the gifts of the anti-magi

This post has been a long time coming.  This time of the year is always difficult for me, as I feel torn between holiday cheer and resentful drear, obligation and celebration, hope and despair.

I am so very sick of the war on Christmas.

“Oh, good,” some of my Christian friends may be saying at this point, “me too!  Why can’t people just put Christ back into Christmas?”

No, dear friends and readers, that’s not what I mean.  I’m sick of the phrase “put the Christ back in Christmas” and all of the entitlement it entails.  I wish it would all just stop.  Now, I understand that may not sound terribly Christian of me, but hold on.  You may say that your anger and demands are for the sake of Christ, and I wouldn’t want to disparage your motives.  I’m not in your head and I don’t know what you’re thinking.  Yet there’s a painful sticking point in that concession, and it’s one that bears hearing out.  Saying “put the Christ back in Christmas” pretends, even for the space of that second, that Christ is something that can be moved and removed by man.  It implies that Christ’s presence in the holidays for us, as individuals, is somehow dictated by the actions of society.  I don’t like to believe that my experience of Christ this time of year is somehow beholden to the displays in Macy’s windows.  After all, the force of love I am enthralled by is greater than any one man, any one store, any one society.  How weak would I have to be if my sacred observances were somehow shattered by a greeting card?

“Now, it’s bigger than that”, someone inevitably says.  “The fact that people are no longer observing Christmas as a Christian holiday shows how secular society has become, and this is supposed to be a Christian society.”

Hold. On.  Please.

For one thing, the Christmas smashed all over billboards is hardly Christian.  The Christmas touted in the commercials telling our adorable little tots that this monster truck or that Barbie doll will somehow complete them are anything BUT Christian.  The promise of the holiday that society has started to hold on to is almost in direct contradiction to the Gospel.  The “spirit of Christmas”, as it is sold, is that the holiday itself has some ability to heal.  We’re told, in less than guarded symbolism, that if we buy the right things, eat the right food, invite the right guests, and have the right attitude that we will somehow achieve a transcendent state.  The holiday has become a spiritual act of reaching for sacred healing, but that sacred healing is not tied to God, Christ, or the ideals of Christianity.  It is a secular sacredness, and as such treating the holiday as holy is tantamount to idol worship.

After all, it is jolly ol’ Santa Claus receiving the sacramental cookies and milk, not God.

Christmas, the holy mass of Christ, was once not even Christmas at all.  You’ve got the Germanic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia blended in with Christianity, as the Roman empire expanded and brought in new territories and started to expand the practice of tolerance towards other religions.  In order to lower the amount of infighting between sects and oppression as people traveled from district to district, the Roman calendar morphed to overlap the holidays so that people’s observances were not as conspicuous.  It is ironic, then, that a holiday once tweaked to help avoid oppression and foster inclusiveness has become such a battleground.

Honestly, I don’t think Christmas is the real problem.  I think that Christianity has become the real problem.  In the United States, Christians have a huge entitlement complex that has become an idol above God.  We say that this is a Christian society and anyone that acts against that is out of line, ignoring the fact that we are all equal citizens under the law and Christians are not owed privilege or protection to any greater degree than their neighbors.  We act affronted when anything we deem as untoward is allowed to continue, no matter how innocuous it is.  We bicker and argue and fight constantly, sending our representatives to the evening news and gleefully hacking to bits anyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here, in this season of the Magi, when we celebrate the sacred gifts laid at the feet of Christ, I feel that Christians in America have started praising three other gifts, the gifts of the anti-Magi, laid at the feet of our own ego.  We have swallowed these gifts whole and they threaten to destroy us.  They are entitlement, disdain, and division.  Gifts like that are born of evil and exercised at great personal cost.  But open your eyes, brothers and sisters, and see how we worship them!  Hear the entitlement in the voice of the person telling the Jewish shop owner to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” when they hand up a Happy Holidays banner.  Hear the disdain in the voice of the mother who, when hearing that a classmate of her child’s wouldn’t come to the Winter Program because they don’t celebrate holidays, says, “Well, isn’t that just what’s wrong with this country?” Look at the division when someone goes on Facebook to beg for tolerance and they are told that they are why Christianity is failing in this country.

I have so many friends who say they can’t stand to go to church, that every time they hear someone is a Christian they instantly feel uncomfortable around them, that they believe in Christ but not the church.

I feel like my soul is just shredded, absolutely shredded, by the holiday season.

la pieta

Christianity is not owed anything by society.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Because you are Christian, everyone ought to respect you, respect everything you say, and never cause negative consequences for any of your actions.”  In fact, it says quite the opposite.  It tells us not to be surprised when we’re hated and persecuted.  So why are we so surprised?  Because we have idolized our own society.  We idolize the constitution, idolize free speech, idolize the symbolism of our holidays.  We worship those things as sacred and then react like vipers when they are threatened.  Because we blindly believe they should be perfect, we accept nothing less: even when, or perhaps especially when, the evidence all around us says otherwise.

We bear a tragic consequence for that behavior, but society bears one even worse as people turn from love to disdain and hatred.

So in this time of year, as we dream of the Magi traveling by the light of a sacred star, carrying gifts of adoration and penance to a pure and holy infant king, let’s think about the gifts that we ourselves need to offer.  Not the perfect consumerist presents wrapped in expensive wrapping paper and laid down at the altar of a tree whose symbolism we’ve forgotten, but the gifts we offer each other.

Let’s stop being the anti-Magi.

Photo from Daniela Munoz-Santos

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time for a time out.

How many arguments end with both people still believing the same things, and just hating each other more?  You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it.  People yell and rage at each other until they run out of steam and then they retreat into their respective corners to lick their wounds.   The inevitable result is that while no one “wins” the argument, their disdain for the other side grows increasingly strong, and the next time the topic arises the furor with which it is debated is only stronger.

Pretty soon, all you have to do is mention the topic and all the sudden you are drowning in a sea of bile, which once expelled leaves everyone exhausted and in pain.

I saw this recently with gay rights.  Someone posted, on Facebook, a fairly innocuous plea for people to show Christ’s love and compassion when discussing the recent outcry over Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty’s comments. Within seconds, what unfolded was not a “he who is without sin may cast the first stone” show of support, but a heated and bloody argument that left the original poster in tears.

“What’s left,” another friend later said, “but the “unfriend” button?”

I have to wonder, whose needs are met by this disturbing trend?  What is really being served?  We often assume, when we retreat to our respective corners, that out there is a world that agrees with our assumptions.  Yet today I’m feeling like it’s far more likely that we are actually alone.

corner

I think we need to take a time out.  I think instead of rushing from our corners like a prize fighter hungry to land the killing blow, we need to take the time to look around us and simply be aware.  Who are we fighting?  Why?

A dear friend of mine said, in the midst of the heated discussions of the past few days, that’s it’s easy to say something isn’t all that bad if it’s not being said about you.  Often the kneejerk response to her quiet plea to be understood was further defensiveness or accusations that she simply took things to personally.

I have to wonder why, never once that I heard or saw, someone didn’t turn to her and ask, “can you help me understand why you’re upset?”

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open.  Instead of viewing every argument as a chance to bury our own hatchets, why aren’t we seeing an argument as a chance to further our understanding of the world around us?

I believe this is doubly, triply, infinitely more true for Christians.  After all, as Christians we act not as ambassadors of our past grudges but ambassadors of the love and grace of God.  When we see an argument, our first response should never be to start drawing lines in the sand and throwing punches.  We should see them as opportunities to express a unique grace and compassion, defending those who are in pain and showing compassion to our enemies.

So why are we still fighting?

Photo by Nasrulekram

In all seriousness, what would Jesus do?

Sometimes I feel like I get upset about the wrong things.  Let me explain, there’s this meme going around that talks about a new pastor’s first sermon to his shiny megachurch.  The story goes that the pastor pretended to be a homeless man and everyone ignored him, even when he begged for money.  He was asked to stand in the back of the church, and when he was finally introduced everyone was horrified, until he preached a really scathing sermon which culminated in his asking the congregation if they were ever going to choose to be disciples.

It seems like most of my Christian friends have been forwarding this meme around.  A lot of people say things like, “wow,” or “so humbling!”

My first reaction to it was to be sick to my stomach.  Then, I was angry.  Then, I was angry-sad.  Then, I had a headache.

There’s a part of me that thinks we all need reminders that Jesus told us that we would be judged by how we treat “the least of these.”  So why don’t I like that meme?

Okay, let’s go through it step by step:

  •  It isn’t true.  This is a story that someone made up, probably to try to put some of the things that Jesus said into a more modern day context, making the church analogous to the pharisees.  I’ve made that analogy myself, so why does it bother me so much in this context?  While I am a little bothered by the meme’s assertion that only a handful of people out of 10,000 would acknowledge the pastor’s presence, I’m more bothered by the pastor himself.  Here we have a well-to-do man with his suit and tie concealed under homeless man’s clothes.  He isn’t really a man of the street that lives off charity, but he pretends to be one.  When Christ said, “What you do to the least of these you do to me” he wasn’t saying it from a comfortable position as a pastor of a megachurch whose tailored suit was hidden under beggar’s clothes- he was saying it as a beggar.  He lived off of the charity and hospitality of others, so when he said, “do it as you would to me” that could be taken quite literally.  If you would welcome Jesus into your home, welcome the beggars in.  If you had food to share with Jesus you had food to share with the lame.  If you would offer Jesus a cup of water, offer it to the sick.  Every offering as such Jesus would accept as an offering to his own person- not because Jesus didn’t need the offerings, but because he did.  These days, we as Christians are far distanced from the reality which Jesus had to live.  I don’t know if we really understand the fact that Jesus didn’t have a pension plan, couldn’t file unemployment, and couldn’t ply his trade while traveling and teaching.  He didn’t have a trust fun he was living off of, he lived off of the goodwill of others.  When we feed the hungry and care for the sick and give room to the homeless, we are remembering that God himself once shared their lot.  This meme?  It doesn’t seem like a humble reminder of that reality, it feels like the opposite.  It treats the reality of Christ’s life that he lived for us as a charade, to be put on and then taken off at the most humiliating moment.
  • It’s a “GOTCHA” moment, not a humble reminder.  Jesus doesn’t deal in shame, so why should we praise those who do?  This isn’t the case of a pastor humbly searching for truth in the guise of a homeless man, like this one, this is a pastor knowingly setting a trap to catch his congregation in.  The whole story hinges off of the judgment that Christians, as a whole, aren’t choosing to be disciples.  That churches do ignore people who aren’t dressed right.  That parishioners with cash in their pockets for the offering basket would give no change to a hungry, needy man sharing their pews.  The pastor, prior to ever preaching a sermon to his new congregation, has already decided they aren’t following Christ and need a scolding.  And rather than, say, inviting actual homeless people in to be cared for, he pretends to be one just to hammer a point home.  No, no thank you.  Jesus didn’t contrive situations to shame his followers.  He lived his life as a genuine example.  Those teachable moments the Bible is full of?  They happened as a natural consequence of how Christ lived.  The only time he set up “traps” for anyone was in response to the traps that had been set up for him.  Jesus didn’t trade in shaming his followers, so neither should we.
  • Who made it up?  What was their motive? We don’t know.  Rather than putting their own name and face to the tale, someone made up a story just to prove their point.  I’m all for parables, Jesus himself was known for them, but this doesn’t feel like that.  This is a lie parading as the truth.  The internet, yes, is full of such things.  Pictures of babies born with deformities meant to shame you if you don’t share them.  Mangled fetuses.  Abused dogs and cats for whom some unnamed stranger will donate a dollar per “like.”  To put it plainly, bullshit.  But this bullshit I’ll take personally, because this bullshit is about the church.  This bullshit about the church hinges off of the fact that no one will question the idea that a congregation of ten thousand are ready and willing to reject a homeless man.

So what does that tell us about the person who wrote the story, and what does it say about those who share it?

Judgment, and shame.  We’ve all judged the church as having fallen on it’s sword, and we all believe that it needs to be shamed.

What.

 

The.

 

Hell?

 

I spent one of the most fulfilling years of my life working as the site supervisor for a homeless shelter.  That shelter operated based off of the goodwill and cooperation of a couple of handfuls of churches surrounding a relatively small, but active, community.  Volunteers stayed with our guests overnight to make sure their needs were met.  Volunteers prepared and delivered hot meals for them twice a day.  Volunteers cleaned up after them.  Volunteers often picked them up and drove them to church on Sunday mornings.  Volunteers talked to them.  Volunteers let them know about job openings in the community, sometimes offered them small jobs, brought gently used clothing to hand out, made Easter and Christmas baskets, and donated thousands of dollars every night to pay the staff who served them.

None of those churches would have ignored a homeless person on a Sunday morning.  Quite the opposite.  Their attention and interest brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it to this day.

Let’s be evenhanded.  If we all agree that most churches don’t give a crap about the people who walk in their doors, what does that say about us?  Our faith?  Or, even more important, what does it say about our belief in God?

Essentially, what that meme says is not that we need to be reminded that Jesus asks us to care for the “least of these”;  what it says is that faith is pointless.  That no one is getting anywhere.  That two thousand years after Christ’s death, the church is useless.  That Christians are, as a whole, hypocrites.  (With the exception of a few self-righteous pricks waiting around for “gotcha” moments to humiliate us all and remind us how little we’ve grown.)  The meme doesn’t remind us of Christ’s love, it reminds us of our own selfishness.  What it offers isn’t hope but condemnation.

I have seen a pastor preaching shirtless in the streets because he gave the shirt off his back (literally) to a street kid.  I’ve seen a poor woman wander into a church in the middle of a service and seen everything stop while the congregation found out what she needed and got her help- including people running to the store to buy her baby diapers and formulas, and her having so many lunch invitations she had to choose who to turn down.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen people give away the dinner they just cooked for their family and have toast for dinner instead because they heard that someone down the street lost their job and couldn’t get groceries.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen families take in kids whose parents were arrested so that those kids wouldn’t have to go into foster care.

That’s my faith.

I’ve seen so many people show up at the hospital to pray for a sick relative that some of them never even got in the room.

That’s my faith.

That’s my church.  And I’m not just speaking about one church, but many.  All of the truly genuine people whose example brought me back to the feet of God after I thought I’d left him forever.  I may speak about the judgment of the church making me question my faith in God, but never let it be forgotten that it was the genuine love of the church that brought me back to him.  This is a sword that cuts both ways and cannot be ignored.  Yes, some Christians are assholes.  But there are still many who truly seek to follow Christ and emulate his love, and the only cure for the one is the praise of the other.

If we want people to stop being assholes, we shouldn’t be assholes towards them.  We should seek to be as loving, open, genuine, and kind as they are not.

The solution for a church that ignores the homeless isn’t a heaping helping of condemnation- it’s a loving example of the proper way.

*

Do I sometimes have harsh things to say to other Christians?  Yes.  I believe some of the attitudes I’ve seen towards the poor, towards single mothers, towards gay people, are incredibly destructive.  But I speak against it not because I believe the majority of Christians are selfish assholes but because I believe the opposite.  I believe that if most Christians realized the impact their attitudes had on others, they would willingly and quickly change.  And guess what?  In the six years I have helmed this blog that is what I’ve seen, time and time again.  I have so many stories of hope and change and trust and love that I could spend the rest of my life writing about them, and I’m only just getting started.

So, yeah, I had an allergic reaction to this particular meme.

That’s not my faith.

You, dear reader, you are my faith.  And you deserve better than to be shamed by a lie.

*This cannot be overstated.  If you want a church to take interest in the homeless, the best way is to bring the actual homeless into the church and take care of them.  People respond to love with love, and when they see you loving others their natural response is to do the same.  This is far more effective than shame could ever be.  Give the church an example to be like Christ, and if the church is full of Christians, it’ll happen.

 

Easter: the shame and the glory

I wish there was a rock to hide under, to get away from the various forwards of bloodied up Jesus, bloody palms, Jesus in a ray of sunshine with the crown of thorns, and all of the other iconography replete with all caps captions like “THIS WAS FOR YOU”, as if a person can be shamed into accepting Christ’s sacrifice by being forced to realize the extent of it.  Perhaps it’s a sign of my own weakness of faith, but I have a hard time celebrating Easter with all of the gore and mania of the preceding week being shoved in my face, so it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church on an Easter Sunday.

Besides which, the constant “this was for YOU this was for YOU this was for YOU” is very upsetting to me.  I find it indicative of a very me-centric kind of theology, in which every passage in the Bible is interpreted in terms of self.  Jesus died for MY sins, he offered grace for MY shortcomings, he preached forgiveness so you need to forgive ME, he preached love so you need to love ME, he preached generosity so be generous with ME, he preached the floodgates opening for blessings to be poured out so he’d better bless ME, and on and on and on.

As if the Gospel revolves not around the person of God, but the person of myself.

I find myself, perhaps pettily, wanting to change the caption of every single Easter meme I see to “he did this for the homeless junkie on the corner who gave up her kids rather than get clean”, and then forward it along.

I mean, it’s not about us.  It’s not JUST about us, it’s about the whole of creation and the whole of the law.  It’s about fulfillment of a blood contract that God wrote not just so that you can be free from your obligation to fulfill it yourself, but so that the whole of creation is free from fulfilling it.  So that the rocks and the trees can be renewed, so that you can be renewed, but so that the homeless junkie on  the street corner can be renewed to.  So that all of us, yes you and yes me and yes the gays and the meth heads and the prostitutes and the Wall Street bankers and shortsellers and the scum of the earth and the scourge of society and even the insurance adjusters can feel a twinge of repentance, respond to God’s spirit, and approach the throne room freely.

Yeah, I guess I should be glad that it’s about me, but I don’t want to live as if I’m the only one it’s about.

It’s about the whole planet, being freed from burden of the law so that it, us, everyone, everything can be molded into God’s design.  It’s about a time of renewal and blessing so intense and yet so simple it should blow your mind.

And it’s not about shame.  It’s not about changing, or being faithful, because the sight of Christ’s blood makes you embarrassed of your sin.  It’s about choosing holiness because you rejoice in the fact you now have the ability to.  It’s about realizing that you have a million chances to pursue God throughout the day, not a limited amount based off of how many sacrifices you can purchase or how often you can make it to the temple.  It’s about the freedom to honor God, not the burden to.

I realize I’m just blathering, but the early light of Easter morning brings it out in me.  I was walking the dogs with the frost still on the ground and my crazy stubborn baby in my arms, and as my feet crunched the ground and I watched the dogs romping as if there was no tomorrow, and my daughter clinging to my neck as if leaving me was death, all I could think was that I’d already found the message of Easter.

The consciousness that this moment matters, that I am free to share this moment with God.

And the realization that Christ’s sacrifice was so that God could be in every moment.  Yes, even the ones where the junkie on the corner looks up at the same early morning sun, and loves God for a moment or curses him.

And we should share these moments, not because we’re hoping that hitting the “send” button on the meme enough will somehow make up for our share in Christ’s pain, but because the best way to honor his blood is by doing exactly what his sacrifice gives us the freedom to do:  feeling God’s love for each other without impediment.

Fear our Love.

Christians are not the parents of this world.  I say that because at times we act as if we are.  We want to dole out punishment and appropriate discipline to all those whom we see as disobeying.  “Hey. single mom, your current struggles are the natural consequence of your actions!  If you’d followed God’s plan your life wouldn’t be so hard!”  Or, “hey, gay person, you’ve got to get straight to get to God or you’ll burn in hell, m’kay?”  Or, “Hey, society, just going to change a few laws over here to keep your Judeo-Christian values right or God is gonna judge us all, don’t want that happening!”

Missing the point, missing the point, missing the point.

We aren’t society’s parents.  There’s a difference between being God’s ministering hands and feet to express the Gospel to this world and being God’s spank paddle.  One, we are called to be.  The other?  We aren’t.  See, the thing is, all of humanity is called to be God’s sons and daughters.  We’re all siblings.  When I tell my son if he throws his toys his toys are going in my closet and he’s getting a time out, his sister is right there to let me know that her brother is stressed and angry and he can’t help it and he needs a hug and if I give him a time out I’m Mean Mommy.  When I tell her that if she doesn’t respond to me because she’s watching a video I’m going to turn off the TV, her brother is right there to defend her.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  And when I dole out the discipline and go into the other room, guess who is sneaking in to hug and kiss and talk their sibling through it?  That’s the way of things.  I, as my gay Christian friends sister in Christ, see my first and foremost job as being their advocate, not being their jury.  I also don’t need to be their voice of conviction because that is why Christ sent us the Holy Spirit.  What they do need is me as their sister, the one who will stay up late to whisper to them.  The one who will argue for them in the face of judgment.  The one who will conspire with them to wreak havoc when necessary.  Their partner in humanity.

Sometimes, when I read Christian magazines and articles online, I start to picture the Bride of Christ as a nagging wife, saying “didn’t I tell you last week if you didn’t stop that you’d burn in Hell?  How many times must I remind you?”  It saddens me deeply.  Our example is supposed to be Christ, the one who came to Earth to advocate for our healing.  The one who gave us freedom from beneath the law.  The one who acted as the supreme advocate, standing between us and our judgment at the expense of his body, his dignity, and his life.  Yet in his name we enforce the law at the expense of faith, bullying, belittling, and threatening our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters, until they turn from the Church with a resigned sigh, throw up their hands, and disavow God.

And why shouldn’t they?  When I punish my children unfairly, without any sympathy, grace or mercy, because I myself am scared and frustrated, they turn from me.  Our words must be selfless.  They must be motivated by love.  They must be tempered with knowledge of God’s grace and mercy and kindness.  They must be modeled after Christ.  They must never be motivated by our own fears.  Let’s be honest with ourselves- a lot of the condemnation the church heaps out is fear-centered.  No gay marriage?  We’re afraid of the consequences to society.  Discipline the single mother?  We’re afraid of the reputation that embracing her would give our church, and afraid she’s going to keep sleeping around, and afraid that she’s going to expect us to help her out and take her responsibilities on ourselves.  Rebuke the tattooed punk?  Let’s be honest, we don’t understand him.  We find his attitude offensive.  We’re afraid of what he’ll act like if he sticks around.  And that gay sixteen year old boy?  If we don’t rebuke him, he might be gay forever.  And we’re terrified of what that might mean.

It’s not God, it’s fear.  And when we reprimand our fellow man in God’s name, claiming that it is love, all we ultimately do is teach them to fear and reject God.  Are we supposed to hold each other accountable in love?  Absolutely.  Just like how my son will whisper to his sister that Mommy said something and she’d better say “yes mom”.  Just like my daughter will tell my son, “If mom sees you doing that she will be SO MAD.”  But that is something done out of charity, something done out of love, something done out of sympathy and a common goal.  It’s done to improve a life, not to condemn actions.  When we intercede with each other we have to do it out of God’s spirit and heart, and with knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

When I see the multitude of people who love God but are ashamed of Christianity, all I can think is that if we truly were doing things God’s way the result of our actions wouldn’t be fruits of bitterness, doubt, and loss of faith.

Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong.

In Which Lindsey Rants about the “Free Gift” of Salvation.

So, we’ve all heard it said that “Salvation is a free gift.”

I hate that phrase.  It’s dishonest at best and a flat out lie at the worst.  I know what people are saying, what they are basically saying is that all you need to do to get to heaven is say a simple prayer, it’s the easiest thing in the world, everyone should do it just in case. Ugh.  I’m a gentle person, but that makes me want to smack someone.  First; if one says “Jesus I’m so sorry forgive me of all my sins” but they don’t mean it, it’s only fire insurance, do you think Jesus is going to see that as honoring his sacrifice?  If we bully and nag and break people into saying a simple prayer just in case do you really think that is honoring God or that God will honor us in turn?

Oh, but someone might say, it’s still a free gift, even if it’s not meant that way.  If we wish to follow Jesus, he asks for nothing more.  Oh, really?  Really?  Please, explain to me in the Bible where someone told Jesus “I want to follow you”, and Jesus responded, “I ask nothing of you but your desire to follow me.”

I call bullshit.

The statement that Jesus asks nothing more than that we follow him is semantically sound.  Yes, all Jesus wants is our obedience in following him, but that obedience to actually follow him leads to all sorts of things like us having to treat our family like they are dead (Matthew 8), selling all of our possessions to give to the poor (Matthew 10), denying our own selves (Mark 8).  Not only does this call to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake come in those three places, but it is reiterated throughout every single gospel.  There is a cost.  The disciples did not walk beside Jesus down roads lined with flowers and people cheering (okay, they did that once, but Jesus was crucified shortly thereafter so I’d still argue that it’s not entirely a pleasant affair), it was a long hard slog through many trying, sometimes treacherous, and sometimes terrifying affairs.  In Jesus’ scant two years of ministry he still somehow managed to change the world.  Not because of hearts and roses and come on everybody let’s love one another- there was that, one cannot deny that- but there was also work.

There was sacrifice.

There were tears shed, long and hard prayers, countless miles logged and nights that dwindled into morning.

There was blood shed.

Ask the disciples, that last night in the garden, if they felt that their salvation was something free.  As Peter, as the rooster crowed, if he counted any cost.  Ask Paul, as he lay suffering blind, if he felt that Jesus’ call was a joyous thing.

It’s not free.

It’s worth the price, but it is not free.

I hear the words “Salvation’s Free Gift” with the same jaded ear that hears a salesperson in the mall asking if I want a free bottle of perfume.  Sure, it’s free, after I finish paying out all the contingencies.  Now, at this point I’m sure someone is thinking about the fact that we pray the Sinner’s Prayer and are guaranteed entrance into Heaven and all those nasty bits are about the reality of pursuing a holy life here on earth.  I could argue the theology that backs that realm of thought, but instead I’ll ask a practical question:

What use is it to be saved, if one does not actually desire to live out that salvation?  What use is my own salvation, if I have no desire to live in God’s light and offer up love for my fellow man?

If the only reason I gave my life to Christ was for my own selfishness, I don’t want him to let me into heaven.

And any Christian that would trap someone in selfishness in order to get them to follow God is as foul as the salesperson who claims that the bottle of perfume is free.  That’s no way to run a Kingdom, especially in the name of God.

/end rant

You were called.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I know that many people have no special fondness for Paul.  They see him as authoritarian and misogynistic.  And I can understand those feelings- the Pauline writings have been used for some time as a tool to subjugate women, cause division, and isolate the weak.

Have no fear!  That is not the only thing those letters are good for.  I love the passage that I started this post with.  It’s a great passage, deeply inspirational, and often overlooked.  “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  I think God still works in the same way.  God doesn’t go out and hunt for the biggest, handsomest, most well-respected among us. Man is in the habit of doing that and having it end up badly.  (Look at the example of Saul in the Old Testament.  Man wanted a King, God said, “don’t do it.”  Man chose a handsome specimen- it ended badly.  God chose a young shepherd.  That went better.)  I think there’s a reason that many of the greatest apologists of the Faith come from speckled backgrounds: think of CS Lewis, once a boy contemplating suicide on the bed of the school where he often felt abused by his contemporaries.

Yet God found him there, and called him- even if that call was ignored.

Think of me, a young stay-at-home-mom who has no business thinking she could change anyone’s life.  Yet, here I am.  I have the honor of knowing this blog has crept out into the world and changed things for people.  I believe that change will continue to happen.  Even though I am broken, even though each one of us has been called from a place of weakness.

We’ve been called to shame the strong.

For all of my dear Gay and Lesbian readers: you have been called for a reason.  Your unique struggles and singular voice have been added to this song for a reason.  You are here for a purpose.  Don’t let anyone take that away from you.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not necessary because you are flawed.

What flaw?  The flaw of loving God, of wanting to know him?  The flaw of having an open heart, of loving based off of truth and not expectation?

I know some people may read this post and may say, “but what about sin?”

To which I respond: but what about hope?  The hope that no matter who we are, how far we are from the accepted and the normal, that no matter how hard we struggle against our flesh and cry and fight and need to be accepted and loved where we are at in order to get where we are going, the hope that we are in fact desperately wanted by God?

What about the hope that we can know who God wants us to be?  That we can see it and embrace it?  That when we share ourselves with others, we won’t be turned away?

He chose the lowly things of this world, the despised, those that are not in order to shame those that are.

He chose you and I.

Let’s not forget that.