I got a different picture of her than just that one quote that the media played over and over gave me. Instead of a dismissive attitude, I see that she was frustrated about details she saw as irrelevant when compared to the attack itself, and her comments were fueled by grief and loss. Ascertaining whether the attack sprang out of a protest or whether it was planned didn’t matter as much as bringing the perpetrators to justice and making sure it never happened again:

It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator…it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice…

And this is another reason why I am voting for Hillary Clinton: she has felt first-hand the sting of what happens when a government agency charged with protecting Americans fails and is motivate to prevent it from happening again.

 

I urge you to look at the real fruit — not just the stuff served up by your media of choice. Get the full picture. In education we teach students to look for original sources. Rather than satisfy yourself with the news report about the Benghazi findings, read it yourself. Read the full transcripts of the stump speeches both candidates give (or watch them) rather than relying on FoxNews, CNN, or MSNBC to tell you only the juicy parts of what was said. Read the Wikileak emails, wary that some media reports have been mistaken.  Make your own conclusions. Yours may differ from mine. That’s ok. Our differences in opinion do not make us enemies.

There’s room at the table for all of us who live by the fruit of the spirit, who listen to that inner whisper that tells us to go out and be kind, do good, and show love to one another. Let THAT be the kind of fruit we are known for.

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