At the moment, we’re in Michigan. In Paradise in Michigan. In state with the ad campaign “Pure Michigan”, you probably can’t get much better than Paradise.
The ad campaign tries to show us the essence of Michigan. The leaves, the water, the snow, the smiles, the slow motion drone footage that makes everything look better.
The challenge, of course, is that there is much of Michigan that doesn’t look like the ads. And our temptation is to look at those things as impure Michigan.
The idea of “pure” in this case is “authentic”, “essential”, “ideal”. When Paul invites us to think about whatever is pure, he’s not sending us to Michigan. But he is inviting us to think about, to attend to, to occupy our imagination with authentic faith.
Sometimes we look at the slow-motion smiling-face pretty-building happy-life promo videos of church and think, “that’s not what I know.” And we spend our energy moving the other direction.
But James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
If you want to think about what is pure, look for the people who are, in the name of Jesus, caring for widows and orphans. Helping them have healthcare, homes, and safety. Helping them have community and compassion and courage. Defending them in court and in conversations. Listening closely for anything that leaves them at the mercy of bad policy and exploitation.
I think that pure relationship with God involves dirty hands more than high hands. Dirty because they understand that holiness isn’t measured by raised hands but by helpful hands and hearts.
Think about it. And you’ll be doing what Paul said to do instead of worrying.
“Whatever is true, noble, right … think about these things.”