Putting a Face on It

By the end of high school, I was a lot of things. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty (ironic?), anti-gay, pro-gun, creationist, pretty much fitting right in with the Republican state in which I spent my teen years. Now, however, I am none of these things, much to the chagrin of certain family members and friends.

So what the hell happened?

Well, I went to college.

I don’t mean that in a liberal, “holier than thou, educate yourself” kind of way. To be honest, my professors had very little to do with my change of heart. I actually changed so much because I met different people and grew to genuinely care for them, on top of being free to think for myself.

I met gay people who were kinder and more compassionate than most Bible-thumpers I knew.

I met and grew to love nonreligious people and people of non-Christian faith backgrounds.

There were faithful scientists who believed in evolution and God.

There were women who had abortions or who had been raped and didn’t seem evil for wanting to not start a family with their rapist’s baby.

I realized I didn’t really agree with what I had always thought I was supposed to believe. The idea of my classmates carrying guns into class made me feel less safe and more likely to be shot if someone decided to go on a rampage. I realized that I would never want to force a woman to have a baby she didn’t want. I found that my faith didn’t have to be challenged by science, and even if it was, it’s okay to think things through. I found the idea of killing someone to show killing is wrong made no sense to me. Finally, I could never believe that God would be so petty as to cast good people into hell because of who they loved or what they believed when they were some of the best people I had ever met.

All of this change happened not because college is a “hotbed for liberal indoctrination,” but because I met and loved people who challenged my perceptions.

I think our world would benefit greatly from “putting a face” to what we believe. We should meet and get to know the people who are affected by our decisions and ideas, and we should grow closer to those who think differently from us. Only in such a context can our beliefs truly be tested and reduced to what is kind, honorable, and just.

Do I think you have to agree with my points to be kind, honorable, and just?

No!

What I mean is that kindness, honor, and justice are only possible when we are driven by concern for others. Therefore, we can’t go on supporting ideas just because they keep us comfortable.

Even as my newer, more liberal self, I live my life surrounded by conservatives. I don’t see these people as hateful, backward racists and you shouldn’t either. The reason I can say that is because I’ve spent time talking with them and listening to their concerns, fears, and values. I see the faces of people I love when I consider these ideals that run counter to mine. Honestly, we all have a lot more in common than you might think.

So whatever you think or believe, test it. Challenge it. Look into the eyes of that death row inmate. Put yourself in the shoes of a gay couple trying to live life together. Try telling a woman to her face that you would force her to have an unwanted child. Listen to the stories of those who bust their asses every day for an “American dream” they’ll never afford.

But also…

Have coffee with that supposedly backward uncle that still supports only “traditional” marriage. Listen to the fears and insecurities of someone who looked up and saw a world they couldn’t recognize. Get to know the family who lost a loved one in a brutal capital murder by an unrepentant killer, or the proud gun owner who never did a thing wrong in his life.

Difference is not the enemy. Indifference is. Being challenged is not evil. Complacency is. Having strong beliefs is not a problem, but a problem arises when we fail to think or care about the ones who are affected by those strong beliefs.

We have to stop drawing battle lines and start crossing them. Only then can we see ourselves in our “enemies” and love them as we wish to be loved. It’s only when that happens that we can expect to see a desperately needed shift in how our world currently works.

Peace be with you!

Armor Up?

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.Ephesians 6:11, NRSV

The “Armor of God” is a fashionable teaching in today’s Christianity. As a nation, we like war. We romanticize it and the notion of fighting and dying (killing?) for what we believe in. It’s deep in our American DNA.

With that in mind, how could we not LOVE the idea of “armoring up” for Jesus?!

The problem is that the Christians in Paul’s time weren’t the guys in the armor. The Romans wore the armor, and it bears mentioning that the Romans did not behave favorably toward Christians. They mocked, tortured, arrested, and killed them.

One of the main reasons for such disdain was the pacifist attitudes of early Christians. They wouldn’t serve in the military, nor would they commit idolatry by sacrificing for the good of the emperor. As such, they were considered unpatriotic atheists, two qualities now berated by (irony incoming) many who profess to be hardcore Christians in the U.S.

It seems the old empire is never far.

The interesting thing is that Paul is clear that this armor metaphor is just that: an illustration to make a point, not a literal depiction to slap on a t-shirt promoting militant Christianity.

Paul says the “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This is why the “armor” is actually composed of a list of virtues for Christians to practice in the face of their struggles. The Romans fight with earthly armor, but the faithful are to fight back only with their steadfast faith rooted in the love of God.

After all, you can’t fight problems of the heart with a sword (or gun).

This may seem like a small point, but it’s too often the case that we try to make the Divine more palatable by crafting Jesus in our own image. It’s unnerving to imagine that faithfully following in the footsteps of Christ might result in our crucifixion instead of our own heroic triumph.

We’d rather make God’s armor into something more worldly than recognize that we are being asked to actually lay down our arms and face the world in faith.

If, however, we give this some thought, it makes perfect sense. Violence is something we’ve always had. It’s how we humans have most often handled things, and the results are… rather underwhelming.

Our world isn’t more peaceful for all our “well-intentioned” wars and conflicts. All the guns in existence haven’t made the U.S. a safer place. The Church’s history of forced conversions, conquest, racism, and now shameless advertising hasn’t proved successful.

It’s time to relearn Paul’s point that followers of Christ should imitate their Lord in doing something altogether different. Instead of living into the world’s darkness, walk with light. Where there is violence, live peace. Where there is hate, live love. Where there is fear, live with courage. Where there is want, live with generosity (Prayer of St. Francis, anyone?).

Doing this will not be comfortable. It can get us taken advantage of, hurt, or even killed. Yet Jesus shows us that this is worthwhile if it means bringing hope and substantive change to the world around us.

Until we are willing to actually do something different, no matter the cost to us, things will (duh) remain the same. For those of us who still believe that things can and should be better than they are, it is essential that we stop making difficult lessons more bearable by reducing the amount of risk involved. Living in faith was never meant to be comfortable, and change has never been easy.

The trick is looking beyond ourselves, knowing that something bigger and better is potentially at hand. It is with this hope we must arm ourselves, ready to do battle for the fate of the world at home, at work, wherever we may be.

Peace be with you!