Luke 18:9-14 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: (10) "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (13) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (14) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
You know, the bible has a lot of practical lessons in it. All I had to do in my reading this morning was insert other words for “Pharisee” and “tax collector.” How about “two people went up into the temple to prayer, one was a man and the other a woman…” Or insert “Democrat” and “Republican” or “Evolutionist” or “Creationist.” Or how about “Two people went up into the temple to pray, one was Barack Obama and the other Sarah Palin….” You get the idea. And yes, we can easily reverse all of the above insertions and still it would make sense. When I did all that, I knew I had to say something out loud.
During Advent, I always start questioning my spiritual beliefs, not because I am afraid of hell, as I used to be as a fundamentalist Christian, but because I’ve grown so much in the last couple of years that I have to check in with my own spirit to realize what it is I really do believe. And I realize that we live in a culture of shame. Some of us are ashamed of our beliefs in the wake of backlash and some of us, who should be ashamed, aren’t. But I can’t be concerned about them. I can only change myself.
Yesterday, I got my picture taken for our staff directory. In times past I absolutely hated to get my picture taken. It’s a rare person that loves it, but I have never loved it. So, when I got to view the results instantly on a digital camera, for the first time in my adult life, I was not ashamed of my picture. I was amazed at myself. Why? Because I’m fat. By everyone’s standards today, I am considered fat, even obese. Although some views of fat and obese are obviously skewed mightily by the diet industry funded BMI community. So, yesterday, when I saw my picture, I thought, “Yep, that’s me and it looks just like me.” For the first time, I felt at home in my skin. What was my miraculous turnaround attributed to? Love of course. The love of friends and the love of a man who loves me just as I am. This love has convinced me that if I don’t love myself, others will anyway, but I will just make it that much harder by my bitching and moaning about weight, when I don’t mind my weight at all. It seems to be others who mind it for me. (to catch up on the politics of fat, read Kate Harding and her links)
Another thing that struck me this week, during this season of Advent, was how much shame is being generated by religion, some completely from biased individuals, but some unnecessarily from religion itself. Even I have wanted to distance myself from the Christian community because of the stupid acts of a few. Fortunately for me, I work in a church where pastors and members display acts of love and charity and caring beyond anything I’ve ever experienced outside the Christian community. My counselor finds it significant that even though I have a love/hate relationship with God, I continue to work in a church and am fine with that. This is interesting. I think I do because it allows me to be part of the church, but with as much aloofness as I like. These people don’t spend their time arguing minutiae of doctrine or this and that “law.” They spend their time buying gifts for a community wide distribution day at Christmastime. They give to St. John’s Breadline which feeds the hungry. They donate their time to Meals on Wheels. They give blood to the Red Cross. They help the unfortunate in Darfur. They go on Mission Trips to repair housing for the poor. It’s enough to make me ashamed that I can’t be bold enough to claim that I believe because of shame in the internet community.
This does not mean I endorse fundamentalism of any stripe. This does not mean the bible holds complete truth, as written by men. It doesn’t mean I have hard and fast rules about other people’s sex lives or that I automatically subscribe to everything other Christians believe. It only means that I believe in a Spirit that I can only call Divine. This means I believe this Spirit is best embodied in Jesus Christ.I don’t know what that means “doctrinally” and I don’t care. I believe that it takes more that buildings, rituals, and texts to make a Christian who is filled with this Spirit. And I also believe that I can’t deny it in public any longer. Call me ignorant. Call me deluded. Tell me I’m fat and therefore stupider than most of the population. Tell me or call me anything you like. It doesn’t change the sweetness of the Spirit when I cooperate with it in my life. I will not be ashamed any longer.