I haven’t written much about my faith in this blog, since I haven’t wanted to give my readers the impression I might be preaching to you, or worse, at you. But today I feel moved to bring it up, since it’s been on my mind a good bit lately. I was raised Baptist, and as a young adult I switched to Methodist, and today I am happily Episcopalian. I have never not thought of myself as a Christian, and this Christmas season, 2017, has been a challenge for me. Why? I’ve felt my faith under attack.
The threat doesn’t come from Muslims, Jews, agnostics, or atheists. It doesn’t come from homosexual couples who want to get married or from women (like me) who have no interest in motherhood. It doesn’t come from Starbucks coffee cups or retail clerks who wish their customers “Happy Holidays” in December.
No, the threat comes from those who invoke the name of Christ but demonstrate little to none of his spirit and thus paint a distorted picture of Christianity itself. It comes from those who shout about Christ and Christianity, yet almost none of their shouts are shouts of joy.
It comes from those who pluck bits and pieces of Scripture, rarely from the Gospels, out of their context in order to persuade themselves and others that straight white men rule by divine right, and everyone else must fit into a narrow “role,” as if the gift of individuality, of uniqueness, was only given to that one privileged segment of the population.
It comes from those who hang “Keep Out” signs on the door of faith, and would hang those signs on our nation’s halls of power and even on our nation itself if they only could. I read this philosophy expressed in a simple statement on a political website: “A good sermon makes the heathen run screaming into the night.”
Really? That flies in the face of everything I’ve always thought and felt. A good sermon doesn’t chase anyone away. Rather, it makes the “heathen,” such as they are, listen and reflect. A good sermon helps those who hear it grow in understanding, however much faith they may have come in with.
So many people who call themselves Christians spend nearly all their time wagging their fingers at the supposed sins of others. But I was taught that my duty as a Christian was to look at myself first, and ask, “What am I doing? What should I be doing? How can I do better?” One of my favorite fictional clergymen, Father Mulcahy of M*A*S*H*, declares that God put humankind on earth “so He could be here Himself.” Am I part of that? Do people see Christ’s love in me? Every day I fall far short of where I should be. But Christ urges me to keep trying, to look out for opportunities to show love and to see those around me as He would see them.
I want to make the effort, for the Jesus who never said a word against gay people or birth control, but who did say, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 35-40) For the Jesus who, at a time when women were denied any role in public life, spoke and listened to women, and who befriended those cast to the margins of their society (fishermen, tax collectors, Gentiles), and who rebuked the religious leaders of his day for their small-hearted hypocrisy. For the Jesus who lived by the radical idea that every person has value.
Here is a song not many people know, but for me it gets right to the heart of, as Linus van Pelt might say, “what Christmas is all about.”