Monday, June 30, 2008
In the recent past (let's say the last few years), a theological/philosophical realization has been slowly cooking in my head. To many, I'm certain, it isn't much of a revelation; it is an every day reality, an assurance and philosophy that governs one's thoughts and actions almost unconsciously. For me, however, it has taken years of personal experience and discovery to override my natural tendencies toward thinking and acting in black-and-white extremes.
My journey into this new way of thinking and approaching life probably began in earnest when Hubbs and I started dating. Up until that point, the planted seeds had not yet begun to take root, although my life experiences had been broadened significantly owing to my years spent overseas, working with friends and colleagues from different schools of thought and denominational theologies.
To my disgust and disappointment, my relationship with Hubbs quickly became fodder for gossip and speculation on the part of those whom I had called "friends" and "brothers and sisters in Christ." Though none had summoned the courage to approach either Hubbs or I to ask or accuse us of anything to our face, many from my then-worship community seemed to feel entitled to cast judgments and aspersions on our honor** behind our backs. Family members ended up unfairly caught in the middle, charged with the unenviable task of fielding nasty personal questions and assumptions while attempting to defend our names, which were being dragged through sludge.
From that painful experience, which was the primary motivation for me to leave that destructive worship community, I was led by the grace of God to a church where both Hubbs and I were able to be ourselves, and to grow. Within this new community of believers, I was given the freedom to explore the ideas that were now simmering in my mind. I was surrounded by people who were honest and transparent, who expected not to be judged, who didn't judge me, and who were equally flawed as I am. We were a motley crew of sinners, not unlike the 12 gathered in the Upper Room over 2000 years ago, who simply wanted to love God and figure out the best way that we could, how we might live out our lives to serve Him in this world.
I recall looking around the room during one of our early small group Bible studies, at the faces of the beautiful and sincere God-seekers who surrounded me. I remember being overwhelmed by a feeling of genuine affection for these folks, whose souls were laid bare to one another each week in the spirit of authenticity and brokenness. I wondered how my old church would have judged them if they had known what I knew about each of these real people sitting around me. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," Jesus had taught. And yet Hubbs and I had been unwittingly pounded by rocks over the course of many months. Would my dear friends have survived the stoning, their faith intact?
And so the simmering thoughts began to bubble over. I believe the soup is now ready.
God is all good; there is no sin in Him. He has not changed His mind or His nature. What He has deemed sin is still sin, no matter what day and age we may be living in. That much is true.
He is also a fair Judge, and will one day ask us all to give an account for our words and our deeds. He will judge everyone, and in His omniscience He will know what we are each guilty of.
I, however, am not God. My mandate is clearly outlined by Jesus, who describes the two greatest commandments as these: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." "Love your neighbour as yourself." I am not called to judge others, to condemn them, to change them, or to shame them. I am only called to love them.
In a time when our world is struggling with more overt sin than ever, be it lust or greed or homosexuality or promiscuity or selfishness or idolatry, it would be really easy to sit on my high horse as a forgiven believer, examine the situation from a sin-no sin perspective, and judge others for their flaws and shortcomings. It would be equally easy to avoid such sinners and shun them from my worship community. It would be effortless to gossip about them behind their backs under the pretense of concern and a disingenuous desire to be "praying for them." However, I am called to do none of these things. I am only called to love others, and to share the good news about Jesus with those who need a message of hope. Though I used to think and operate on the basis of extremes - right or wrong, black or white - I now know that grace happens in the gray. That is where I am called to live, and where I am to be a change-maker in this world, and in the lives of those whom I have an opportunity to bless and to encourage.
Though this is not necessarily a big Eureka! moment for the rest of you, it has been for me. It has been shaping and changing the way that I regard those around me, and has affected how I live my life and where I choose to worship and spend my time. It has also opened my eyes to the lack of grace that seems to be present in many of our churches, and the desperate need for reform in these communities.
May we all continue to extend grace and love to a greater degree as we learn to live with integrity in the gray.
** Most of the gossip and speculation surrounding Hubbs and I were completely false, and much of it centered around the purity of our relationship and whether or not we were living together "in sin." Nobody has ever attempted to ask us for clarification on the matter, and none have apologized to us for the part that they played in the idle gossip. Our loved ones who were affected did not get an apology either, and some ended up being targeted later on.