Thinking Out Loud

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

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November 2, 2017

Same Kind of Different as Me: An Illustration of the Hands and Feet of Christ

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, marriage — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 am

Based on the book of the same name which is based on a true story, Same Kind of Different as Me is the unlikely story of the intersection of two worlds between an international dealer in expensive fine art and a homeless man who spent much of his life working overtime as a slave. Ron Hall is living the good life that involves interacting with high society when his wife Deborah drags him to reluctantly serve at the Union Gospel Mission. The 2007 book from Thomas Nelson later gave way to a small group curriculum as it raises many issues.

I had only minimal familiarity with the book — I knew it had sold well in some areas, which can be hard for a biographical work even if it reads better than some fiction — when invited to see the movie which, as you read this, is at the end of its second week in North America.

My wife and I were quite impressed. She even paid it the ultimate compliment (for her) by saying something as we left the theater, “It wasn’t a Christian movie;” by which she meant there wasn’t an overt gospel message leading toward key characters getting saved at the end. Indeed, this is actually the ideal Christian movie, where things are shown instead of told, and where Christian values are being lived out, rather than simply taught. Truly this is the Christian film you view with that unchurched neighbor, coworker or relative.

But it takes more than just a great screenplay to make a great picture. The additional points would go for some very plausible casting — I felt like I already know Ron and Deborah — and some rather breathtaking scenery, not to mention the visual image of the place in the woods where the homeless of that community spend the night.

The movie raises the possibility of much discussion about the type of activity which truly helps the homeless and gives them dignity and how, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.


Thanks to Tim at Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. for the tix.

 

November 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

You're not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you're showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, "Serve one another in love."

You’re not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you’re showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, “Serve one another in love.”

Places to go; people to meet!

We end today where we started last week; another movie parody poster from the Orange curriculum. Click the image for details.

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster 2

May 7, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Religion Soup at Naked Pastor

Post something amazing online and you could find yourself here next week! Click anything below and you end up at PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today; from there, click the story you want to read.

That’s it for this week. Between now and next Wednesday, join me at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and on Twitter

Congratulations to Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor on Episode 100 of the Phil Vischer Podcast! Click the image, sent in by listener Kyle Frisch to listen/watch.

Phil Vischer podcast episode 100

Songs with substance: Enduring worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

October 10, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and we were away, so the list is slightly smaller. Remember to have your submissions in by 8 PM EST Monday night.

If you blog on blogspot, you should know that your blog address here in Canada automatically redirects to a .ca ending instead of .com and manually changing links to your blog is somewhat time consuming! We’re just assuming it flips back for our U.S. readers.

March 4, 2010

Homeless Teens: Life on the Street

I stood beside her coffin.  She looked she was sleeping.  I suppressed the urge to reach out and touch her.  I wanted to talk to her just once more.

But she was dead — found in a construction site, in suspicious circumstances, of unknown causes.  She was poor; she was aboriginal; she was a street kid; there would be no further police investigation.

I looked at her young face and remember the times we had share, times when I had hugged her, telling her I loved her.  She had come from a troubled and violent home.  Incest was a way of life for her.  Three months ago, she had given birth to a baby girl.

Once she came to Evergreen particularly distressed.  She cleared a table with a sweep of her arm and grabbed a pen.  Then, with deliberate strokes, she put her heart on paper:  a striking scene of two friends sitting together on a bench.  When she left, she smiled and said, ‘This is the best time I’ve had in a long time.’

She had come to Evergreen the day she died.  Now she was gone forever.

How very hard and short life is for some; how essential is the need to minister the Kingdom of God every moment, because that moment could be the last.

I looked at her once more and through my tears, I said, ‘Good-bye.’

She was only 14 years old.

~from Prayer for the City, a quarterly publication of Yonge Street Mission and the Evergreen Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada.   Pray for the young people at Evergreen for whom life is hard and sometimes very short.  To learn more about YSM, click here.

February 24, 2009

Putting a Face on the Grace of God

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:33 am

First thing this morning, I got an e-mail from Richard. Apparently he reads this blog, and thought I would be interested in something on his. Rick has known he is HIV-positive for seventeen years now. He’s just started blogging some very candid, and very well-written stories of his life.

The February 23rd post is entitled Old Time Religion With a Twist. In his e-mail he said he’s “not a mainstream Christian” — hey Rick, a lot of people who read this are in that category — but thought it would suit our readers. I definitely agree.

In it he describes a time when he was staying at a particular shelter that obviously touched his life in a special way. He describes the minister who founded the shelter:

“… He was a small, short fellow, but he always had a sweet smile on his face. His face looked like it was always in direct contact with God. He beamed and there was a radiance around him that lit up the room when he entered. He was a quiet man and I didn’t really hear him speak often. But I’ll always remember his face and the way he seemed to glow with a radiance I had never seen and to this day have never seen. …It wasn’t anything he said or did, it was purely the radiance about him.”

Rick, what you saw wasn’t that individual so much as you saw Jesus reflected in him. I wish that could be said of me, of all of us; but quite honestly, sometimes we fail to meet that standard; or by the time we’ve got it figured out what God wants us to be, it’s time to check out of this chapter of life and into the next one.

Your story reminded me of a girl I met years ago who was a former winner in the Miss Toronto contest. She got all the perks of winning that, including a new car, but realized the only time she had ever been happy was when she was a child attending a Christian summer camp. She got in her car and drove to where she thought the camp was, and she knew she was close, but never actually found the camp property. She shut off her engine in that place, and asked God to restore to her the closeness she had felt to Him in those days. (And He did, which is how I heard the story.) She recommitted her life to living as a Christ follower.

So many people, maybe even some reading this blog, have had a special moment where they felt ‘connection’ with Jesus Christ. But the busyness of life takes us away from what the church calls a ‘communion’ we are supposed to experience on a daily basis.

There is an inner longing to return to that place. You hear it in songs:

“We are stardust, we are golden; and we’re caught in the devil’s bargain; and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

For all my readers, I hope you’ll read Rick’s article, and all his blog — here’s the link again — and you’ll pray for him and try to be to others what the people at that shelter in El Paso, Texas were to him.

To Rick, thanks for entrusting your story to me. Today’s the one year anniversary of this blog, and you’ve just reminded me of the good that come when we meet online. The peace of Christ that you experienced at that time is available to you again today. Immerse yourself in what Jesus said and did in the Gospels and allow those stories to come alive right where you are. Determine to live in the truth they present. Then, reach out to Jesus in prayer and ask him to fill you with His Spirit so that you can experience that same love, and radiate that same joy to others. “As freely as you have received, now freely give.”

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