Monday, January 20, 2014

Redeeming a Symbol

I was having lunch with my mother yesterday and we were chatting about jewelry. My mom commented that because she has been given so many beautiful crosses over the years that's primarily what she wears. I nodded. I know this is true.

Then I said "I don't wear crosses to work. I am afraid it would make people feel like they couldn't open up to me. That they would think I am harsh, or judgmental, or mean and that they wouldn't trust me."

My mom nodded. She knows this is true. We sat with that for a few minutes.

Then I said "That's terrible, isn't it? That a religion that was founded on love, that should be known for love, is known for meanness and judgment instead."

My mom said "Yes. That is terrible, and terribly sad."

So, you might ask why I'm still a Christian? Why, if my religion has been so distorted and bent that I can't wear it's symbol for fear of wounding the people I am trying to help, am I still a part of it? I have options, you know. My husband is Jewish, and I love Judaism. I love prayers in Hebrew, and the intellectual challenge of Midrash, I love the deep peace and haunting beauty of synagogue services. I could so easily convert and be Jewish. Or I could be a Buddhist. I have read so much about Buddhism lately and it's offshoot psychological discipline of mindfulness. I find it very natural, very wise, very resonant with me. I don't even think I have to convert to Buddhism. I think I could just find a community and start meditating and praying with them.

But.

There are Christians like my friend Betsy. I need to tell you about Betsy, and it's hard, because she died this weekend. And she wasn't supposed to die, she was way too young and way too loved and there's a huge community of devastated people missing her now. Most importantly her family, her husband, her young son. Betsy was a minister at a church I attended several years ago. She had bright pink hair and she radiated love and safety. She taught me that creativity is an aspect of G-D that we are blessed and privileged to share. She reignited my love of knitting, a fire that still burns for me in color and softness and my own creative expression. She was a haven of care and concern for others. She made people feel at home, safe, comfortable with her and in our church. She let people know that G-D loved them and that she did too. I loved listening to Betsy offer the communion service at church when it was her turn. The communion service is a traditional set of words that often is read in a formal and remote way. Betsy told the story warmly, intimately, like she was sitting down to dinner with friends and letting them know about something really, really cool. Something important, something wonderful - which is what communion is about. It's about us, sitting down all together at G-D's dinner table, in fellowship and love together. Wow. Reading all the posts on Facebook, I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Betsy represents for me what all Christians are called to be; loving, welcoming, joyful, creative.

I have other reasons to be Christian, of course, not just one good woman, although her example is an affirmation of the goodness in this faith. But the core of that choice to be Christian for me is a belief that G-D does love us, loves us passionately, loves us so much that he lived and suffered and died with and for us, so that we can be freed by that love. Freed to love others, to be courageous and open and free of fear in reaching out and loving other people. And so I won't walk away, not now and I don't think ever.

If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, I want you to know I will be safe for you. I will love you and listen to you and welcome you and I will not even think about changing you, or wanting you to change. I will not judge you or condemn you. If you offer me your story I will receive it like the treasure it is and I will celebrate the gift that is you. G-D loves you. G-D has loved me, and has charged me to give that love as freely as it has been given to me.

And if you are reading this and you are a Christian I would ask you to think about this. On the night he was betrayed, and handed over into suffering and death, Jesus gave his disciples a new command. He said "Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." (John chapter 13 verses 34-35).

I read this and I know I need love you too, even when I don't agree. G-D loves you, loves all of us no matter how big a mess we have made of everything. Will you love me back? Will you love the ones that you don't want to love, the ones you want to change, the ones you judge and recoil from? Can we do this together? Can we become a church filled with welcome, joy, love, creativity? Can the cross itself be redeemed as a symbol of love?