I opened up Facebook this morning, and this is what I saw in my newsfeed:
I could talk about typos (but then I’d probably embarrass myself by littering my own post with typos lol). I could talk about how my church doesn’t fully understand how to capitalize on the social media platform (in their defense, they tried to get me involved with it and I was like “Uh-uh. Social media I don’t.”). But what I really want to talk about today is the title on the front of the bulletin: The Cost of Following Jesus.
When I first read the title, I wont lie, my initial reaction was ugly: “Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”
Now, that was a pretty nasty thought. If I didn’t know the person thinking it, I’d probably say they were a judgmental asshole. Ok, I’ll say it even though I do know the person thinking it: I can be a judgmental asshole.
(Also, full disclosure: I am an asian/white, middle class American, so it’s not like I’m socio-economic worlds away from my pastor.)
I didn’t have to think hard to know where that ugly thought came from though. I’ve been frustrated with my church lately, because even though they speak a good word about being inclusive and loving and welcoming toward everyone, I have found that on a case by case basis, we turn a blind eye when the truly downtrodden come a’knockin’ – when the homeless man comes to our service, we don’t speak to him, we don’t offer him shoes. When the addict comes to fellowship with us, we don’t ask her name or tell her we “hope you’ll come back!” When someone sits crying in the middle of service, we don’t embrace them and pray with them (either during, or after).
It kills me on a personal level, the way we (as a collective church) ignore the downtrodden. Because I may be their white, middle class, young family ideal that they are so happy to have in the church now… but I used to be the one without shoes. The one with the addiction. The one who sat crying in the middle of service with no comfort, no help, no hope in my heart of things ever getting better. It kills me because when Jesus told me to take up my cross and follow him, it meant to leave behind my family, my home, my friends, my church, my job (my students!), and the man I loved so much that it was destroying me.
But each person’s cross is different, and each person’s struggle is different. I know as much as any person can that it is difficult to love someone in the midst of mental illness, addiction, hopelessness. My church struggles to find the place in their hearts and their community for these people. And sometimes I struggle to find the place in my heart for my church.
My favorite story in the Bible is from Genesis 32:22-32: When Jacob lies down for the night, but instead of sleep, he finds himself wrestling with an unknown assailant until dawn. The man agrees to bless Jacob in exchange for his release, but first he tells him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Israel, which means he who struggles with God.
Israel and his descendants were not blessed because they adhered perfectly to God’s laws, or because they loved his people perfectly. They are blessed – we are blessed -because we continue to struggle with God, and with each other. Because we continue to take up our cross and follow (Matthew 16:24).
“Boy, I wish I had gone to church this morning, because I would just love to hear what white, middle class America thinks the cost of following Jesus is.”
I could have left that ugly thought floating in my own head, instead of airing it out on the internet. No one was here to hear it. I could have pretended that I am not what I am: Still broken, still in need of forgiveness, still with a cross to bear. This cross looks different than the one I was asked to shoulder four years ago, but let me tell you, it is no easier for me to carry. Luckily, I don’t have to carry it alone:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)