Well, I would never…

I would never be like her.

Or do what he did!

In some conversations, people begin their bit of dialogue by informing others what they’re not.
“Even though I’m not [such-and-such], I think that…”
I want to be like, “Dude! Why discredit yourself needlessly?”

But.. I do it, too.
Sometimes I even think I’m showing honor by my words.
“I think it’s great that you guys are taking our kids to that event, because you can model really appreciating…”
Wow, did I just say, “I don’t appreciate the same entertainment you do?”
(Shoulda said, “I’m kinda awkward, and have no idea how we should conduct ourselves in public places. Including movie theatres.” Because even that would have been better.)

Sometimes we say we realize we can’t really imagine “what it would be like” for someone.
Sometimes we reallllly feel compelled to reassure people that we aren’t committing this or that sin.
I wonder when the last time I was guilty of that one was! Yesterday?

But what sounds really scandalous?
Listen closely; maybe this should be whispered:

Jesus was BAPTIZED.*

Remember what John’s baptism was for?
“a baptism for the repentance of sins”
No wonder John was so shy about dunking his cousin under the water!

Okay, I love that image… I’m imagining people just horsing around in a friendly way, trying to dunk each-other’s heads under the water at a pond or something.

I’m coming back..
“a baptism for the repentance of sins.”
Done to Jesus, the Holy and Righteous One.
“The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Wow, John the Baptist (some people call him “John the Baptizer”) …he had THAT line too.
No wonder he was so stunned. (Pretty sure I’d freak.)

But what good is all this?
Well, here is where I go in my mind:
My pastor has (more than once!) told a tragic story of an old atheist who, at the end of his life, said, “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence!” [citation needed]
I imagine a situation where that idea gets “flipped around” and someone instead says, “Wow, Lord, you sure had me fooled!”
…because it was revealed that Jesus is not “just another sinner,” but someone far greater.
And, especially, PURER.

Christ has gone to such lengths for us, emptying himself of the appearance of glory.
We can bear a little awkwardness that comes from people thinking we’re “worse than we really are” in one or two areas.
Then we will identify with others.
And our love will increase.

* I didn’t figure this out myself.
I was blown away by Ajith Fernando’s analysis in “Identifying with People,” Chapter 1 of “Jesus-Driven Ministry.”
A bit of background on Ajith Fernando: Ajith Fernando’s thing is super-Gospelated, scripture-driven incarnational ministry!  err, I mean… he’s a pastoral youth worker passionately serving God in intense contexts in Sri Lanka.
He writes about Jesus, and how we can survive and thrive amid the joy and anguish of taking up crosses and obeying God.

Hospitality in your toolbox, Hospitality in the arsenal.

“Did you say I’m like a raven of hospitality?” asked my dark-haired friend, eyes twinkling.  (It was “maven of hospitality,” which sounds at least as odd.)

She’d just brought out a tray loaded with cups for tea or coffee.  We were at her clean, comfy 1-bedroom basement apartment, and “we” were about 8 to 12 people.  I was impressed; I couldn’t imagine myself doing what she was.

Maybe you can’t either.  But remember: you’re broken.  And remember: God works through it all for the good of those who love him.  Brokenness too.  Even yours.  Even mine.

Fast forward five years to a sunny, if somewhat institutional-looking room, where I’m hearing a Sunday School lesson for some suburban youth.  One sentence suddenly zoomed in to focus: “Hospitality is a weapon to fight against the dullness, the coldness, the deadness, the apathy… like we see in the suburbs.”  And that claim was supported by these scriptures:

Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

Wow!  This was exciting.  This was glorious.  I’d wanted weapons like that for a long, long time.  As many as I could find, really.  Around me, I saw my neighbor’s hearts dying inside them.  Dry.  Shriveled.  Desiccated.

This dream of hospitality was wonderful news!  But I still tended to count myself out of most of the action.  I’m a bit messy and get frazzled when I cook.  Is your apartment decorated in the style of “College dorm: Circa 1999”?  Nonetheless, there are people who feel instantly comfortable there.  But who wouldn’t in a sleek, chic place.  There are people who would be far more blessed by your spaces than by a clean, airy mansion!

And those are what God calls us to love and serve: living, breathing people.  How, though, can you find the right people to enjoy a messy, dorm-style apartment?  Pray and act.  Learn about hospitality.  (Here’s “Simple Hospitality,” a playful, wise, low-stress book I enjoyed.)  Discuss it with your most trusted friends.

With those trusted friends, also – share your struggles, not your strengths.  I’ve been amazed by the way that conversations quickly go deeper with some friends I’ve known for years… when I share how I’m bad at cooking or dislike some cleaning tasks.  I laughed with that friend who purchased a kinda “old-school” book on housework, and soon wanted to pitch it!  (The book touted that it would help you do all your housework in “only two hours per day”!)  I laugh at that close friend who pitches all clutter that’s not nailed down.  But, when she works on her organizational systems, you know… I watch and get ideas from her!  Accept others’ offers of hospitality at those times when you really want to but don’t think you can.  Accept many gifts of help, understanding, counsel, and advice.

That’s basically my playbook.  Oh – after you pray, wait.  Maybe you’ll wait a whole day for God to bring those prayers to fruition.  Or a month.  Or years.  But God is our captain.  He can guide others’ footsteps like streams in His hand.  He will surely bless us and our neighbors.  We can thank Him for the many people who remind us of the dream of loving others through hospitality, too. *

* One person who “calls it to mind” through writing is Marilynne Robinson her luminous novels, “Home” and “Gilead.”  (Thanks to the blogger who writes “Accidental Shelf Browsing” for those recommendations for great reads!)  And hospitality shows up a lot on “Unequally Yoked,” which I am surely riffing off of in this post.

The violence of the metaphor

Why the violence of the metaphor?
(the metaphor… of severed hands and disembodied eyeballs, that is.)
Or at least, why the visceral-ness?Firstly, the metaphor where hands and feet, eyes, and ears… parts of the body… represent individual Christians.. is taken from the Bible, where Paul writes using the metaphor of “the body of Christ.”

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…

Sadly, I think many Sunday School lessons “inoculated” a certain segment of American churchgoing children against experiencing the intensity of the metaphor.
(After all, when we teach Sunday School to kids, we love something that’s nice and “concrete.”)
Fast forward to today, and lots of those children are grown up.
When they hear “the body of Christ,” maybe they think of:
An oversized posterboard ‘ear’ costume.
Or perhaps a nice foot drawn on green construction paper.
But if we hear, (or read) “If one member suffers, all suffer together,” I think it should conjure up images of:
Atrophied limbs.
Invasive surgical procedures.
Tissue damage.
Organ failure.
I think this second set of imagery is more appropriate.
We’re talking about health here.
The health of Christian communities: churches.

I have high dreams of how much good God does through the church.
I want to dream & take action.
I want to pray & see God take action.
And I want to bless and be blessed by others who hope for these things, too.
(And maybe even some who don’t!)

…Whoops, got carried away there a bit!
Back to the metaphor of choice.
More credits are in order.
Secondly, this more specific metaphor (a hand disconnected from a human body) is taken from the book “How Church Can Change Your Life,” by Josh Moody.

Thanks to that publication*, I now have this image emblazoned on my mind:
A disembodied hand writhing around on the floor.
And now, so do you. (You’re welcome!)

So I ask this question:
What if I see a severed hand on the floor?
Will I just note it and calmly go about my own business?
Will I just think, “Oh, that’s unusual,” or will I assume something terrible has happened?

What if I see a friend (or even an acquaintance I barely know) who once was connected to a real church – leave?
Will I just stand by and say, “He’s just doin his own thing.”?
Will I assume it’s “no big deal,” or will I think there’s something to grieve over?

* actually, the pamphlet version, which preceded the book.