God used to be easier
when his views fit my own,
when he affirmed what I already believed,
when he moved within my stereotypes,
proved right what I already knew.
God used to be easier
when my enemies were his,
when he affirmed my prejudice,
when he approved of the boundaries
drawn up between "us" and "them".
God used to live
in this comfortable box
of the culture I knew
and the worldview I treasured,
among people I loved
who thought just like me.
You have opened the box
and He runs wild and free,
and who I thought He is.
This God questions my long-held beliefs,
challenges all I thought I knew,
tears down my prejudices
and won't let me be
the way I used to be.
Now God is teaching me
to touch those who once disgusted me,
to love those I looked down upon,
to open my heart to the ones I rejected,
to open my eyes to wounds I was blind to see,
to embrace those who once were repulsive to me.
For you touch the lepers,
you eat with sinners,
you mingle with rabble,
commune with foreigners.
You show me the God
I have misunderstood,
the God I only saw
through my own clouded lenses
that sought confirmation of my distaste
instead of seeking truth.
So let me follow You, my Lord,
overcoming all hatred, disgust and fear.
Let me follow You, my Lord,
my God who questions me.
[11. October 2016]
Susanna is one of the female followers of Jesus listed in Luke 8:1-3. Most likely she was a wealthy woman, since it says she contributed financially to Jesus' ministry. We know little more than that about her - so in this poem she is the "voice" for a particular issue of following Jesus that has been on my mind lately.
I believe what makes Christianity different is (or should be, if Christians were actually Christlike) the overcoming of boundaries, loving people who are unlovable either to our society (outcasts, people our culture looks down upon) or to ourselves (enemies, personal disgust). "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Mt 5:46-47)
Our faith should not affirm our disgust with certain people or groups, but challenge us to go beyond our feelings, also beyond what society says, to show them God's love.
I often hear this kind of argumentation in the context of calls to be "stricter", to push through some "biblical law" against "feelings" and "modern culture". You may have noticed I take this the other way round in this poem... The specific discussion I'm coming from is the ongoing (getting really tired of this) debates around homosexuality. Many Christians push for a "firm stand" for "what the Bible says". The truth is, though, that the Bible says much less about the issue than we like to think it does. Ultimately, I believe, if we are honest, our views on this issue are based much less on the Bible than on our feelings and our cultural norms, which lead us to back off from anything that doesn't fit the standard. That is a completely natural human reaction! The natural reaction to anything foreign and strange is defensiveness and rejection. However, Jesus calls us to go beyond our natural human reactions. Which means going beyond our feelings (of disgust or confusion or fear) to see the human being before us.
I believe that God loves all of us, as sinful as we are. His love calls us to love Him back. We love God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15) - and His greatest commandment is to love our neighbour (Mt 22:36-40), to love each other (John 13:34). Being holy and perfect like our heavenly Father means loving our enemies and the unlovable, even those undeserving of our love (Mt 5:38-48) - because that is precisely what God did by becoming Man and letting Himself be brutally crucified, forgiving His murderers. Love is the fulfillment of all commandments. Which is why love needs to be our priority - without love, we are not fulfilling all the other commandments either!
It's easy to look over the fence into other people's (and other Christians') lives and say what they need to be changing. And maybe they do need to do some changing - a changed life, after all, is a central part of being a Christian. But it's not always "the others" (the "sinners", e.g. LGBTQ) who need to change. Maybe we need to look in the mirror first and change too. More often than the "sinners" and outcasts of the time, it was the pious people, the "Bible-based believers" of the day, the Pharisees, whom Jesus called to repentance! Shouldn't that be food for thought? Where are we holding on to cultural norms and insisting on reading the Bible through a biased lens, instead of letting God actually challenge us? Where are we ultimately abusing the Bible for our own ends, to legitimise or explain our discomfort, instead of letting it question our assumptions?
I see a lot of conservative Christians accuse pro-LGBTQ Christians of not taking the Bible seriously, and instead adapting it to fit their own feelings, wishes and agendas. I must say I used to think that way too. But it's a lazy argument - one which can be turned around. Because I believe very often, we have used the Bible and used God to only confirm what we already believed, to confirm our prejudices (not just in this issue but also in others like race, support for war, etc.), and to legitimise our lack of love. But love is THE commandment of God. It is never right to legitimise a lack of love towards other people - because God calls us to love the unlovable, even our enemies. A lack of love is something we need to confess and pray about and wrestle with (maybe all our lives), but never something we are allowed to make excuses for.
Sorry. Probably stepped on some feet. Here, have a band-aid. <3
Picture by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze (Jesus healing a leper).