Since writing recently about being in-between, re-examining what I believe to be true about God and the world, and rejecting certain forms of religion, the following story has Not. Left. Me. Alone. (You can find it in the Bible, in the gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14.)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I fear that the tone in which I wrote about those things that I personally reject came across like that Pharisee’s prayer. I was thanking God that I am not like others. I was looking down on their (your!) choices, and comparing myself to people instead of to the God to whom I am ultimately accountable.
Some friends whom I respect and love, and who love me enough to tell me what I don’t want to hear (i.e. that I. Screwed. Up.), confirmed this fear. (You know who you are.) It may not have looked or sounded like it at the time, but I appreciate what you’ve said or written to me in the past few weeks. I know it wasn’t easy.
I didn’t intend to write that way. In sharing the messy honest truth, I was trying to say, “I’m not perfect and I’m no longer going to pretend that I am. There are many things I do not understand. But, instead of writing God off, I’m searching for answers. I have found some: I know that Jesus is God and I want to follow him. I am not sure what that looks like yet, but I don’t think it necessarily looks like the U.S.A.’s right-wing, like fundamentalism, or like conservatism.”
But it didn’t come out that way, did it? When I read it again, I see all this comparison and criticism of others’ choices, and of their judgment of people based on what they do or don’t do. In doing that, I was doing exactly what I accused them of doing.
I believe that Jesus’s point in the above story was to teach us that confidence in those things that we do and don’t do to the point that we look down on others is ugly to God. Jesus wants me to only look at him to learn he wants of me, to recognize how far I fall short and how badly I need his mercy and help. He is the only one who can declare me righteous.
There is no sliding scale.
Jesus shows us that he does not justify, or “declare righteous”, those who look at others and say to God, “I’m ok, because I’m better than them.”
Jesus tells us here that he only declares righteous those who really truly see how far they fall short of what he asks and come humbly to him for mercy, knowing that as God he is the only one who can give it. Like the tax collector who stands far off in such grief over his sin.
I am not a better Christian because of what I do or don’t do.
So, dear readers, friends, and family, if you vote Republican, watch Fox News, avoid alcohol, seek to honor God through home-making, wear jean skirts and frilly aprons, or choose not to watch movies, please forgive me for judging you exactly the way I have been judged. Many of you are dear friends and I respect and love you, despite our disagreements.
For my readers, friends, and family who have been judged, found guilty, and condemned by some who place great importance on outward appearances, I also ask your forgiveness on behalf of those who have sullied my God’s name and reputation. Please don’t write God off because some who follow him have hurt you (and in so doing, have failed him). He is merciful and forgiving of anyone who comes to him acknowledging their need for him, no matter what they have done, no matter what they have said. Especially, he is patient with each of us as we grow and learn and fail and try again. And His patience is a very good thing.