Let Your Light Shine
Depending on the day, humanity offers profound inspiration or embarrassing disappointment (as in, “Gosh these humans really suck.”) Some days I feel very human like that.
Dogs are never disappointing. They are wonderful. When they aren’t wonderful, it’s obviously someone else’s fault. They must have been abused. Their owner doesn’t know how to manage them. They weren’t properly socialized because they were born in a puppy mill.
I love my two dogs very much… except on Thursday mornings when the trash man comes during my 7:30am conference call… Jack feels the need to alert the whole neighborhood! Or every other day when Charlie pees in the house, despite having been let out moments before.
I think about rehoming them sometimes, but only for a second. I could never do that.
Jack would be a much better dog if I were a more skilled and disciplined trainer. Charlie just needs a doggie diaper.
Every dog has the potential to be a great dog.
Is that how God thinks of us? You were born with so much potential and I hate that you’re off track.
What if we extended grace and empathy to people just like we do for dogs? That’s not to say we make excuses for bad behavior or let anyone off the hook.
Like the guy that was being a jerk to the lady working the counter at Mr. Gyros. There’s like 20 people waiting and he gets upset because a later number got called before his. My first instinct was to call him out for being extra rude, which my husband did not appreciate. Adam was sure I was about to get him in a fight.
Ok, I’m not sorry about that one. BUT, maybe the guy had low blood sugar and he’s really hangry. Maybe he had a terrible day.
The truth is we really don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives. Many times their bad behavior is an expression of deep pain. Our attempt to kick them in the proverbial balls may not be helpful.
I’ve been working through some thoughts for a couple of weeks now. I keep hearing from folks that are fairly antagonistic toward organized religion, evangelicals, etc. The church is getting called out for hypocrisy on multiple fronts.
Here’s what I started with: I am confronted with the church’s PR problem. The majority of Christians aren’t like that, I thought.
Through conversations with friends, I realized that I’m not the only one a little embarrassed to call herself “Christian.” In recent years, terms like “Christian” and “Evangelical” have become more political identifiers rather an religious ones. Even Pastor Densel, a fairly conservative guy, preferred the term “Christ Follower” over “Christian.”
I like to think Christians had a good reputation at one time. Sure, the early church was looked at as a bunch of weirdos. People thought they were cannibals because they practiced communion and incestuous because they referred to each other as brother and sister. They just didn’t know. We were good people once, right?
I can come up with examples of extreme goodness, like Mother Theresa and St Francis of Assisi. Both took a vow of poverty in the name of Jesus to help the poor. Unfortunately, I can also come up with an equally long list of examples of extreme evil in the name of Jesus.
This is what causes me to pause: We don’t have a PR problem. We have a need-to-repent problem.
I hear from people on the regular who have been deeply injured by the church. Not necessarily by an individual Christian, but by a culture that has done harm. Things as small as being embarrassed because they didn’t wear the right outfit to church, and as huge as an all-out attack or even violence because of sexual preference, ethnicity, religious belief or political viewpoint. The wounded are lining up, and I believe it’s time to hear what they have to say.
Let me share this story as an illustration…
As you may know, I was single for a while. My three older brothers were all married at 18. By the time I finally settled down at 36, I was practically a geriatric bride in comparison. It certainly wasn’t for lack of want, effort or prayer. By the time I finally agreed to date Adam in 2016, it seemed like I’d been out with half the city. Lots of first dates. Not so many seconds.
I love getting to know people. I’m just so dang curious! One evening I struck up a conversation with a good looking businessman. I assumed he was in business because he was wearing a collared dress shirt in his online profile pic.
I should probably note that the “I’m a pastor” confession in the context of dating was usually a death sentence to the conversation. Or a turn on, which always made things super weird.
When this man learned that I was a pastor he reacted rather oddly. He decided to let me know that he had starred in several adult films. The purpose, I’m sure, was to gauge my reaction, expecting shock and contempt.
I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, but it was obviously not what he expected. I had learned in a rather painful way what it felt like to be judged, a life lesson I’m grateful for. I’ll skip that story for now. What that experience taught me, and many others after, was to lead with kindness.
So that’s what I did. I said something kind.
He wanted to know if I thought he was going to hell. I answered something like, “I wouldn’t presume to know you that well. I believe that God offers grace to everyone.”
I was met with a reaction that was something like the sweetest sense of relief. Kindness, it seems, wasn’t something he had ever received from religious types.
I’ll confess, I usually bring out the “I almost dated a porn star” story as the occasional funny little anecdote. I like to make fun of Single-Sharon as much as possible.
As I started to write this, I remembered that many of our exchanges were via email, and I found them. When I reread some of our conversations I realized how intensely emotional they were. We only exchanged messages for a week or two, but there was a depth and intimacy. I can’t really joke about it anymore.
I started the email chain with a link to my YouTube channel where I gave a little devotional and sang a song I wrote named “Call it Grace” with the caption… and this is embarrassing…“So you can feel me.”
He goes on… “I tend to run from the possibility of real love. You scare the shit out of me.”
“You scare the shit out of me too,” I answer back.
He said I should be prepared if we went out. First, he didn’t date casually. When he asked me out it was because he was seriously interested in a relationship. Second, he occasionally got recognized on the street since he was somewhat well known for his previous occupation.
I said he should be prepared if we dated because I would expect him to go to church with me at some point. Good chance of getting recognized there, but no chance of anyone admitting to it.
He shared about a close friend and former costar. I of course googled her name to find she was, in fact, famous in some circles. He explained how she had been repeatedly threatened and shamed by people in the Christian community. She struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, linked very closely to the abuse she experienced from religious people.
And suddenly the porn star became a human being. My heart broke for her.
I am thankful for these conversations.
If you can believe the internet, and in this case I do, 68% of male churchgoers report viewing porn on a regular basis. It seems particularly ironic that the Christian community would attempt to condemn anyone in this business. After all, they are such loyal customers. I’ve known plenty of church goers who struggled with an addiction to pornography. Hidden shame tends to lend itself to obsession.
Sometimes it’s easier to villainize the object of obsession, rather than look inside yourself. Or more challenging, to look inside your community and wonder why hidden sexual sins are so common despite such high claims of sexual purity.
I have certainly made my fair share of porn star jokes. But when you get to know someone they aren’t a joke anymore. He’s not a porn star. He’s a human being. His name is Alex.
Back to my story with Alex. We made plans for our first date. We were both excited to finally meet and see if this could be something real.
The weekend before our plans to go out, his longtime friend that I mentioned before was in town for a visit. She was expecting her first baby and he was helping her shop and get ready. He told her about this lady he met online and how much he liked her. This only slowed down the news she had come to give. She left her fiancé and had come to Kansas City to tell Alex that she loved him. Alex told me that he’d always loved her and couldn’t believe that he was going to have the chance to raise a child with her. I wished them all the best in a kind but short email.
I felt both gut punched and relieved. Even though our love affair was over before it had the chance to begin, I am still very thankful to have known Alex.
Sometimes I get lost thinking about the pain that the church has caused in people’s lives. I hate it! You should hate it too. This people who are called to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, have really shown the underside of their humanity.
My office is next door to Planned Parenthood. Sometimes protestors stand on the corner with their megaphones. I can’t understand what they are saying most of the time. Sounds something like, “God says… blah blah blah… life… child… hell… blah blah blah.” I often wonder what help they think they are giving.
Sometimes when I get in my car to go home I look across the parking lot and see nurses leaving for the day. I think to myself, she looks very tired. I hope she has a great dog and good family to go home to. She’s not a murderer. She’s a human being.
The protestor is a human being too.
I am a Christian, disciple, Christ follower, churchgoer, religious type, however you want to say it. Some days I’m proud of it. Some days it’s embarrassing. Still, I choose to believe and choose to stick with a group that is sometimes very disappointing.
Why? Because I have seen the best of it. I have been loved, encouraged and mentored. That love that I received from church people is part of what makes me the person I am today. When I’m connected to other believers, I feel a greater sense of God’s presence in my life. I believe the more I know God, the better I will be. Not better like, better than everyone else. Better like, I’m not the same person I used to be. I’m growing and learning and trying every day to be my best self. More than anything, I want to have the heart of the One who made us.
I am tempted from time to time to distance myself from those “White Evangelicals” they talk about in the news. Technically, I’m a mainline Christian now. Still white though. Seems like many are shifting themselves away from this term and it’s heavily political connotations. Wishful thinking? Maybe. Hopeful thinking, certainly.
I am tempted to pull back, but I can’t get too far. Because those are my people. Despite some Christian group’s egregious, immoral, offensive and embarrassing missteps, I still believe that God offers grace. I know God can redeem human beings, but could he also redeem a whole group of people? Could God’s salvation extend to the church in America?
I believe that the God of the universe can do just that.
And it starts with you and me, acknowledging the pain we have caused. Recognizing the corporate sins we have committed.
We don’t think of ourselves this way. We are American after all. We hold to life, liberty and a deeply ingrained philosophy of individualism.
But that’s not what the Bible says. From I Corinthians 12.12-14, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
If we are one body in Christ then we are responsible for each other. We don’t write each other off. And we certainly don’t let each other off the hook for our bullshit.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5.13-16 NIV]
That’s what Jesus said about you! You are the light of the world. It’s time to let that light shine.