Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getting the Christian Way wrong...

In Greek the word "Christos" means "follower of Christ". When we say we are Christians we are actually making the statement, "I follow Christ." Simple enough.
My journey of faith has been a roller-coaster of experiences and belief systems all deeply rooted in Christianity. I've heard hundreds of people talk about Jesus, describing the way of the Christ and letting me (and all listeners) know how we can live into following that way. However, there are some times when I hear that message and it seems like a cop out. It seems misinterpreted.

Occasionally, people will say "it's the Christian way" or "follow the Christian way" in a context that I have a hard time respecting. When it comes to conflict, we have to both follow what Jesus modeled AND listen to his words. There is a balance and we need to really try to understand not just the words from scripture but the context within which they were spoken.

Growing up in the faith I have been told to "turn the other cheek" when I have experienced cruelty or injustice. I have done it, a lot. More often than I can count, I have been a door mat to others because I thought this was "the Christian way." People have said terrible things, acted atrociously and lived with maleficence right in my presence and I have said and done nothing because I thought the right thing to do was to turn away. You know, the way Jesus did?

Except...he didn't do that. I got it wrong.

The  ancient laws of the Old Testament reveal statements like "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth." This was the way of the tribes during that time and revenge was seen as justice. Jesus shocked his followers during his ministry with the idea that this way of thinking was bullshit and not at all what God intended for mankind. They were flabbergasted by the thought of turning their cheek when someone struck it so that they could strike the other one. How could they let someone steal their coat and then offer their shirt as well? This statement was actually a rebel's cry like none other and man, did it cause a rumble in the crowd. Not only did it teach the oppressed to outsmart their opponents it also gave them their freedom. It was and still is a most powerful tool for liberation.

Let's be clear, Jesus was not saying, "Let people walk all over you, drain you of all that is good, and treat you like crap in my name." He was not saying "when people do terrible things to other people you should just look away because I could never cause a conflict." "It's good to be a victim for the way of Jesus." Hell no. We are getting it all wrong.

The Jesus I follow got pissed about stuff. He told people off and called them on the carpet when they messed up. He wasn't only turning the other cheek all the time because there is a balance between speaking truth and giving generously. In fact, before Jesus was even living like this there were prophets before him whose main roles were to call people out and tell them they are not living into God's will for their lives. Look at John the Baptist, he was screaming at people saying "You brood of snakes! Change your lives!" This is no joke.

How can we think that our God of love does not love as fiercely as a mother lion? This same God who destroyed nation after nation in the old testament? This God that allowed his own flesh and blood, his human self, to be brutally tortured and murdered? This God who can be as violent as an earthquake and as tiny and penetrating as a whisper?

When someone is hurting someone else, hurting themselves, destroying an experience that could be life changing for the good, this is not the time to turn your cheek and just let them be. It certainly isn't the time to say you did this in the name of Jesus.

If Nathan had just decided it was too uncomfortable to confront King David when he had sinned, what would have happened to David's life? David was severing his connection to God with each lie he told and each time he denyed that he did something wrong. He was destroying people with his own desires. Nathan's honesty broke down the wall that David was building between himself and God which threw him at the feet of the Lord to repent. This saved his life.

Still, there is a time when turning the other cheek is transformational. It's a time when the most inconceivable action you could choose is to give more. Times when that act of vulnerable submission actually makes you immense in God's loving power. That power pervades and twists the heart of the person against you and suddenly it has nothing to do with you anymore and becomes a moment between God and your antagonizer. That is when Jesus's advice is insane awesome! It's the time when the attacker realizes they cannot hurt you anymore. However, there is also a cultural reason why Jesus explained that we have to turn the other cheek. The interpretation of this idea as an act of generosity is a simple one that we use in todays world. However, contextually it doesn't hit the mark. This is what Jesus was talking about in his cultural context. Check this out:

When someone is making demands on your life, time, gifts, for their own gain and you are fully aware that the fruits of their labors are rotten- don't turn your dang cheek the way you were taught in Sunday school, ok? The Jesus Way is not the way of a victim. It is not a way that allows for you to become hurt over and over. The Jesus way does not trap and enslave you to those who are corrupted. Jesus's way of living protects us from that. Why did God create laws at all? To protect us from pain. The Jesus Way of living doesn't imply that it is easy. In fact, Jesus swears it will be the hardest thing you are ever part of but it will be worth it. It is total freedom. It is fulfillment that cannot be taken from you.

Being a Christian sometimes requires you to speak truth,  to become a prophet! Jesus spoke the truth in love. He ripped people a new one and then shoved so much grace inside that they welled up in overwhelming submission to his love. He out smarted his enemies over and over. Our culture is stepping much too far away from lines of contact as we teach that the Jesus Way is one that avoids confrontation at all cost. It is a way that doesn't speak up. It is a way that thinks peace is not fighting for love.

The Christian way is living into the way of Jesus. There is a time to be silent and a time to cry out. In prayer, you will learn the difference in the moment and in time you will see that we continue to get it wrong...

Jesus says to love God with all that you are and love your neighbor was you love yourself. This is the key to his Way.

Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself.

Missing the last leg of that tripod will continue to tip over the stool we putting all our weight on. We cause pain with that fall when we forget that actually turning the other cheek was Jesus's answer for showing love for yourself.

Freeing yourself from bondage not making yourself a door mat.