how to lose your life.

I had a friend in high school who did actual Bible drills, presenting the Bible with one hand on top and one underneath until he was given the signal to start searching. He was good at it, could find chapter and verse without breaking any of the rules by flipping pages.

My church didn’t do Bible drills, but I still prided myself on being able to find passages quickly. When I hold my Bible, a sense memory presents itself. The feel of the pages, the smell of the leather. All those years of early-morning reading and small group studies. I took it with me on trips, read it on the beach and on airplanes as if reading in the sand or the clouds might make me closer to God. I carried my Bible in my already overweighted bookbag just in case I needed it during the day to answer a question or present someone with the steps that might lead them to Jesus.

I never led anyone to Jesus, but I had all the answers just in case. In fact, we church kids never did much of anything except study the Bible, play stupid games, and eat snacks. We used our Bible knowledge to decide who was right and who was wrong and to examine song lyrics to make sure they didn’t cross any lines. When I was in college, my campus minister once remarked on how much of the Bible I knew, and my insides were warm and proud at the praise.

But we didn’t do anything the Bible talks about. We didn’t feed the hungry or clothe the needy or do anything at all for widows and orphans unless they were already in our own congregation. I could have almost found those verses just using the senses of my fingers, but I had no sense of what it felt like to actually be compelled by your faith to do anything except follow the rules set out by the church. That’s as far as my good deeds went.

My parents took me to the soup kitchen on Christmas morning and worked for the rights and inclusion of those who were marginal in our town. They drove out of their way to pick up day-old bread and take it to the food pantry. My dad toted hot dogs to the park and handed them out to homeless people. Somehow I got the impression, since we didn’t do these things at church, that they were just part of my parents’ expression of faith, not something that everyone was supposed to do. Mom and Dad are just nice people who like to help.

Have you ever attended a church that was going through growing pains? Mike and I did, for a while. There were people there who believed that the church should be extremely involved in the low-income neighborhood where it is located, and there were those of us who just wanted to go to church on Sundays and be with our friends and study the Bible. We ended up leaving that church for a variety of reasons, some better than others. One of the bad reasons was that I just didn’t want to be bothered by always talking about poor people.

That church wasn’t a good fit for us for a lot of reasons, but I wince now to think that I thought it was okay to just want to hang out with my friends and eat snacks and pray a little and help them out when they moved. I saw a very us-vs.-them paradigm, and I thought my helping was reserved for us. You could be one of us if you prayed a special prayer and changed your ways. Meanwhile, I would keep myself to myself, discussing my problems with my friends and eating cheese dip.

I struggled after Atticus was born, trying to decide if I thought it was a good idea to raise him in the Christian faith. This is, in part, because I had learned a faith that was about right belief rather than right action. I could quote you some verses about the kingdom of heaven, but I wasn’t doing anything to make it more present here on earth.

Today is Good Friday, the day when we come face-to-face with a Jesus who lost his life for what he believed. He spoke truths about justice and compassion, subverted ideas about who was in and who was out. Jesus is the reason I care about income inequality and education and universal healthcare. The message of Jesus tells me that we have to keep working until everyone in this country has equal rights, like the right to get married to the person they love. Learning about this Jesus saved my faith, but it also taught me that Jesus was not kidding when he said that the way to save your life is to lose it for his sake.

We are trying to teach Atticus about this upside-down kingdom already, about justice and oppression and privilege. I want him to know that what he does matters, and that standing against inequality is to stand on the side of the angels. I thought for a long time that being a follower of Jesus meant that I had to fight against the forces of Satan. I thought standing up for the church meant that I had to guard myself against the evil ways of the world. Caring about other people is inconvenient and messy, but it makes you part of something bigger so that what you are losing turns out not to be a loss at all. What I didn’t know when I was surrounding myself with people who were just like me is how good it feels to be caught up and swept away by the message of Jesus.

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5 Comments

  1. Carol

    Our Bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit this past week addressed this very thing. The two fruits we looked at were kindness and goodness, and we learned that goodness is ACTIVE and is evident when we spend ourselves on others. A key passage was Isaiah 58:6-8, which says,
    6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
    7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
    when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
    8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
    We don’t do these things in order to receive something ourselves, but, as evident in the passage, not only will others be helped and blessed, but WE will also benefit if we do.

    Posted 3/29/2013 at | Permalink
  2. This is excellent. Thank you, friend.

    Posted 3/30/2013 at | Permalink
  3. Awesome, thoughtful post. And Atticus is well named if you want to raise him to be aware of the injustices in the world around him.

    I agree. Church has become too much about talking and not enough about doing. It’s crazy to walk around San Francisco and see people living like animals on the street.

    Posted 3/30/2013 at | Permalink
  4. In proper belief, action will follow. Belief without action is dead. Action without belief is temporal. Not rather than; both. We are robbed if we forget one in favor of the other — either one.

    The church should be where these two intersect. Jesus talked about both — the physical world (healing) and the soul (your sins are forgiven).

    I was struck by a passage in 1 Timothy 4 recently, that sparked fresh meaning for me:
    “8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

    This is a good word (although I’m still not sure what you’re doing with Romans 1:18-32, friend). I always enjoy reading your posts and they always cause me to think.

    Posted 4/8/2013 at | Permalink
  5. Susan

    When i got married to my husband we agreed to raise our children in the Christian faith. However, as time went on my husband became wishy washy, as I warned him about earlier, right about when the kids hit junior high. Beware of this. Your son or daughter could well fall away as one of mine did. It is a heartache. Also, it’s not that they reject your beliefs its that they reject Jesus. I hope you continue to teach love, and not worldly affections to you child. It is such a thin line between the two and all is lost.

    Posted 5/1/2013 at | Permalink

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