Thursday, November 19, 2015

Who Is My Neighbor?

In the past week I've been stunned at the fearful and xenophobic response of our nation to the plight of Syrian refugees. I've been disappointed at the people I know who support refusing refuge to refugees. Today I saw a map of the US with all the states whose have said they are not accepting refugees highlighted. I was deeply ashamed and disgusted at how many states were marked.

I have a rocky relationship with the Bible. I have read it in its entirety, but I don't read it frequently anymore. That being said, I did grow up hearing Bible stories frequently. I've been a church attender for most of my life. And I can't stop thinking about all the places, both Old and New Testament, where there is mention of welcoming and loving your neighbor. The Mosaic law was specific that the Jews should welcome foreigners as their own and give them the same rights. One of Jesus' most well-known parables was about who our neighbor is (the story of the Good Samaritan). I keep hearing the words, "Love your neighbor as yourself." "And who is my neighbor?" "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" "The one who had mercy on him." "Go and do likewise." (from Luke 10). Not to mention the face that Jesus himself was a refugee who would have been killed by Herod (out of fear) had his family not found safety in Egypt (but of course I AM mentioning it because Advent is almost here).

I see history repeating itself. I think about the Trail of Tears, the refusal to accept Jewish immigrants during WWII, the Japanese internment camps. Absolutely shameful events in America's history. Appalling. My brain cannot comprehend that I am seeing the same attitude now in our country.

I know that this kind of reaction is based on fear. Fear is powerful. I've had to look long and hard at my own fear-based racist prejudices. I've been confessing the sin of racism and praying for a change deep in my heart for months, because I realized that I am part of the problem. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself. I can pray for a changed heart. I can actively seek to see the imago dei in every single human being, no matter how different that person may be from me. I am clearly not perfect in this area, but I'm attempting to recognize the blind spots within and open my eyes.

When I see this kind of fear-based reaction in others, it's really easy for me to just get frustrated. Especially if the other person is a Christian. I think, "It's so obvious that we are supposed to welcome and love those in need, and those refugees are in need!" or "It's so obvious that there is a desperate need for reform in the justice system as a devastating number of black people are shot by the police with no consequences for the officers." It is obvious to me, now. I struggle to remember that what may be obvious to me may not be to others, even others who are sincere and otherwise kind. I struggle to remember that I need to call Christians with whom I disagree my neighbor as well. I need to show them mercy and love as well, even when I think they're wrong, even when they think I'm wrong.

Isn't that the foundation of Christianity? Love God, love others. No exceptions. Not love God sort of, be nice to the people you like. Nope. It's love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. Pray for your enemies. Ugh. It's revolutionary, because my first reaction is to say, nope! I want to holler at and have disdain for the people who are wrong. I want to feel smug and superior in my rejection. I want to elevate myself by pushing others down. It's an awfully good thing God has grace for me, too, because I'm still a messy work in progress. I'm reminding myself today to take a break, breath, and pray for peace in myself and in the world. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Christianity of Boxes

I used to think that there was one right way to be a Christian. In my mind, there was no room for theological differences, or even differences in some preferences. No nuance, no sliding scales, no sometimes or maybes. Simple black and white. My whole childhood was black and white, everything fit into neat, tidy boxes. I remember well the discomfort in high school when I bumped into people with different beliefs; I didn't want any conflict, but they were wrong. I went to a college that was linked with my childhood denomination, and though that school officially agreed with what I had been taught my whole life, I met Christians from different backgrounds. Sure, we agreed on more or less most of the same things, but there was a hint of Christian diversity in my bubble for the first time.

My experience leaving college was messy and painful, and it pretty much destroyed any part of me that was still consciously hanging onto that black and white framework. I had seen too much to believe neat, tidy boxes were the way to sort my faith. As I spent the next years trying to put my life back together and figure out how to navigate as an adult, I found other people of faith who taught me great things. I discovered blogs and books and regular people just doing their best to love Jesus.

I grew up believing that rigidity was the mark of a true Christian. Now I believe that the best posture I can take is one of openness. I know full well that just as I've discarded many things I held onto dearly in the past, one day I may let go of beliefs I hold strongly now. I am more comfortable with uncertainty; I embrace it, in fact. I find great relief in admitting that I don't understand a lot, and there are so many things I don't know.

Sure, there is a part of me that still like rules. I like the tidiness of knowing what's right and what's wrong. But the messy uncertainty of learning to love freely is infinitely more rewarding than checking off boxes for good behavior, even when I know I'm falling short of loving well. The more I discover others who are throwing out checklists in favor of radical love, the less alone I feel, and the more excited I get about the love of Christ. That's when it feels magical, which is the unspiritual way of saying that I think the Holy Spirit likes it when we chase love and share love and revel in love.

Intellectually I have it all sorted out (as much as you can ever sort things out). I know what I feel in my heart, how I want to love and be loved and not feel as if I have to earn love. The reality is that I still have the echos of my childhood rules flitting through my head, so sometimes (OK, a lot of the time), I still feel as if I need to check off all the boxes even though my brain tells me the boxes are no longer helpful for me or even good for me. Often I am able to help block those echos by reading authors whose work speaks to the part of my heat that loves rather than the authors who like lists. Authors like Sarah Bessey and Glennon Doyle Melton make me feel like the only box I need to check is the one that asks if I am trying to love people (including myself). No caveats, no followup questions, not even a perfect response or completion. I like to remind myself that generally everyone is just trying to do the best they can, and that means I need to accept that my best probably doesn't equal perfection, but that's OK because nobody's does.