I don’t always finish the books that I start. (see previous blog confession) However, I just finished a reading a book that struck something inside—this delicate chord that sways between who I am and who I want to be. It named something for me that I have been wrestling with and questioning.
I have grown up surrounded by Christians. I have gone to church for as long as I can remember. I am a person of faith and I continue to learn what it means to be a follower of Christ. My faith has shaped who I am and how I think about the world and my place in it. I am nothing but grateful for my parents and siblings and friends and professors who have loved me, prayed for me, challenged me and graciously, given me room to change.
In recent years, especially since college, I often come back to this question “What does it mean to claim to be a Christian in a society where the word “Christian” often has such a negative connotation?” I sometimes sit and cringe when I hear certain right-wing political commentators claim to know God’s agenda and I am often embarrassed by televangelists on TV who profess this cheezy, game-show host kind of a God. I don’t know these men and women personally, so maybe they really love God and love people, but sometimes I am sad that they become the image that people conjure up when thinking of a Christian. And I get angry when Christians spend the sum of their energy talking about the two hot-button issues; gay marriage and abortion. I don’t understand how Jesus’ message of “love God with all of your heart, soul and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” gets reduced so quickly to two issues. I just don’t get it. I write hesitantly on this topic, because I know it can lead to heated arguments with pointed fingers and hurt feelings, none of which is my intent. But I write, nonetheless, to acknowledge what I am learning and thinking and to be true to who I am. It feels a little risky because I know some may misunderstand me or misjudge me, but I guess that goes with the territory of publicly posting your personal opinions on the internet : )
Donald Miller articulates it better than I can in his book, Searching For God Knows What? He writes, “The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, neglects health care and worlds trade and the environment and loving his neighbors and feeding the poor.”
When I read parts of the gospels and look at the life of Jesus, I am continually amazed at the life he lived- he was a radical, who believed in peace and truth and not buying into the expected norms of the day. He spent time with the marginalized and the poor, he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He challenged the Pharisees and the religious leaders. He loved people—all people. It wasn’t about “us” versus “them,” or proving people wrong. He asked questions. And listened. And loved.
In church today my pastor spoke from a passage in John 11. It’s a story that most people at some point in life can identify with; it’s a story about two mourning sisters and a dead brother. It’s a story of pain and grief and of a God who offers healing and hope. One of the most poignant verses is verse 35. “Jesus wept.” It’s so simple and yet I sat in church, filled with emotion, and thought what would happen if our society saw this Jesus- a Jesus who weeps with us in times of pain and grief, a Jesus who empathizes with our longings and desires and more than anything wants to bring us healing and hope and redemption. I started thinking what would happen if as a Christian, I truly lived a life where I wept and empathized with people.
Some of the men and women I admire most in this world are not famous authors or speakers or Nobel Prize winners, but they are family and friends, who have chosen to live how Christ lived.
One of my friends shares a meal with homeless men and women while they get access to medical care every Wednesday night. Another friend has chosen to not to raise her standard of living, so whenever she gets a raise at work she gives that money away. I have been inspired by a family who recently planted a city garden and are now advocating for more sustainable food sources in our city. I’ve watched a dear friend who spends time with an international student to help her feel welcomed and comfortable in a new country. I have a friend in law school who is studying Spanish and pursing her law degree so she can advocate and defend immigrants and minorities who are treated unjustly. And I could go on…
These are people who call themselves Christians. It almost seems too simple: they love God and love people. I sometimes wish that when our society heard the word “Christian” they would think of these men and women. People aren’t perfect, no one is. Christians, Muslims, Agnostics, Catholics, we are all bound to make mistakes. But I am learning that if I claim to be a Christian, someone who wants to follow Christ, then I want to be someone who tries to live generously and patiently, someone who is quick to forgive and willing to listen, someone who takes care of creation and advocates for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
As I continue to struggle to keep this at the forefront, to make it not just an ideal but an actuality, I am reminded of a verse in the book of Micah:
“And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
This is my prayer for today.