If you’re like me, you might have experienced something of a sense of loss of late.
I feel like the American flag has been taken from me. I feel like the American flag has been taken from me every time someone drapes it over his shoulders while he burns a cross; every time it trails behind some vehicle bearing swastika bumper stickers; every time it’s used in a social media meme designed to encourage us to our imaginary roots as a territory of white Europeans.
And I feel like the truth has been taken from me. For it seems that no matter my position on matters of ecology, economics, science, medicine, history or the weather, there are seemingly credible sources fashioning arguments against my position and an equal number of seemingly credible sources fashioning arguments for my position. I feel like the truth has been taken from me because seemingly credible arguments have become more important than self-evident truths. We have to defend our positionality, with little regard for whether or not our positions are actually true.
And I find my Christianity usurped by those who would claim it by virtue of saying the right words without any expanded commitment to equality among all people. I find my Christianity compromised by those who would claim it by virtue of completing the ascribed rituals without any increased pursuit of justice in our society. I find my Christianity robbed by those who would claim it by virtue of making the biggest donation, of sitting in the right seat, of cultivating the right alliance, without any deepened commitment to caring for the neighbor, welcoming the stranger, forgiving the trespasser, removing the plank from one’s own eye before removing the speck from another’s, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, loving the persecutor, seeing beyond circumstance and dying for truth.
I find my Christianity kidnapped by those for whom Jesus’ radical message of inner awakening and outer transformation would be blatantly leveraged as nothing more than a practical vehicle for personal acquisition.
This is the reason “Are you a Christian?” is one of the most difficult questions I receive. And it happens on airplanes and at Starbuck’s and in banks and anywhere else that forced conversations and empty exchanges seem necessary.
It’s one of the most difficult questions I receive because it typically means, “Do you exclude the same people I exclude?” Or, “Do you exercise the same prejudices I exercise? Do you build the same fences I build?” It ultimately means, “Do we belong to the same club?” And if you have to ask the question, there’s usually no reasonable chance that we’re discussing the same Christianity.
Even if were to say, “Yes,” it seldom ends in agreement. Even if I were to agree that I exclude atheists (which I don’t), we would find ourselves parting ways over the agnostics. And even if I were to agree that I exclude agnostics (which I don’t), we would find ourselves parting ways over the Roman Catholics.
You see, I have to remind myself that to live in a Christ-like way has nothing to do with ridiculous questions which ultimately translate into, “Do we belong to the same club?”
It happened in a Unity class that I challenged the teachers by suggesting that the very heart of the Christian idea might be best demonstrated by some who have never heard of Christianity.
In week two of the class, I told a true story: They appeared for lunch every day. Buddhists and Jains and Agnostics and Atheists and Hindus and Zoroastrians – all descending for a free meal – shared shoulder-to-shoulder. And even as the number approached 10,000 souls, no one was turned away. I experienced this at the Parliament of the World’s Religions – a tradition that began some 500 years past when a young man was sent forth by his father with some change and told to make a wise investment only to return later to tell his father that he had fed others who love God.
I suggested that this was a clear example of feeding the hungry.
It happened in week three that I told a true story: an angry man approached another during his prayer time and for reasons unknown, spat upon the one praying. And the one praying responded only by smiling which infuriated the angry man who stormed off. But the image of the meditator smiling haunted the man throughout the night. It haunted him so much that he returned the next day to find the man still meditating, still smiling. “How can you smile at me,” the angry man asked, “I am the same man who spat upon you yesterday,” and the meditator responded simply by saying, “No, you are not, for the man who spat upon me yesterday no longer exists.”
I suggested that this was a clear example of forgiving the trespasser.
It happened in week four that I told a true story: It was a woman who threw garbage in the path of her chosen enemy day after day after day. Until the day came that the chosen enemy emerged from his home only to discover that his path was un-littered. There was no trash. So, he inquired about what happened to the woman only to learn that she had taken ill. And while it might be tempting to imagine that he rejoiced in his newfound freedom, he didn’t. Rather, he went to the woman in great compassion and extended his assistance throughout her recovery.
I suggested that this was a clear example of loving the persecutor.
It was only in week five that one of the teachers said, “You know, I guess it’s possible. I guess it’s possible that the very heart of the Christian idea might be best demonstrated by some who have never heard of Christianity.”
The point is that to live in a Christ-like way has nothing to do with ridiculous questions which ultimately translate into, “Do we belong to the same club?” In fact, the very most enlightened Christians look a lot that the very most enlightened Sikhs, a lot like the very most enlightened Buddhists, a lot like the very most enlightened Muslims and yes, a lot like the very most enlightened agnostics and atheists as well.
The avatars of our faith traditions often bear something of a striking resemblance, each to the other.
You see, the real issue isn’t that there’s tension among the faith traditions of the world. The real issue is that there’s tension within the faith traditions of the world - tension between those who would leverage their traditions as weapons to press us down and to drive us apart, and those who would leverage their traditions as tools to lift us up and to bring us together. Ultimately, there’s tension between those who would leverage their traditions to build fences and those who would leverage their traditions to remove them.
To live in a Christ-like way has nothing to do with ridiculous questions which ultimately translate into, “Do we belong to the same club?” To live in a Christ-like way is to walk a path broad enough to be trod by men, women, straights and gays; a path broad enough to be trod by Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists; a path broad enough to be trod by eastern, western, rich and poor.
To live in a Christ-like way is to care for the neighbor, to welcome the stranger and to forgive the trespasser out loud. It’s to greet the unfamiliar faces in your grocery stores and in your neighborhoods with a smile, to reach across the aisles of culture and understanding with a warm greeting, to elevate beyond the energies of past circumstances and to loosen the cords of old wounds so completely that no one has to ask you the question.
To live in a Christ-like way is to feed the hungry, heal the sick and love the persecutor out loud. It’s to share of our amazing blessings of time, talent and treasure with a softened concern for another’s deservability or worth, to touch the untouchable, unclean and alienated of our world with gentle eyes, soft hearts and kind words and to respond to those who would spit in your face by smiling so warmly that no one has to ask you the question.
To live in a Christ-like way is to see beyond circumstance and to die for truth out loud. It’s to live from the deep knowing shared by saints and sages of old: That there’s so much more to you than your physical body; there’s so much more to you than past failures and seeming limitations; there’s so much more to your loved ones, so much more to truth, so much more to reality. To live in a Christ-like way is to perceive beyond limitation, to speak above separation and to live through the many death experiences of this world so clearly that no one has to ask you the question.
It was the rabbi himself who’s reported to have said, after all (and I paraphrase), “You won’t recognize each other by asking questions on airplanes and at Starbuck’s and in banks. You’ll recognize each other by the quality of your love. You’ll recognize each other just by truly seeing one another.”
So, at the end of the day, if someone still has to ask you the question, perhaps you’re quite simply not loving loudly enough. Perhaps it’s time to turn up the volume.