Today, American Christianity is perceived poorly, particularly among intellectual and scholastic communities. A stigma permeates the word “Christianity” writ large, and I am partially guilty of accepting and perpetuating the stereotypes. Christians are stubborn. Christians refuse to accept scientific facts. Christians are inflexible and unyielding, and generally unwelcoming to outsiders and people of other faiths. These stereotypes are not baseless, of course. No stereotypes ever are. But I do not believe they are representative of Christianity ut totum. The reputation is earned by a few vocal outliers, but must unfortunately be borne by the whole community. That is the very definition of stereotype.
As I mentioned, I have been guilty of painting the Church with broad strokes myself. In today’s political climate, it became easy to pass blame. The racism and misogyny associated with the alternative-right movement is not representative of the totality of Christians, and of course I knew that. But bitterness entered my heart and hardened it. I was cynical and arrogant. (Arrogance is a recurring theme here in this writing space, in case you haven’t noticed.)
I foolishly forgot that at its core, Christianity is astoundingly beautiful. Accept love without limitations or caveats? Yes. Love your neighbor as you would love thyself? Yes. Receive unconditional forgiveness for your flaws and failures? Of course. Have a charitable heart, and give of yourself for the sake of others? Treat others not as they have treated you, but as you would want to be treated? Welcome any neighbor into you arms and into your heart? It is intuitive, and it is wonderful. It is also difficult, of course, and on this journey I’m certain that I’ll have to be reminded daily of what it means to be a welcoming soul.
I seek the warmth of the Lord’s embrace. I seek the acceptance of Christ the deliverer. I find it difficult to conceptualize in my mind, being loved and forgiven unconditionally by an invisible God, but I have faith that my soul will be more accommodating. For some time, my soul has felt like it is tightly bound, wound like a thin thread, in my chest. Perhaps a doctor would call it depression. Perhaps they would be right. I believe that if I open my soul to God I will find myself more open to the world.
Having been raised in and around the Christian Church, I also know that it is a welcoming community. This is easy for me to say, of course, as a white, American male who grew up attending a Lutheran church in a predominantly Caucasian part of town. There are few places I cannot go. But I know that the best Christians would accept me regardless of my skin or gender or country, and I seek to be likewise unconditionally open-armed myself. I have always had trouble opening my heart to people. It has nothing to do with them, I don’t think, and everything to do with my own attitude. I’ve known for some time that this needs to change, and I think of all the aforementioned traits, this one will be my greatest trial.
Once upon a time, I saw myself as a generous person. (Perhaps that is another example of arrogance. I have always needed an extra dose of humility.) I don’t remember when or why I became so selfish, but lately there has been precious little charity in my heart. Christ teaches us that “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). I have rarely been so ashamed of myself as when I read that passage, because I knew that it was true. I knew that my material possessions had taken over my life. I knew it before then, but to see my foolishness laid out so plainly stung, plain and simple.
The Golden Rule we all know from Luke 6:27-31 ends with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It sounds so simple! Doesn’t it? In practice, though, it is easier to do things the other way around. When I treat people the way I’ve been treated, it just perpetuates anger and frustration, and begins a vicious cycle. I must be diligent to remember this lesson; I believe that it can perpetuate a cycle of joy and belonging.
None of these lessons are new to me–I learned them long ago, and forgot them. But even though I knew them in the past, I’m not certain that I practiced them, at least not consciously. Today, and every day forward, I must make a great effort to internalize them, and do so with humility. I must be disciplined, while still being open and loose. I must learn the lessons not with my mind, but with my heart.
Prayer of the moment:
Father above us, Father among us, Father in our hearts, now is a time for understanding. Please grant me the wisdom to know the difference between a lesson I have learned with my mind, and one I have learned with my soul.