Wednesday, June 5, 2013

God of the Freaks

There's a type of person who doesn't feel comfortable at church. There are several actually, and these people, these beloved children of the Most High God, feel so ill-at-ease around our judgmental eyes and caustic tongues they stop coming to church altogether. And we blame them for it.

"Get over it! God loves you anyway, come to church!" we say, as if it's fear of God which keeps them away. Perhaps sometimes it is, fear of the hateful God of heretical doctrine, but it's clear to me that far more often it is not God who drives them out, but His children.

We claim grace, God's grace, His unmerited favor for us weary sinners with all our breath. We speak of Christ's compassion for the other, for the marginalized, for the "freaks" of His day, then we preach a very different sermon with our gossiping whispers and hostile glares.

"Did you hear who she's sleeping with?"

"Can you imagine showing up at church in that?"

"Why even bother coming to church if you're not going to quit your ungodly lifestyle?"

"What a hypocrite, acting like a Christian on Sunday and doing that on Friday."

God forbid we ever say these things to the faces of those we slander. No, it's much safer, much more "Christian" to draw attention to their faults, their idiosyncrasies and differences behind their backs. Because that is what Jesus would do.

Unless, wait... Is that what Jesus did? Snicker and whisper about the weirdos, the outsiders, the freaks? Paste on a smile as He greeted them at the church door then drag them through the coals after they'd left? I have a hard time believing this to be true, given how I see Christ portrayed in the Good Book.

In fact, it seems to me this sort of behavior misses the mark in a big way, at least if we as a Church still hope to profess the Christ of Scripture. His example, after all, is not one of tribalism or exclusion but of welcome and embrace. The country club Christianity we see too often nowadays bears little if any resemblance to the mission of our Lord, who welcomed the outsiders and freaks into His fold and reserved all harsh words and judgment for the pious "insiders."

At this point allow me to clarify in no uncertain terms that I do not deem anyone to be a "freak" in any negative sense of the word. Granted, there are some who self-identify as freaks, who wear the term as a badge of honor in order to reclaim it from those would use it to injure them, but from the lips of any in the Christian majority the word carries with it baggage of oppression and exclusion. When a Christian calls someone a "freak" it's typically because they are gay, or a punk, or a hippie, or a New Age type, or a Communist, or a Democrat. The list goes on, unfortunately, as it seems we never run out of groups to target or people to subjugate.

Why use this loaded word at all then? Believe me I'd rather not, but I think it's necessary, if we are to move toward any place of healing, for me to pick up all the baggage of my occasionally-hateful family, to admit we have acted viciously against our brothers and sisters. We Evangelicals like to pretend we aren't in the same camp as the Crusaders or the Inquisitors, that our church began with the disciples, was put on hold for a few thousand years and started back up again in the last century, but the fact of the matter is we cannot totally detach ourselves from "those" people. We can certainly denounce their behavior as being hateful and ungodly, and in fact we ought to do so, but we cannot pretend they did not commit atrocities in the name of our God. We are tied to them by history, by name, and our persistent ignorance of their hate will not make it go away.

So in my use of the word "freak" I hope to achieve a dual purpose, first to bring to light all the judgment and hypocrisy of my Christian siblings (and me at my worst), and then to formally clarify that such hate is unjustifiable and totally contrary to the will of God as revealed in Christ. I hope to do violence to the word, as Madeleine L'engle would say, to change how we perceive it and in doing so reclaim it for God, His Kingdom, and all His children, not just the good looking, well-behaved ones.

For it seems that God, from a Biblical standpoint, is for the freaks.

Yes, amazingly, the God we worship is not merely one who tolerates freaks, but one who, if you trust the Biblical narrative, seems to prefer them, work through them, and welcome them. Biblical Christianity tells the bizarre story of a countercultural God and His upside-down kingdom wherein it is the prostitute who aids the Israelite armies (as in Joshua), the pagans who serve God most devotedly (as in Jonah), and the tax collecters, rebels and murderers who preach Christ (as in the Gospels). In their weakness God is strong; in their humility, informed by iniquity, God is glorified. Their low status in the world prevents them from accruing the sort of self-righteousness which gets in the way of loving service.

How ironic, then, that we tend to pride ourselves in our religiosity, our moral uprightness, our adherence to the rules, seemingly forgetting how Christ referred to the self-righteous of his day as "vipers." Indeed, paradoxically and beautifully, it seems the Gospel writers only excluded from the banquet those who loved to say of their enemies "but surely they are not invited!"

Is this how Jesus would dress for church? Would He have to to get in?

So take a moment, please, and think about the individuals or groups who make you uncomfortable, whose behavior you abhor, whose reputation is colorful and whose name(s) you have personally besmirched. Would you call them freaks? Have you called them freaks? Then perhaps theirs is the Kingdom of God, as much as it might piss you off.

Please notice what I'm not saying is that God supports all behavior unreservedly, that there are no significant moral issues related to loving God. I believe there are, certainly. What I do mean, though, is that we tend to judge and write off those who are different from us, a tendency which is precisely what impelled Christ to chastise the Pharisees. The Christian story makes the ridiculous and mysterious and amazing claim that Christ is God, which, if true, means that God is fundamentally for the weird and excluded and outcast and unpopular. He is their God, and I don't think He cares for it when we treat them like they're less than human. They are made in His image too, and if there are any behavioral issues which require attention, they are to be handled from within the family, with grace upon grace. And at the end of the day it is God's job to judge. Not mine. Not yours.

Jesus: Love first, judge last.

Me: But what about gay people?

Jesus: DID I STUTTER?

Even if you think your misgivings about the freaks of the world are Biblical, remember that the Bible itself places a much higher priority on love than on piety or judgment. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up," Paul writes. Your knowledge of their sin is worth nothing if you do not love them radically, unconditionally and effectually. Love is, after all, not just for friends, family members or the well-behaved. God asks us to love everyone: neighbors, enemies, sinners and saints. And yes, freaks.

Because at the end of the day, we're all freaks. We're all messy, broken, weak, fractured, less-than-whole. We all miss the mark in different ways, and moreover, we are all bizarre, quirky, weird and unpalatable. And the church is, or ought to be, a big ol' freak-fest, where we all bring our brokenness to the communion table and lay it down, trading it for the grace of God, which is for all who would seek it. Yes, even them.

So please, come to the table.

He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: 'God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
— Luke 18:9-14

2 comments:

  1. You should start a church: The Freaks and Geeks of Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You start it, I'll gladly serve on youth staff ;)

    ReplyDelete