Author: Betsy Nelson
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Anne Lamott is the author of “Traveling Mercies,” “Grace, Eventually,” and “Plan B.” All of these contain her thoughts on faith. She and Sara Miles are two of my favorite Christian authors. They both get into the trenches of faith and don’t pull any punches about how hard it is to live this life.
So many Christian authors talk about how wonderful their life got when they became Christian. They write that everything got better and easier. They live in really nice houses and drive really big cars. They write about the huge churches they started and how their congregation is growing every week.
This doesn’t synch up with what I’ve experienced.
I do not know what floor they got off on when they got on the elevator of Christianity. They must have gotten off on the floor that was marked “fancy stuff” and “easy street.” When I got on the elevator, I got off on the “broken people” floor. I got off on the “time for hard work” floor.
So many authors I’ve read have left me feeling like I didn’t do it right. That maybe I didn’t press the button hard enough. Maybe my prayers weren’t heard because I wasn’t trying correctly. Maybe my connection is faulty.
I feel like Anne Lamott and Sara Miles are my sisters in the trenches. They talk openly about how hard it is to be a Christian. Things break. New things don’t just start appearing. People are mean. Sometimes those people are the ones you go to church with. From reading Anne and Sara’s work, they’ve let me know I’m not alone in my experience. They’ve let me know it is OK for me to write about it too. They’ve affirmed me, and given me permission.
I feel that once you start following Jesus, everything gets harder. You are aware of your responsibility. You realize how much you have not done well and it is time to make amends. It is like getting sober. In AA, part of the twelve steps is making amends to those people you wronged when you were drunk. Now you are aware of all the damage you’ve done, and now you have to try to fix it. There is no twelve step program in Christianity, or at least, not openly. But the same rules apply. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the same thing. Part of showing love is making amends. You have to go rebuild that bridge if possible.
Anne and Sara both tell about how hard it is to go slogging into that muddy, raging river and digging up those stones to try to rebuild the bridge. They talk about how the person on the other side yells at you because they like the broken bridge just like it is, thank you very much. That person hasn’t been through the same experience you have, so he doesn’t want the bridge rebuilt.
But what about those who have decided to follow Jesus? Is it any easier to live and work with them? No. Not at all. You’d think we’d all be on the same team, working from the same playbook. You know, same Lord, same Bible. You’d be wrong, sadly. There are many times where I wonder what they are thinking when they say and do crazy things.
I just read about a lady who objects to the term “Deviled eggs” and they call them “Jesus eggs” in her house. It is this kind of stuff that I’m talking about. Then there are people who slaughter elephants to then take the ivory from their tusks and carve them into statues of Jesus. I can’t even begin to tell you how horrified I was when I read that story in National Geographic. It was a blog post from a local Rabbi that gave words to my feeling. Rabbi Rami Shapiro said “True religions teach you to see the Lord in the elephant, as the elephant, and not collude in the murder of the elephant to honor your Lord. Jesus died for your sins, not to excuse them.”
I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think that Christianity has gotten a bad reputation, and it is often due to really whacked-out Christians. I feel the need to apologize for all of Christianity. We have sinned against God and our neighbors by not showing love. We have gotten sucked into the materialism. We have gotten greedy. We have gotten tripped up by the legalistic nature of religion. We’ve forgotten that Jesus came to fulfill the law – but by getting to the heart of it. Rather than fulfilling the letter of the law, he fulfilled the spirit of it. He worked on the Sabbath to heal a crippled man. So he broke one rule, but honored the real rule.
We humans often lack Jesus’ keen insight into what we are supposed to do. This is an understatement. The bad part is that there are a lot of sins that we Christians do, and we do them in the name of God. We are hostile to people who aren’t Christian. We are hostile to people who are Christian but aren’t members of our denomination. We are hostile to people who are in our denomination but don’t share our views. We argue over interpretations of the Bible – should we or shouldn’t we do this? We argue over whether we should have stained glass. We argue over whether women should be ministers. We argue over how old the Earth is. We argue over who can receive Communion.
We forget that everything that Jesus did was to teach us to love each other. To be servants.
Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do. Please send your Holy Spirit to us so that we can truly hear Your Word and be Your Body on this Earth. Give us the knowledge and strength to mend the divisions between us. Give us patient hearts to be loving and kind to everyone, seeing everyone as Your child. I ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus.
By Betsy Nelson