The Ascension tide remembrance seems an appropriate time for me to take a risk and reflect on some of the happenings in our society over the last few months. I will leave the reader to look up what the Ascension was and why Christians remember it. However, I want to reflect on the sadness that I have felt over our societies reactions to religion and religious issues as I have watched the Elections here in Australia, the debate raging unlovingly over the freedom of expression of one’s religion – if we have one - and freedom of speech. With all these things and with the way we practice them comes responsibilities and consequences.
Unfortunately the voice that is becoming most strident is the voice that seems not to understand the way of life Jesus lived and spoke about. There's a certain brand of Christianity that many in Australasia will be familiar with. They are anchored to names like Israel Folau and Sydney Anglicans here in Australia and in Aotearoa (NZ) people like the Destiny Church of the Tamaki’s and those wanting us to hate and destroy Moslem believers. We have hear them on issues such as prostitution reform, civil unions, recognition of LGBTI people as humans created in God’s image and abortion reform. These men are, and yes mostly men, who seem to follow a Jesus that seems to come from a very different place of the Jesus of compassion and love that I know and follow.
It would seem that they have a belief system built in the 312AD values of Constantine, a Roman emperor who declared Christianity a state religion. When heading into battle, Constantine claims he saw a gleaming white cross in the sky with an almighty voice saying "by this you will conquer." It is this view – of the cross as the means by which we subdue the world into our vision of utopia – which as someone I read recently rightly said has been so prevalent in the headlines.
Followers of Jesus and the followers of all religions have always been at their best when their influence comes from a place of humbly bearing the weight of a broken world together. In the end, I don’t believe in the place of hell that is espoused by some of those calling themselves Christians but do believe in the hell that we create as human beings for ourselves and for the world we live in. As I have often stated, the God I believe in is a God of compassion and love. The God I believe in is love, and eternal violence against his creation isn’t in that God’s nature.
Love will always win against vengeance. Christians are called simply to love God, love their neighbours and love themselves. For my understanding, this means that the whole of creation bears the face of God whom I am to love. Yet, as those who know me, I’m not great at doing that and sometimes it sucks as some of those I meet are hard to love. Also it’s important to note that to do otherwise is to live by fear, guilt and hate. There is a wonderful quote by a person called Wes Angelozzi: “Go and love someone exactly as they are. And watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”
Have you ever considered the fact that what we see of people’s lives is just the tip of the iceberg and that makes me realise that we simply can’t be so quick to judge. Often people seem like less of a donkey once you understand what they are going through. It's the relentless tide of Christians such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and William Wilberforce who broke the bows of slavery and poverty and demonstrate the love of God for us. Their credibility was passionate lives laid down for those who had no voice. Their credibility was the moral authority of surrendering their own lives to those who had nothing. I will grant you, this is hard, but a journey we are called to be continually on. As stated before there are some people I don’t want to “get”—people I don’t want to “understand.” However, our God calls us to this vocation.
Understanding and loving others takes more time, more energy, and more compassion. Yet, again I must say that’s what we who call ourselves Christians are called to do—to love one another. When we think back to Jesus, he was nailed to a cross and tortured within an inch of his life. He was hung on a cross, nailed in place by metal spikes driven through his hands and feet. Yet his words speak to our hearts; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” How many Christians get that and actually practice it themselves?
Exercising compassion and understanding the other person’s story changes us at a core level—and reduces our hugely over-inflated ego. And couldn’t we all act like jackasses, because, of our deluded state. Maybe we need to act less so. Sadly many of the strident voices heard lately come from those who have accumulated wealth, power and position from which they seem to want to practice violence towards others. I sometimes wonder who has hurt them in their lives that they have to lash out at others in such a manner.
And yet, there is one whose approval we don’t need to seek, one we don’t have to “do better for,” one we don’t have to hustle for our worth. We can stop hustling for our worthiness comes from God. While the world and our colleagues and spouses and friends and family might need us to be better, God loves us right here, right now. Not because we are wondrous. . . but because God is wondrous. That’s really the nub of who our God is and how our God operates.
Rarely is anything free. Except grace. Jesus’ whole role as he lived his life while he was here, was to remind people that they were loved and that they were worthy right where they were. God would love them right there, regardless of their tithe, their Sunday attendance, the number of times they taught Sunday school, or the numerous ways in which they turned their face from God. Yet those who describe themselves as church, the institution’s requirements always seem to be higher than Jesus’ own.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Jerry Hership in his book Rogue Saints: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Don’t be annoying and conduct oneself inappropriately. The Christian voice was always meant to be at the outlying edges, and not the centre, of society. The message Jesus brought was good news for the voiceless, and so is always suited best to gentle whispers of hope rather than brazen declarations of damnation.