I agree that religious extremism in any form ends up doing violence to the rights of others. But blanket judgments of all people who are evangelical is the same kind of extremism. Some of us have had our whole lives changed for the better by seeing through the distortions of religion of all kinds to a central reality that Jesus himself recognized: Whatever we do to those who are the least in our eyes, usually those most different from ourselves, we do to all, including Jesus. The mystics of all major religions say the same thing. We are all one, like the parts of a human body, the cells of living creatures, the atoms of all creation. For me, the person of Jesus was key to my waking up to this and growing more and more aware of the love of God for me and all creation. Everyone sees through the glass darkly. We are not God. So it is not up to me or anyone else to judge others. God is the only one that sees the whole reality. We are simply called to love. We share what has helped us lovingly, while recognizing that God may be working in a different way in someone else at any particular moment in time. We should certainly speak out against extremism. And all blanket judgments are extremism.
Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.
And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.
Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.
I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades.
But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.
And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.
The Broken Body
Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.
God, forgive us.
The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”
Some times that is so real for me, that it’s a sensory experience. Other times it’s something I not only believe, it’s what I know first hand from remembered experience, even when I don’t “sense” it. Mystics of all major religions know this.
The title quote is from Act 17:28