Loving People in a Way They Feel They Can’t Be

A previous post referenced something that I heard on the OnBeing interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber.  As I said in that post, the OnBeing podcast is one of my all time facorite podcasts.  Some of the things that are said in Krista Tippett’s interviews move me like few things can.  Full disclosure, I have cried in my car a few times listening to the podcast and what I want to talk about today is no exception.

In the interview with Nadia she discusses how her church, House for All Sinners and Saints, in Denver is a sort of haven for those who might not be welcomed elsewhere.  A church of misfits, if you will, where everyone is welcome regardless of what you look like or where you’ve come from.  With her rise in notoriety, however, more “normal” looking people started coming through the doors and Nadia confessed that she struggled with that.  She wanted to keep the vibe of the church what it was and having “normal” church type people sitting in service was sort of cramping their style.  The church began to discuss this issue and one of the church regulars stood up and made this statement (which is a quote from the podcast):

“As the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I just want to go on record as saying I’m glad there’s people who look like my mom and dad here. Because they love me in a way my mom and dad can’t.”

I’ve sat on this quote and post for a while.  It is honestly still causing me to push back some tears and emotions as I write this. For whatever feelings you may have with LGBTQ issues and the Church, this has to be the most beautiful, honest, heart wrenching and devastating sentence I have ever heard. On one side there is the loving acceptance and welcome felt from the church community at House for all Sinners and Saints.  On the other side is rejection and betrayal of love by this kids parents.  Very simply for this kid, love was found where it was probably least expected (the church) and it has been denied where it was most needed and expected (the family).  I am encouraged by the love expressed by the church and am saddened at the hurt and loss of love from the family.

But, this is the most beautiful thing about the Church.  Where the world fails and hurts us, the church has the capability to bind up our wounds and bring healing.  The church should be a haven for those who are hurting and possibly ostracized from a broken society that pushes the exceptions to the margins saying “we can’t help you”. Granted, the Church can do the very opposite and fails in very extreme and hurtful ways.  The problem is, when the church fails us it’s just like a family member failing us.  The place we thought was safe and healing becomes unsafe and extremely hurtful.  This is a problem that needs addressing (but that would take a different post).  When the Church is working as Christ intended, then it is a gloriously and miraculously healing community. While it might make absolutely no sense to those watching from the outside as people from all sorts of backgrounds, economic status, ethnicity, gender and age come together to work communally, it is a fascinating mystery that it works. It can be healing to those hurt and redemptive for those feeling like outsiders.  The Church can love people in a way they feel (or that they have been told) they can’t be.

Matthew records this peculiar statement of Jesus which I think highlights this point.

“Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.”
Matthew 10:37-39 (CEB)

One of the things I think Jesus is getting at here is there is an opportunity for a better community when we are able to see and serve outside the boundaries of our usual “tribe” or “family.”  When we are able to see the rest of the world outside of our normal “boundaries” then we can participate in this greater vision of community and a non-Babel separated world.  Following Jesus means following not for the sake of our families and friends, but for the sake of those outside of our family and friends who need to be restored to community.  Loving those who need a new and better vision of “family” and “friends” than what they have experienced in the past.  The Church as a community truly demonstrates the redemption the Gospel proclaims when we operate outside the status quo of society and carry our crosses in service to those Jesus loves.  When we follow the advice of the prophet Micah to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) and listening to James’ advice for true expression of our faith by caring “for orphans and widows in their difficulties” (James 1:27) we are doing God’s work in the world and loving as Christ has called the Church to love.

Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”
Matthew 12:48-50 (CEB)

When we can take the love we typically reserve for our families and begin to share it with the world, then we’ll truly be loving people they way Jesus loved them…in a way they feel they can’t be.

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