Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When Following Jesus Becomes Difficult

This post is meant to be a thoughtful reflection on a trend that has recently had a resurgence in a different form.

"You have heard it said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children in of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 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? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" - Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV).

When I first left for Shimer College, I was pretty disillusioned towards the Church. I am speaking of course of the universal body of Christians united in calling and purpose; my frustration was aimed at anyone and everyone who represented this. I had gone through a very tumultuous separation from a close-knit community of Christian theatre people. About a year later, my views had changed radically and a group of Christian friends disassociated themselves with me because they couldn't stand me anymore. They couldn't put up with my views which were so radically different from the ones I used to hold. In this second example, I did play a big part in the final decision to disassociate, which was that I antagonized them whenever they said something I didn't agree with. I make this distinction because in my first experience, I was the victim of an abusive relationship within a community whereas in the second experience I was equal parts victim and victimizer.

Fast-forward to the past few weeks, I've been feeling really uncomfortable in my chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As a follower of Jesus who is neither morally nor politically conservative, I stand outside the traditional conservative variety of Christianity. Most, if not all, the people in this chapter are pretty traditional Christians of the Catholic and conservative branches of Protestant denominations. Most Thursday nights I didn't want to attend our regularly scheduled Large Group events. Going felt like such a chore and with my already busy Thursdays (literally, I get up in the morning and go from work to the gym to class to lunch class to event and then to bed) and so the last thing I really want to do is spend an hour and half at something that I'm not comfortable doing. Guest speakers and peer talks cater to the conservative values and interpretations of Scripture without any regard for who else might be listening. It occurs to me just now that this is what it's like to be in the minority, though it's not the same as being in the cultural or ethnic minority in America (and I want that point to be very clear). I'm a white male so I almost never have the experience of being in the minority and even when I am in the minority (in a neighborhood that's predominantly non-white for example) I still don't lose the privileges afforded to me by being white.

While all this is happening, I'm also coming under fire for my opinions on political issues by acquaintances from my home state of Minnesota. Most of this is happening on Facebook, so what ends up happening is that it isn't just a criticism from the acquaintance, but criticism from the acquaintance and their four or five friends. In one instance, the father of my friend made it his personal mission to tear me apart. He would say that I was "just a liberal" (or socialist, or communist, or whatever label fit his mood), that I was brain-washed by my liberal college, and at one point my own salvation was brought into question. My friends, it was painful enough to have my college and my political beliefs chalked up to liberal propaganda, but when he called my salvation (a matter which is between G-d and me) into question, that's when I lost it. I sent the father a message and explained exactly what was wrong with what he did and why, but he persisted. Eventually I just blocked him and the problem seemed to go away. Then another friend, someone who was closer to me than the previously mentioned friend, began to assault my opinions with that pesky label of "liberal" and so forth. It was basically the same problem repeating itself. This time I sent multiple messages trying to extend an olive branch. It wasn't until we got into one last debate that ended with him apologizing, but it was too late; I was too hurt.

"Welcome those who are weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions" - Romans 14:1 (NRSV).

"[...] For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?" - 1 Corinthians 3:3 (NRSV).

In my own selfishness and pride, my desire to have my views and opinions vindicated, I often times engage in debates. The funny thing is, I've been preaching for a month or so about how ideology works and the problems it creates, but in so defending my beliefs against others I have inadvertently allowed my own ideology to take precedence over the Gospel. These debates that I get into are part of the problem of why people attack me. It's two ideologies, like an unstoppable force that meets an immovable object, warring with each other and neither side is going to budge. This is the danger of ideology. I had to be right, they had to be wrong and in the end nothing was accomplished. Nobody saw things my way and I have zero respect for them.

But Jesus was all about loving the people who hated him most. In his final moments he asked G-d to forgive his executioners for their ignorance (and not like some of us do when we say something like, "G-d help you, you ignorant piece of [expletive]"). Jesus calls his followers to do the same.

The more I learn about history, white history, and the history of Christianity it seems clear to me that I am only going to be more dissatisfied with the direction the Church has gone, but following Jesus means loving the people who misrepresent my faith. They may not deserve it, but the call doesn't discriminate based on the deserving and undeserving since all were undeserving of the grace and love of Christ yet it's offered freely to everyone who wants it. In the end it all boils down to love, not the fruity-flaky variety that ends when the odds of ever seeing its triumph are slim, but a trans-formative love that transcends "common sense".

This is my calling, and by G-d, I will do it.