"Ms. Hewett, I think of you as a bad Christian."
"Go on, why is that?"
"Because you're a good person. And you don't do what the Bible says."
"Really? What do you mean?"
"You don't judge me for being who I am," my openly bisexual, atheist, hedonist student went on, "And that's what the Bible says to do, or... at least that's what I've been told it says."
Aha. We found the problem. See, I would argue the Bible says I should love all people where they are at and make space for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts and for Jesus to do the work of transformation in their lives. But in the words of Levar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it." In fact, I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and find out what it teaches about how to love people who are different than you are. There are some pretty clear instructions on how to lovingly engage those who don't call themselves Jesus followers and disagree as well as ways to lovingly engage the brothers and sisters in Christ who aren't representing Jesus well.
There are also a lot of unclear instructions in the Bible.
My students often ask me why it's so confusing to interpret so many passages because wouldn't God want to make a clear list of rules for us to just do what he says with no disagreements? The physical Bible I teach from has a quote from Dr. Rex Koivisto written in the front cover: "What is clear in this book is vital; what is not clear is not vital. Deuteronomy 29:29." In the ESV, that verse says, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." The Lord, in his infinite, searchable wisdom, gave us a book with instructions and stories and poems, and he made us diverse enough to relationally engage with the book in culturally different ways that could all find the unified truth of his work of redemption and reconciliation through history using broken people like you and me.
I don't have a satisfying answer to those students who want a list of rules instead of the Bible, but I do find it interesting that they resist and rebel the list of rules the school imposes on them and wish they could be the exception on various occasions when they want a principle held to their benefit rather than a rule that they feel doesn't see them as a valuable individual. Or on the other hand, I see lots of students manipulate the loopholes of rule lists and avoid the principle that was intended to be upheld.
My heart is shattered and weary after a week of seeing rules hurt people where God spoke principles of love and reconciliation that are not being well implemented. And here I am publishing vague and fluffy words that I'm afraid could be easily misinterpreted as well. I don't know who is reading this, and I'm not sure if you'll twist these words against me or for your own self-justification that perpetuates hurt.
Let me give you some context while trying to protect the child involved. You see, a couple months ago, I discovered a former student had been using my words out of context to justify hurtful behavior, and when I confronted them, they asked me not to call them out on big issues that were hard to grow through. After several painful weeks of trying to still engage in conversation lovingly, I found the kid was still looking for ways to use my words in order to justify selfish and harmful choices. After hard conversations with my mentor, spiritual director, and a couple close friends, I made the painful choice to stop communication with the child in order to remove opportunity for my words to be misapplied. One of the things I feel like the Lord has made clear to me is that removing my voice in that kid's life allows space for the Lord to speak more clearly. My voice was getting in the way of God's.
Just like with the kid at the start of this post who had "good Christians" in his life whose unfortunately loud voices got in the way of God's loving voice because these "good Christians" told him that he had to clean up or change certain aspects of his life before he could come to Jesus for salvation, acceptance, or reconciliation, I was the bad Christian in the life of this alumni who was getting in the way of God's voice. It's a humbling experience to have to step away so that I can pray for the other people who can be better representatives of Jesus and make space for God's voice to be heard instead of mine. I'm still also praying for the chance at reconciliation after God's voice is clearly heard in both our lives.
In a conversation with a different alumni yesterday, I realized that I'm not "bad" for mistakes I made or not noticing or reacting perfectly when I discovered how my influence was being twisted to turn a kid away from Jesus rather than fostering growth and pursuit of Jesus. I might be a "bad Christian" according to a self described "good hedonist," but hopefully you can all see it's actually a compliment when you take the time to listen to what he meant. I really hope you'll take the time to hear what I mean when I encourage you to love others where they are at in their messy journey through life. I don't mean excuse or dismiss harmful behavior, but I do mean to follow the example of Jesus laid out in the Bible and offer love and healing to all people regardless of who they are.
To be honest, I'm growing in how I approach those opportunities to speak hard truths in love because it's messy and difficult, but my pastors sent me encouragement last week and the week before that encouraged me to keep using my voice intentionally and prophetically. It's scary sometimes; historically, prophets often get beaten and killed. I don't know how many people will give me the benefit of the doubt and hear the heart behind my words rather than take things out of context or twist them to vilify me. Fortunately, I do know that there are a lot of people out there who do love me and will engage with me respectfully and grow closer to Jesus alongside me. That alumni who messaged me yesterday told me, "I know that it’s really hard if the enemy is throwing this one kid in your face, but I feel like you have an arsenal of other kids you can throw back at them." So while I can name a small number of people who have misused my words, there are exponentially more who are pursuing Jesus with me and support me in my ongoing process of growth.
Clicking post on this entry is going to be one of the hardest things I do this week, and it's been an exceptionally heavy week with news of job losses, car accidents, divorce, and more in the lives of people close to me. I'd really appreciate if you've made it this far, if you could pray for me and then make an effort to add some positive news to the world today. Send a note to someone you haven't talked to in a while, tell a friend you love them, compliment a person you see. Selfishly, I'd take any encouragements you can offer me as well. I'm still collecting stories of why people choose Jesus, so if you missed last week's post, please consider taking time this week to write me an email with why your life is better with Jesus in it today.