March 1, 2018
There are lots of parts of the Bible I don’t like. I have no qualms in admitting that. The bible is often taken out of context and used as a weapon, so it makes sense that I would approach it with caution and a little suspicion.
There are parts that make me angry, parts that infuriate me, parts the confuse the shit out of me, parts that make me want to quit. There are also parts that I like, parts that thrill me, parts that I love.
This is a story about a part of the bible that I love.
I guess I started off telling you that there are lots of parts I don’t like for the sake of contrast. I wouldn’t say it’s rare for me to talk about the bible, but it certainly isn’t an everyday occurrence.
In the bible, (and this is Megan’s paraphrase, so bear with me) there is story that Jesus told to prove a point about how people can be dicks. It goes a little like this – two dudes go to a temple to pray. One is a Pharisee (I.e. a religious leader) and one is a tax collector (i.e a douchebag).
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed : “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
So my super intelligent and sexy friend Amy preached about this at church last night. (#WomenWhoPreach #SuckItJohnPiper) But she changed the words up a little bit. What a saucy minx! Instead of saying “The Pharisee” she said “The Awakener.” And instead of saying, “I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, and that I fast and tithe” she said “I thank you that I am not like other people – I have welcomed the refugee, I have protected and cared for the environment, I am invested in the neighborhood, etc etc.” And then, instead of using the words “the tax collector” she described him as “a Trump supporter who was wearing a Make America Great Again hat.” Way to hit me where it hurts, AMY.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone in my church. I want us to be very welcoming and accepting of everyone. But if someone had showed up to my church like that, my first reaction would have been along the lines of “Who said this asshole could come?”
And just to clarify – I am friends with lots of people who actually voted for Trump. And I love them with all the fierce intensity and devotion of a feral honey badger. If I thought cutting my arm off would benefit them or save them pain in any way, I would do it. It isn’t that I unilaterally hate Republicans or Conservatives.
But it got me thinking about hospitality. Hospitality, for me, is a non-negotiable, absolutely crucial component of Christianity. God asks us to provide hospitality to the stranger. To the people who maybe don’t fit in our churches.
To me, I’ve always interpreted that as I need to show hospitality to those who I view as society’s underdog. And I have done this. I have done this religiously. The gay/trans/queer person. The poor person. The single mother. The refugee. The homeless person. The abused person. Anybody who doesn’t benefit from white privilege.
I won’t say it was without its ups and downs. But I wanted to do it. So it was easy in that way. My heart yearns for those people to have a place, and so to be able to provide that place was as cathartic as it was frustrating.
But did I have room in my heart to show hospitality to those who I view as being in positions of power? As having privilege? Was I able to use the words conservative, fundamentalist, republican, rich, white, pro-life, pro-gun, etc. without disdain and anger dripping all over it? I wasn’t. I know I wasn’t.
There is a story in my family – a beloved story, one that has been told countless times, and it goes like this : One day, my mother and I came home and found sweet little Kevin, who was maybe five or six years old at the time, sobbing brokenheartedly at the kitchen table. Completely inconsolable. We asked Kevin why he was crying. He replied, with the appropriate amount of pathos, “Because Dad spanked me – FOR NO REASON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” My mother and I exchanged glances. Kevin continued crying. Eventually we asked him, Well, why did Dad say that he spanked you? And the story came out that Kevin had put Muffin, our cat, into my father’s lunchbox, and when Dad had gone to make his lunch, out had popped that irate party. Just to make matters complete, my father is and was a inveterate cat-hater (referring to our cat only as Lucifer and even putting a sign in the window that said “Cats – just another white meat.”)
The image I have in my brain of my father whistling along cheerily to himself, opening his lunchbox and being greeted by an airborne cat, complete with yowls and outstretched claws, is one that brings me to tears of unspeakable mirth to this day. The cherry on the top of the whole thing is Kevin’s indignation. Dad had spanked him for no reason.
But there is a point to this story.
Perhaps I, when discovering something unpleasantly surprising and repulsive in something that was previously a life-giving source of joy (i.e homophobia in the church, racism in the church, misogyny in the church, elitism in the church, hypocrisy in the church, greed in the church, bullying in the church, hatred in the church) have been given to knee-jerk outrage and S.W.W. (Spanking Without Warning.) There is no place for these people, I think. Their sins must be squelched and we must drive them from the building.
So how was I better?
How was I better than those as I viewed as wrong, or as the oppressor? How did I welcome them? How did I forgive them? How did I show them hospitality? Short answer : I didn’t. I believed that they did not deserve it, that they did not deserve my love or forgiveness. I simply didn’t have room for them. In my heart, I believed that they did not deserve the time of day. Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I was discussing something along these lines with my roommate Elena the other day, and she said, in response, that she understood what I was struggling with, but when indigenous kids are getting shot in the back of the head and gay kids are committing suicide because of the rejection and cruelty they face – at the hands of the church – that is where she draws the line. That’s where she’s disembarking. This party train ain’t going no further. So I want to be absolutely clear. There is no place in society and especially no place in the church for racism, homophobia, misogyny, greed, hatred, and fear and rejection for people on the margins. There is not. Jesus is and always has been the antithesis of that.
But can I – can we – stop congratulating ourselves on being better Christians? Is our home and our space and our lives truly open to everyone? Who do I really have grace for?
I think I really only have grace for those who I view as the underdog. If you are on the margins. If you are poor. If you have been rejected. If you have struggled. If you have been systemically disenfranchised. If you have not been valued. If you have been violated. If you have experienced violence. If you have been taken advantage of because you are seen as weaker or less than. I proclaim you beloved and I welcome you into my space. There is a place for you. I want – more than anything – an inclusive Christianity. If we’re not doing that, I think, then we’re not doing anything. We might as well pack our bags and go home.
And for eight years of my life, I lived with a group of people who also believed that. Everybody was welcome at the table. And I think, to an extent, we were successful.
I also think, to an extent, that I have been a Pharisee. Thank God I’m not like those other Christians. Thank God I’m a good white person. Thank God for the way we do things in my house. Thank God that “I fast twice a week and tithe”, thank God, thank God, thank God.
I hope that going forward, I can take the stance of the tax collector. My sins, such as they are, are not better than anybody else’s. I hope that I, and that our house, can have the capacity for a hospitality that’s for everyone.
Who do you have trouble showing hospitality to?