Published 1:11 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022
My Dad used to have a favorite joke. “Your mother will say that it’s time for somebody to take the garbage out. Every time she says that, I always feel like somebody!”
We get a lot of suggestions in my line of work. Most of them are well-intentioned, and some few of them are even good. If you did everything suggested to you, though, soon you would simply be responding rather than working proactively.
It always thrills me when someone stops me and says that they read this weekly column I write. One of my readers handed me a piece of paper the other day and said, “Here’s something for your column.” Later, I looked at it and then laid it on my desk. Yesterday, when I walked back into my office that piece of paper was the first thing I saw.
What did it say? “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like somebody.” The message seems simple enough. That is, until you actually mull it over. Then you realize that the layers of this message should run deep and profound.
Also on the surface, you might muse on how in the world anyone could possibly object to the simple message on the piece of paper. I’ll tell you how. Be a pastor who leads with a message of Jesus as “love” and watch over time how many people tell you you’re off base.
There are people who will insist that if we cared about a world that is dying and going to hell (their words), we’d preach on sin more often and call them to be saved. In other words, make them feel like somebody, all right. Somebody bad.
I choose to believe that if I am going to err, and those objectors will protest that I do err, I’d rather err on the side of Jesus’ grace. Jesus’ love. Jesus’ tendency to build a bigger tent and to include the supposed sinners of the world. As if we aren’t all in that camp.
I realize that in the sloppy intellectual ways of our world, folks tend to brand this kind of thing as “liberal.” That’s lazy and inaccurate, really. Actual liberals would snort at the notion of me being one of them. Sadly, moderate ideology and theology that resembles Jesus can appear liberal to some whose religion teaches them to judge and to hate. To exclude and to marginalize. Grace appears soft to those whose inculturation and bias has rooted out their faith and relegated Jesus to being someone they mention but rarely emulate.
You won’t see me proof-text very often. So pay attention. In Mark 10:21, we see the only time Jesus looked upon someone in that gospel and “loved” them. It was a guy who was living outside what Jesus judged was his expectation of a believer. Also, in John 1:11, we are reminded that Jesus came to his own and they did not receive him. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus insisted that they let the little children come to him because to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. Best I can tell, we’re all little children somehow. We just eventually grow up and lose our wonder and our inclusive hearts we had when we were younger.
So, here is me declaring my intent to do better at making everybody feel like somebody. But here is what I have noticed about myself. I’m not proud of this. Really, I’m not. The longer I live the easier it is for me to relate to and spend time with those who are so easily branded sinners.
Elizabeth and I have collected a group of friends over the years that conventional saints have relegated to the garbage heap of life. That seems to come more and more easily. I find the supposed sinners easier to relate to and more genuine in some ways, I guess.
No, the person I struggle to probably make feel like somebody is usually going to be the person who puffs up about their Christianity and runs around judging others. The one who thinks they’ve got their stuff squared away, oblivious to the way those around them truly experience them.
I need to do better, and I confess my shortcomings in that area. I should do better at drawing closer to me the judgmental and mean-spirited Christian crowd. In fact, someone reading this could say, “Sounds like you judge the judgy crowd.” I’m afraid I do. I said I wasn’t proud of it.