Thursday, February 6, 2014

Prove It

Periodically, I receive an e-mail or see a post on Facebook that shows a picture of Jesus looking serene, holy and much whiter than a Middle Eastern Jew should look; underneath the picture is a quote from Jesus in the gospel of Luke, "Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."  The purpose of this is that everyone who is unashamed of Jesus and his words should forward it, like it, share it, pass it on.

I don't.  I realize that may seem odd as I am a minister and the majority of my vocation is centered on sharing the gospel, the Good News.  But I just can't bring myself to participate in a cyber chain letter for Jesus.  Many people I know, love and respect do this with great sincerity and intention.  That's fine.  I'm sure that many folks see this as one way to share their faith, but to me it just feels like an internet proof text. It's as if I'm proclaiming, "Look y'all, see what a good Christian I am.  I am unashamed of Jesus and his precious words, so I will like and share."  I don't see this so much as evangelism or witness to the gospel, as it is a 21st century Slam Book to find out who's in and who's out.  The problem comes from the implication, direct or indirect, that if a person chooses not to like and share, then said person is a bad Christian.  Since I won't, I guess that means I'm a bad Christian indeed.

Here's the thing, passing on this kind of message doesn't prove anything other than I'm somewhat adept at using social media.  Sharing a picture and some verses doesn't prove my faith or my faithfulness.  And if I am trying to prove something, who am I proving it to?  Does proof of my faith even matter?  Is proof really the point?

I think the need for proof has been an ongoing issue within Christianity, and it has been to our detriment.  This has nothing to do with trying to prove the existence of God; instead it has been the Church (note the capital "C" for the institution) demanding proof of believers that he/she/they have the "right" faith, engage in the "correct" practices, and adhere wholeheartedly to what the institution believes is orthodoxy.  Heaven forbid any of us should harbor a seemingly heretical thought or idea.

This demand for proof -- are you the right kind of Christian -- can be seen in dramatic examples from history (how 'bout that Spanish Inquisition), and in the smaller, but insidious conflicts that occur between Catholics and Protestants, between denominations and within congregations.  Our need for proof of someone else's right belief has led to terrible, bitter, nasty doctrinal fights.  We use our Bibles as instruments for theological smack downs, and we hurt each other time and time again ... all in the name of Jesus.  And in those moments when the dust settles, we look up and wonder why the rest of the world sees us as a religion that is more about hate and judgment than it is about incarnate love, a striving for justice and unceasing work for peace.  Of that I am ashamed.

Don't misunderstand me; there are certain ideas that I believe are foundational to my faith.  I believe Jesus is the incarnate love of God, and that we are called to be that love for others.  I believe that we are called to be more concerned about the least of these than we are about our own comfort.  I believe that the cross is central to the Christian faith.  Yet unlike my more fundamental and evangelical sisters and brothers, I don't see the blood that was shed on that cross as the main point.   It was Jesus' willingness to go to the cross, to unwaveringly walk towards a prophet's death, for love's sake that makes me cling to its wooden frame.  Jesus knew that the truth could set you free.  He also knew that it could get you killed.  He spoke it anyway.

I have no doubt that there are many folks who will see my beliefs as being iffy, if not downright heretical.  I know that many would see this as proof that I'm not a good enough Christian.  I also know that I fail to live out my beliefs over and over again.  But I also believe in grace.  Maybe one day my beliefs will be proven wrong.  That's okay.  God and God's love is bigger than any of us can imagine.  So until that ultimate proof is revealed, I will continue to hope that, someday, my living and my loving will be all the proof that's needed.

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