This one will be short and to the point. I hope.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this. Then I read a C.S. Lewis quote: “I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much beter, it makes him very much worse.”
We know both the fact Lewis is pointing out and why it’s so hard to face. We know people who call themselves “Christians” whose their behavior appalls us. We could make lists.
We want to believe in a God who is love, who transforms people into bearers of this love. The way I came to phrase the question for myself is, “God, if you’re real, why do I find so many of your followers unbearable? Why do I prefer so many people who claim no part of you?”
I have lots of thoughts on these questions. Jesus seeks out the broken and wounded. The broken recognize their need for Jesus. The broken and wounded tend to be more ill-behaved because they are, well, broken and wounded. Another non-conflicting possiblity is people are drawn to the church and to Christianity for a variety of reasons, not all of them having anything to do with a living God who would dwell in us and change our hearts. Tragically, Christian churches have proven to be easy places for abusers, narcissists, and bullies to take power and/or keep their evil deeds in shadows.
Looking back at the Lewis quote, i’m inclined to quibble: “Christianity has not done that to a person, but a false version of the Gospel that feeds the worst impulses and ignores Jesus’ harder teachings…okay, ignores almost all of Jesus’ teachings and his life.” A way to paraphrase Lewis would be to say “when following Jesus doesn’t really take for someone, when they hang around and get the trappings–and feel self-righteous because they have the truth–but don’t have the core of their own being revealed, the person can become less loving, less generous, less kind, while believing they are doing the opposite.” We are conflicted, self-deceptive beings with extremely mixed motives about nearly everything and this is when we are trying to understand ourselves and be open to repent and change. I don’t mean we’re only evil, or unlovable, at all–I simply mean most of the time we don’t get ourselves.
Of course, when we’re talking about people this way–people becoming ‘much worse’–we’re talking about them , not us. The “us” I run with, who love Jesus and seek justice and try to speak truth in tha face of battering, systemic evil, we haven’t deceived ourselves. We know we’re screwed up but we’re honest about it. We’re not just mouthing prayers and twisting Jesus’ words around to fit our politics.
we can’t stand those folks.
Yep, if you guessed it, you’re right. We can’t be the truth-loving, grace-giving, justice-seeking Jesus followers and have a well-established “them” whom we righteously judge and hate.
2021 may have been even more divisive than 2020, and I didn’t think that was possible. I truly believed that once we got through the Presidential election, there would still be grumbling but we would move on. That, emphatically, has not been the case. I mean, the grumbling has happened. And many have adamantly refused to move on.
I know this: we are here to make life better for others. We sometimes express it in different language: love our neighbors, advance the kingdom of God, follow Jesus. I keep thinking about this–I keep thinking about my drive to change the world–and I realize it comes down to making life better for others. I want to do this so much more than I do. My longing, my drive to make a difference doesn’t match up well with what I actually do.
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, of loving the least, loving those deemed unlovable, the people Jesus spoke of when he told the parable of a banquet. If the wealthy, advantaged guests don’t want to attend, bring in the impoverished and the beaten, the abused and the disadvantaged. If the respectable won’t come, bring in the disrespected. It’s an upside-down kingdom, after all.
But see, here’s the problem. No, here’s my problem: the Kingdom of God breaks down the dividing walls between us. All manner of dividing walls.
I’ve spent 2020 and 2021 shaking my head at these walls but also , conflicted soul that I am, choosing a side and judging those on the opposite side.
Looking ahead at 2022, I’m reminding you because I’m reminded that Jesus doesn’t hate the people I hate. Jesus doesn’t disdain those whom I so easily disdain. Jesus isn’t mocking people like I am.
And unless I want to go all in on becoming a very much worse man, I have to look at myself. I have to confront this thing growing in my heart that has given me permission to be part of “us” against “them,” which is contrary to the Kingdom of God.
“But Mike! Have you seen them? Have you heard what they say? Have you seen what they do?”
Yeah, no, I have. Every day. I shake my head. All the time. I don’t understand their thinking, their motives, how they can convince themselves that this makes any sense. Or in any way resembles Jesus.
If people are charging ahead to their own destruction, I may not be able to stop that. I may not be able to change their minds. But I am here to make life better for others by loving them, and that means I can’t step back and say, “Okay, have at it. Do your worst to yourself. Have fun. I probably told you so.”
I don’t know how to do this not-judging, keeping-my-heart -open, loving-anyway thing. But I know the first step is to pray, to acknowledge what’s happened in my stony little heart. Understand, I’m not repenting of insisting that Jesus always stands with the persecuted and the oppressed, nor that following Jesus means choosing that side. I am repenting of becoming someone who claims to follow Jesus while brazenly refusing to love the people who choose the other side. Following Jesus means seeking to love people on both sides of this line.
That’s my remdinder.
Following Jesus means seeking to love the people who think like me and the people who don’t.
Jesus has been reminding me. It’s a reminder for me. But I’m sharing it with you, just in case.