Wednesday, October 9, 2013

GUEST POST: A 25-YEAR-OLD'S TAKE ON SACRIFICIAL LOVE

GRIFFITH PARK OBSERVATORY
LOS FELIZ, L.A.
Every so often, out of the blue, I receive an email so beautiful, so true, so painful, and so loud a call to a deeper conversion that I can't get it out of my mind. And then I want to share it.

I received just such an email last week. With the sender's permission, here it is.

WHY DOES GOD LOVE US?

Fundamental to all Christian doctrine is God’s overwhelming love for us. Which sounds pretty great huh? I mean what with us being so loveable right? So cute and cuddly like a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, right? Wrong. Unless you have spent literally zero time in the real world, you will quickly realize that this Sunday School narrative does not hold up at all.

So we have two options—we pull out the scalpel and begin to cut people out of the group God loves, or we are put in this really awkward position of claiming he loves everyone equally. Do you realize what he means? It means that he loves the extreme left liberals, the extreme right conservatives, the child-molesters, your mother-in-law, the “gays”, the “crazy” environmentalists, the prostitutes, the porn addicts, and your daughter’s rapist. It means that when you say, “I’m a Christian” it means that you love all those people too.

Whoa! Wait a second—the liberals were screaming “Hail Satan!” at their meeting—and they support Planned Parenthood (they kill babies FYI). Don’t matter. He loves them. The “gays”? Really? They have parades in front of churches, they say that they were born this way; they say that we are the problem—not them. We deem it more effective to scream “hate the sin, love the sinner!”—and then proceed to show them no love, compassion or understanding, while teaching our children to do the same to the next person they meet who is not exactly like them. We teach ourselves what the Christian looks like—flawless. We carefully construct white-washed images and go to great lengths to conceal our sins. Our unacceptable sins, that is: our acceptable ones we parade like the pagans. When the one who shows up who can’t conceal their unacceptable selves—we say—Ewww, that one is sick. He just needs more Jesus. He needs more Faith. Or worse, we decide he or she is too far gone. You can’t fix that one—get out the scalpel, cut it off. May God have mercy on its soul.

And then we maintain that we are the Church. “The Church?” the World scoffs incredulously, seeing the double-mindedness of our ways. It is easy to be the Church when your family doesn’t hail from a destroyed culture—one probably destroyed by a “Christian nation”--or has not been rocked to its knees by alcoholism, drugs, and incest; when you have never had to beg for a healing that never came, or watched your drunken father beat your high mother to within an inch of her life. It is a little easier to believe in the goodness of God when you have not seen the ugliness of life. It is easy to “believe” when your biggest problem to overcome was deciding which D1 school your parents were going to pay for so you could go to college, probably join a sorority so you had a bunch of pretty friends, and finally find a trust fund baby to settle down with. Yep, you sure are blessed. God sure gave you everything. Except if you have ever read the beatitudes… yah who cares about those…

This mentality of God granting you wealth and health sends a pretty clear message to those who have little to none, or a life narrative that doesn’t fit in the mold of the American Christian. God did not bless them, even though he blessed the other guys. “He loves me?” one thinks. Oh, really? You mean this unremitting suffering that is my life is actually a blessing? How bout you get your manicured life out of my face and quit trying to convince me that a God who allowed all this to happen actually loves me, and when you turn around in fifteen seconds to go on to the next guy to tell him God loves him too—you remember that I neither believe in your fake, lying love nor in your God. Bring Hell on, because it can’t be worse than what I go through on a daily basis.

Honestly this narrative I both understand and can to some degree identify with, and as Christians—I think we often underestimate the real harm we do in the name of self-righteous pride. It is because Christ’s love is not words, nor a stray weekend building a house for someone poor. The love of Christ is sacrifice. Real groundbreaking, life-altering, never-the-same-again-after-what-I-saw sacrifice. It is seeing the untouchables pushed to the fringes of society and saying—no this is not right, we have to do better! It is giving your life to give dignity to someone that it was robbed from. It is refusing to let some Pharisee say, “Look at me, thank God I am not like this tax-collector.” Christianity is the realization that we are all tax-collectors. We are all hopelessly broken and begging for love. We are simultaneously unbelievably destructive and terribly fragile. We, in our insecurities, begging for identity, begging for someone to belong with, terrified that we are the only ones; we who are so prone to violence, we who are so eager to destroy an outsider to become an insider.

MAGNOLIA SEED POD
Sometimes it makes me angry, how ugly we really are. Not just the hypocritical Christians, but all of us. How we tear each other apart, selfishly use each other, see only our own problems rather than to look at our world and see the hemorrhaging human heart in all of its suffering. Damn our selfishness, damn our pride, damn our unwillingness to walk a mile in another’s shoes.

That is what I see to be our call as Christians, to stand with the suffering. To see life in all of its horror, darkness, pain and to bring to it Light, Truth and Beauty. To be a Christian is to bring beauty and goodness into a world of ugliness, cynicism, and hate. It is to approach the world with the wisdom of a man, yet the heart of a child. To be as wise as a serpent, yet innocent as a dove. The world is begging for someone to bind up its wounds, for someone to show a better way, for love, for justice, for mercy. And so we turn to our Lord and say, “Jesus, teach us how to pray!” He replies “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses—as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation Oh Lord, but deliver us from Evil.”

He tells us to rely on him. To love him. To ask for forgiveness. To freely grant it to those who do us harm. To seek and to find the narrow way, and when we fall short, to beg for deliverance. Deliverance? Deliverance from whom? In my estimation, most often—ourselves. Deliver us Lord from ourselves. Our hypocritical nature, our self-loathing, our condemning attitudes, our willingness to destroy and reluctance to build.

Jesus, let me see myself as you see me. I beg of you. I want to see something that can be loved. Something that is loved wholly. Not just what I present, but even my ugliness. The parts of myself I hate. The parts of myself that make me long to pull out the scalpel and cut them off. The parts of myself that I have tried to cut off but only self-mutilated to the point of anemia. Teach me that I can put myself in this awkward position of believing that I can love everything about myself, just as I must awkwardly believe that you love everything about your creation.

Because at the end of the day, while people exist in groups that we label and categorize, to God—people do not exist in groups. People are people. Individuals. Each unrepeatable, each unique, each loved so deeply by God. There is nothing God desires more than to be in communion with each and every one of us. He is not asking you to join a political party, he is not necessarily asking you to sell your business. What he is asking you is to listen. To seek him. To see him in his creation. That does not mean to travel to distant lands to see beautiful scenery—although those views may certainly have a spiritual dimension. It means to strive to see him in the crown jewel of his creation, ourselves and each other. You cannot love God and hate people. The only person who hates people is Satan. Satan is the one who hates. God hates no one.

I for one, believe that the beginning of holiness is love. The ability to love yourself as you are. The ability to love others as they are. Not to look at someone and the first thing that comes to mind is how you can fix them to make them better, but how they can make you better. Understanding your own flaws and weaknesses well enough to be able to look at another’s and to not turn up your nose. Let me clarify, this does not mean that we should not see sin. However, the only way for a sin to be rectified is for the person who is committing it to also see it as sin. The only hope we have at changing the world is to convert the world. We will never change the world by forming angry mobs, by shaming those whose lives we find in error, by composing scathing rhetoric to attack our opponents. We change the world through lives of holiness. Not condemning with fear or shame, but by taking up our cross daily. Our cross. Not by slapping crosses on those running away from us. The only change we can truly hope for is from God. God is the one who expands our ability to love. It doesn’t matter where you started, only he can change us.

I used to find myself being far more condemning, while knowing that I condemned myself. It was not until I truly understood that Jesus did not come to the world to condemn the world, but that through Him, and out of the Father’s love for us—he came to save us. Saved? Saved from whom? In my estimation—ourselves.

Holiness is not about looking perfect. Holiness is not about getting preachy. What holiness is—it is taking an honest, objective look at yourself—seeing both the darkness and the light—and believing that you can still be loved regardless—and due to the Love that you have received you strive to walk as closely to the Light. Not because He won’t love you if you don’t, but because of how much you Love him, and that you know he would never ask you to do something that wasn’t ordered toward Love. You don’t do it for your parents. You don’t do it for your friends. You don’t do it for your country. You honestly do not even do it for your Church—you do it for Jesus. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t honor your parents, or love your friends and country, or try to be a good example for your Church—however if you holiness depends on your relationship with temporal things—you build your house on the sand.

Your parents one day will die. Someday, you may be without friends. Your country could be destroyed, and your Church rocked by scandal. Where is your foundation then? What will lead you to the Light? What will expand your ability to love the unlovely? Build on the rock, the one who the builder’s rejected who has become the cornerstone. Knowing that he is with you always, even until the end of the age.

The author is a 25-year-old male student and veterinarian. 


PALM TREE "FRUIT"

9 comments:

  1. So often when reading this blog i am challenged to be re-converted, or perhaps I should just say, converted. Sometimes the challenge feels too great! So much in my church feels like ritual, with a set way of doing things. Someone lost an elderly mother a few weeks ago - we go tonight to encourage and pray with the bereaved family. I don't know the family, and have been asked to "bring a word". Oh, but what's the use without love? I need to go and pray and ask the Lord to help me to really mean whatever it is I say, and to love, really love... Thanks for this guest writer's thoughts, they are stirring.

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  2. Another thought - the writer of this piece gets at something so fundamental, so deep, that it makes me realise how shallowly i live and think most of the time... I am struck by the notion that love of others cannot bypass love of oneself - love based not on how "adorable"/holy we are, but on (i am not there yet) accepting that He loves us and seeing ourselves through His eyes. I do understand that seeing ourselves this way would enable us to love ourselves, and that this love would have NOTHING to do with how hard we try, how much we desire Him, how, therefore, commendable we are, how sound our values, how many children we adopt ... etc! It must have only to do with HIM!!

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  3. What a beautiful piece from a 25 yrs. old! It tells me about his journey in life, the graces he received from God and how he accepted them and acted on them. It also tells me how far and I am from such a conversion. In the midst of my brokenes, my weaknesses, my lack of response to the Holy Spirit, there is my imperfect belief in the love of God for me, otherwise, how could I love myself?

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing piece. It has touched my heart, and I pray, will change my life.

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  5. Insightful and heartfelt piece.

    Much of it put me in mind of this:

    “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

    The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.”

    --from Chapter One, Catechism of the Catholic Church

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  6. Heather -- this call for faith grounded in the 'stat crux,' the immobile cross, reminds me of a line from an article I read recently: "...Unfortunately, the verse’s context makes it sort of difficult to say, 'God has plans to prosper you and not to harm you, Jonathan. Just claim Jeremiah 29:11.' Unless of course, I also admit that these plans for prospering me might include slavery, exile, and the untimely gouging of my eyes after witnessing the death of my family. Or that the plans won’t be realized for generations..." See whole article: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/09/26/jeremiah-2911/ Many blessings, O Queen of God's Unchained Melody! :-)

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    1. Hi Tom, I like your piece, worth reading, folks. "Could it be that God's will is bigger and broader and profounder and more majestic than we assume?...

      My take on the verse from Jeremiah is that we completely misunderstand/appropriate to our own ends the meaning of "prosper." I love that psalm that says "Prosper the work of our hands, prosper the work of our hands"...Following Christ doesn't protect us from famine, disease, dictatorships, terrorism, genocide. It doesn't guarantee or even especially foster "success." It guarantees that our faith, our dying to ourselves, will bear fruit for someone else. There is something in it for us, of course, too: the peace that passes all understanding, a strange kind of joy, even in the midst of suffering, stumbling, falling, our hearts that burn for Christ. Last year I did an interview with the upper West-side hedge fund wife creator of The Happiness Project. And one of the things I said is that Our faith, my faith, cannot be an INSULT to the woman in India who is subsisting on three grains of rice a day, to the victims of genodicidal dictatorships, famine, war (much of it supported and perpetrated by our own government). The "successful" follower of Christ dies. The one who "prospers" in Christ lays down his life for his friends...

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  7. Heather, I am humbled beyond words. Thank you for sharing something that I am going to read and re-read several times.

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I WELCOME your comments!!!