Disclaimer: I’ve seen Christians who embody the core tenants of their faith, and I’ve seen the opposite; the repetition of the views and behaviors seen within the Pharisees, Sadducees and others that Jesus adamantly stood against and that ultimately led to his death. Below is me processing one of these latter encounters.
“I don’t expect you to understand anything about what’s wrong with the world. You can’t help it. You were indoctrinated in college.”
“Your generation is soft. They’ve had it too easy. They don’t know what real heroes or real struggle are.”
“You’re on the wrong path. You have been for a long time. Your struggle with anxiety is a direct result of your lack of faith, and you need to do better.”
“If you’re a democrat and you’re not embarrassed, your soul is dark.”
These words are just a small collection of the things I’ve been told relatively recently. On the surface, I know that these statements are as false and twisted as they sound. However, knowing that doesn’t eliminate the pain of hearing them directed at you – especially when they come from someone you love. When I heard these words, all I could think (beyond how much they felt like knives) is that it’s the complete opposite of what their Teacher intended.
Noah Gundersen’s words come to mind when he sings, “Jesus, Jesus, there are those that say they love you but they have treated me so goddamn mean. And I know you said forgive them for they know not what they do, but sometimes I think they do, and I think about you.”
I think about this a lot; about the cruelty that often comes from people who think their intentions are God’s intentions. I think about how if these people met Jesus, they wouldn’t recognize him. In fact, they would likely crucify him all over again.
And I cry. Because even from the eyes of an outsider like myself, I can see they’ve missed the point. They’ve heard the message but they didn’t understand it, and, as a result, they leave pain within their wake.
I believe that there are those who “will be ever hearing but never understanding” and “ever seeing but never perceiving.” They’re described as a people whose “heart has grown callous.”
But then there are others. Like the man I spoke to yesterday who is actively spending his free time feeding and fighting for the homeless. His voice was gentle and rich with compassion. He offers them food, clothing, and opportunities to help prepare for job interviews or contacts that may have resources for housing. He creates a weekly place that offers a meal, conversation, and human connection. He acts as his Teacher would, and as a result he leaves hope in his wake.
Actions speak louder than words, but words should also be chosen wisely – because they represent your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs. Your actions and your words reflect what is inside of you.
The person who criticizes me so often is a person with a storm inside of them. One that they project upon others, wounding and winding up those around them in the process. I know this – yet the words still cut like knives. And so I’ve chosen to build walls. I’ve chosen boundaries and distance and not engaging.
Yet the words still haunt. They echo even when I want to forget them. They reopen old wounds and make me angry. They make me want to fight back.
But I don’t.
Because I don’t want to be part of the problem.
Because I don’t want to be like them.
Because I don’t want to fuel the spread of pain.
Because (ironically), in their own words, you should “never wrestle with a pig because you both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
So I keep my mouth shut. I remind myself that the words that wound me also wounded their Teacher. I remind myself that their behaviors are the ones their Teacher stood against, and that he was persecuted – and murdered – for it. I remind myself that there will always be Pharisee-like people in this world – people whose ears and eyes are closed off from perceiving the words they think they subscribe to… and that if their Teacher were alive and present, he would be disappointed, too.
I don’t think these people truly know how to answer, “What would Jesus do?”
Because I don’t think they know him.
Not like the man helping the homeless.
Not like the deacon who set his office hours outside next to a sign that said, “To those who have been or are being hurt by the church, we are sorry. The Episcopal Church welcomes (and affirms) you.”
There is a stark contrast between these people. It’s the difference between being an oppressive, dark cloud and the light of a new dawn.
And I have a choice. I choose not to stand under a dark cloud and lash out at the rain. Instead, I will do my best to spend my life basking in the light – my own and others. I will live by my own truth, and not let it be sullied by the words of those who do not understand their own.