I use to be a far-right fundamentalist …
… but I came to see how my extreme beliefs hurt people whom I had made a promise to love as the result of a decision to follow Christ.
Folks who continue to identify as I once did would probably view me now as a radical-left liberalist, and you know what? I am OK with that.
“What would ever make you change your mind?”
Returning to University at the age of 36 as a “non-traditional” student to finish my degree, being a teacher for 17 years, and volunteering at a local food pantry are three life events that had the greatest influence on shedding my illusory beliefs of separation and alienation.
None of these experiences, you will notice, took place within the walls of a church. Isn’t that the way it should be, learning and living out our faith in the “real world?”
The job I held the longest prior to becoming a teacher was as a pharmacy technician at various hospitals near where I lived. While working in both in-patient and out-patient hospital pharmacies, I was exposed to various calamitous circumstances. I witnessed a baby die due to SIDS. On occasion I was nearby when ‘codes’ were called in Emergency Rooms. I interacted on a regular basis with veterans who were missing limbs and/or who suffered mental health issues due to their military service.
While these situations may have helped me become kinder, gentler, move loving, and more empathetic, they did little to dent the chink in my armor as far as issues of diversity and strongly held, black and white beliefs on matters of spirituality, sexuality, and race relations.
One of the first assignments I was given in my ‘Seminar in Education’ class was to examine my attitudes towards multiculturalism. My paper was entitled “Joy for Learning—A Multicultural Experience.” In it I explored my myopic prejudices concerning race and religion, up to that point in time. After re-reading it today, I can see how much I have changed since then, 24 years later.
My entire undergraduate experience challenged me to question my conditioned beliefs and pre-conceived ideas. Everything from Mathematics to World History to Physics to English Literature and Educational coursework was part of my journey with, in, and through the eyes of God. The diploma that hangs on the wall in my office is as much Hers as it is mine.
Sixteen of my 17 years as a teacher were spent at a middle school where more than 25% of the students are minorities and a third of the students receive free or reduced lunches. This learning environment was very different from my own white, middle class, suburban educational experience of the 1960’s and 70’s.
The philosophies of “sharing my joy and enthusiasm for learning” and “students should see my acceptance, tolerance, and respect for all people” set forth in my college paper were put to the test in varying ways. Additionally, for the first time in my adult life I worked with lesbians, all of whom were in committed relationships with their partners.
I know what the Bible says about sexual orientation. I also know how easy it is for me to see God in my image rather than seeing myself and all human beings in Her image.
God’s grace and love is extravagant! This radical love is the whole point of the prodigal son parable. Do you understand how shocking it was for the son to ask for his inheritance? The son’s request “implies a wish that his father was dead,” and was considered unforgivable. When the wayward son returns home, the father’s response was just as equally surprising. He runs to his son with open arms without reluctance or hesitation.
This parable should inform how we choose to live this life, here and now, more than just as determinant of our eternal destination.
When I volunteered at the food pantry, I met clients who endured circumstances I could not even begin to imagine. This one experience more than any other indicated whether I really gave heed to Jesus’s teaching in Mathew 25:35-40 about the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
“None of this sounds very radical.”
How about this?
“I believe in full LGBTQ+ rights.
I believe we should protect the planet.
I believe everyone deserves healthcare.
I believe the world is bigger than America.
I believe to be “pro-life,” means to treasure all of it.
I believe women should have autonomy over their own bodies.
I believe whiteness isn’t superior and it is not the baseline of humanity.
I believe we are all one interdependent community.
I believe people and places are made better by diversity.
I believe people shouldn’t be forced to abide by anyone else’s religion.
I believe non-American human beings have as much value as American ones.
I believe generosity is greater than greed, compassion better than contempt, and kindness superior to derision.
I believe there is enough in this world for everyone: enough food, enough money, enough room, enough care—if we unleash our creativity and unclench our fists.”
To this I would add:
I believe loving as Jesus loved or Gandhi loved or Sister Teresa loved is more important than being able to quote chapter and verse of the Bible or any sacred text.
I believe that any and all both extremes of black and white thinking can be perverted to express hate towards those we may view as seemingly other than or separate from us.
I believe I would rather err on the side of love than of judgement.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
And I believe that just because I can sometimes think I have it all figured out …
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘ Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed* like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
… I don’t have it all figured out. Not even close.