How have I, a follower of a 1st century Jewish Rabbi (and His mouthpiece in my current cultural context), faired in being salt and light? Have I distinguished myself from the culture in such a way that I am living out His two simple commands to love God and love others? Honestly, I would say, for the first 29 years of my life, I did a pretty poor job, but I'm alive, and I'm growing, and I'm learning what it means to love God, to love others, and how the two are hopelessly and inextricably linked.
So where in the world is this coming from? Well, this is kind of a constant process for me, but there was a catalyst this time.
Let's back up.
This time, I was rocked out of my cyclic antipathy by a post by The Outdoor Wife that I read over on A Deeper Story (if you've never checked it out, you should) called On Reclaiming Our Words. It was a powerful treatise on the simple fact that words have both meanings and consequences (a fact we often forget). The example she used was of the misappropriatoin of the term "pro-life" as a purely binary abortion issue, instead of including other critical issues dealing directly with the preservation of life, such as "just war" and the death penalty.
Fingers flew heatedly over keyboards. Words were exchanged (in civillity). Passionate debate ensued.
I even contributed to the discussion from the perspective of someone who has dealt with the realities of both war and the death penalty personally. But this particular topic only raises an issue much more fundamental than our views on the sanctity of life. At issue in discussion such as these, I realized, is whether our relationship with Christ is influenced by our culture, or whether our culture is influenced by our relationship with Christ. Just when I began to reach into the corner to grab the hammer of judgment with which I would smite all of those who disagreed, I heard that little voice.
And all of my failures begin to come into crystal clear focus.
I have, for my entire life, been living a lie. I have paid lip service to a man whose entire life was a testament to love and grace, but allowed my cultural context to dictate how that love and grace should be metered out. I have pursued justice instead of mercy, conflict instead of reconciliation, retribution instead of grace, judgment instead of acceptance, and war in the name of the idol of Americanism instead of peace. For 29 years I have allowed others to dictate a "reasonable" compromise of the fundamental principles of Christ's character in the name of necessity, pragmatism or realism. Conterfactual "what if's?" and false dichotomies (the lesser of evils) were used to pigeonhole me into a particular response, and I wasn't smart enough to see it.
I didn't believe HIM enough to see how wrong they were.
When Jesus prayed, "Your Kingdom Come," it wasn't some sappy, romantic, hopeful wish of some distant future event, but rather it was a release of the Kingdom, and more broadly, a lesson to us to release the Kingdom in ourselves and in the world. When he said "The Kingdom of God is within you," he wasn't kidding.
While I, as an imperfect human, possess the potential for great evil, as a follower of Christ, I possess something far greater.
- I have the love to change lives, because He is Love, and because He changed mine.
- I have the grace to forgive the murderer, the thief and the rapist, because He is Grace, and because He has forgiven me.
- I have the compassion to care for the least of these, because He is Compassion, and because I will all be counted amongst the least of these at one time or another.
I'm sure many will tell me that such a goal is naive. Anyone with idealistic sensibilities like me has run into this character before, and it takes a lot to keep from giving into their cynicism. However, to those naysayers, I would simply counter with this:
Ask yourself honsetly if your accusation of my naivete come from a place of faith and love, or does it come from your own place of faithlessness, of judgment, and a need to be right?
If the answer is the latter, you should really pray that through. I know I've had to.