I've been a fan of the band Caedmon's Call since they recorded their first album back in the mid 90's. There's a line from the song "This World" off of their My Calm, Your Storm album that has always stuck with me when I look at myself: "And the least of these look like criminals to me, so I leave Christ on the street." That's a pretty powerful call to look at ourselves and set out to serve and help the suffering and needy. Countless people have written about this call to service, so there's no need for me to write much about that. Rather, since my writing is more about my internal life and struggle for faith, I'm going to change some words in that song lyric and look at it from a different direction.
I realize today that a lot of the struggle that I have had with my faith in my life has coincided with a struggle with my self-esteem and worth. After all, when you hate yourself, you already know that you're going to fail at "love your neighbor as you love yourself." I know a lot of preachers and teachers will say that all you have to do is believe in Jesus, and He'll take care of all that stuff. That simplicity doesn't fly with people like me who have this kind of internal struggle going on inside. If you've ever been to a meeting of one of the 12-step programs, you've likely heard the phrase, "God will do for us what we can't do for ourselves." If we stop there without exploring the corollary, "God will not do what we must do for ourselves", then it's just another simplistic platitude. "For the dream comes through much effort", as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, so if we're going to achieve this dream of spiritual wholeness and maturity, then it follows that there will be internal work. Hard work, and maybe a lot if it.
So, let's make that lyric, "And the least in me looks like a criminal to me, so I leave Christ on the street." On the surface, that kind of looks like the simplistic, "Just let Jesus into your heart and everything will be ok" stuff, but it doesn't have to be. If the way I treat the least of them is what I do to and for Christ, then the way i treat the least in me is the same. And for so long in my life, the least in me has looked like a criminal to me, so I've always stepped to the other side of the street and avoided eye contact, trying to stay safe. If I can't show proper kindness to the least within me, then I can't properly do it for anyone else. I might be able to put on a display for people to see, but the underlying motives aren't ones that bring growth and goodness to me. So, to take a look at how to do that, let's shift to a completely different analogy, and hopefully I can tie them together at the end of this post.
I've heard it said that God is like a Southern Gentleman; He'll knock at the door, but won't come in until we open it. And like a true gentleman, He'll sit in the living room until we invite Him to see the rest of the house. Most of us have rooms in our real houses that we don't like to let people see because they're messy and dirty, maybe even damaged. There's no way we'll let someone into that room until we clean it up to what we consider an acceptable level. It's the same inside of us. I'd love for him to come in those rooms and help me fix the sheet rock, plumbing and framework, but there's some junk I have to get out of the way first. Fear and laziness have kept me in the attitude of, "I've got some stuff to move in there, why don't you come back some other day?" That other day never comes, because I just shut that door and wish for it to just go away. But, if I can swallow my pride and practice a bit of humility, I can look at it as saying to God, "I have some repairs that need to be done, let me move a few things so you can look at it." Then something different happens; I'm doing some work, getting tired, hot and sweaty, but the He brings me a glass of iced tea (we are using the 'Southern Gentleman' analogy here!) He brings me a towel to wipe off my face, and when I've gotten enough of the junk out of the way, He can come in and go to work at what He needs to do in me.
So, what I'm really trying to say is that for me do the community work that Christ asks of me, I have to commit to doing some work in my own house at the same time. To truly have helpful compassion for those suffering out there, I have to show that same compassion to the suffering in here. And once I commit to that work inside of me, than I can look past that face on the street, and see the deeper suffering inside them. Because it's just not enough to care for only one part of the person, I have to care for both parts of people, the physical and the spiritual, and do the same for myself. When we look at the big picture of His teachings, isn't that what He's really asking us to do?
I'm not sure if any of this makes sense to anyone but me, and I feel a bit like the fool, multiplying his words, but that's what's rolling around in my heart and head this morning.
Shalom Aleichem, y'all.