Several topics drive the story of my novel Our Orbit. Discrimination and religious issues play a major role in the plot. To open the way for conversation on these matters, I offer the following guest post from the blog of John Pavlovitz, Stuff That Needs to Be Said, first published on March 28, 2015. John wrote this piece in response to Governor Mike Pence’s signing of Indiana’s “Freedom to Discriminate” Bill. Although much has changed in the months since, notably the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, John’s essay reminds me that we humans have a ways to go in terms of accepting ourselves, our common interests, and one another.
John Pavlovitz writes—
Dear Christians In Indiana (and those elsewhere, who might read this),
I’ve seen what’s been going on there lately. Actually, I’ve been watching you all along and I really need to let you know something, just in case you misunderstand:
This isn’t what I had planned.
This wasn’t the Church I set the table for.
It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.
It was all supposed to be so very different.
It was supposed to be a pervasive, beautiful, relentless “yeast in the dough” that permeated the planet; an unstoppable virus of compassion and mercy spread person-to-person, not needing government or law or force.
It was supposed to be that smallest, seemingly most insignificant of seeds, exploding steadily and gloriously with the realized potential of my sacred presence, becoming a place of safety and shelter for all people.
It was supposed to be something so very precious, such an obvious, invaluable treasure, that it would make all those who discovered and experienced it, feel like it was worth selling everything they had to hold onto it.
It was supposed my very body, here in your very flesh.
You were designed to do this, to be this.
My kindness, my goodness, my forgiveness; you were created to be the method of transportation for all of it.
You were made to deliver the greatest good news to a world so desperate for it.
This wild, extravagant, world-altering love I have for my people, was intended to travel from my aching heart, through your trembling hands, to my hurting people.
This has always been your calling. It has always been your purpose.
It still is. This very second it is.
I have placed you here at this exact place and time in the history of creation, not to defend me, as I need no defense; not to protect me, since I have already willingly laid my life down; not to judge others on my behalf, as this is far beyond your capacity and my instruction.
My beloved, I placed you here, not to defend or protect or replace me, but simply toreflect me.
That has always been my most critical commandment and your most pressing obligation; loving God and loving others. I thought that I was clear on that, when I was asked this before.
I showed you how to move in this world.
I kept company with priests and with prostitutes. I touched lepers and washed feet and dined with sinners, both notorious and covert. I served miraculous free meals to starving masses, and I allowed myself to be touched and kissed and betrayed and slandered and beaten and murdered… and I never protested.
All that is happening these days, all the posturing and the debating and the complaining; does this really look like love to you?
Do you really think that the grandstanding and the insult-slinging and the side-choosing, that it feels like me?
Do you truly believe that the result of your labors here in these days, is a Church that clearly perpetuates my character in the world?
Is this the Gospel I entrusted you with?
To be honest with you, I simply don’t see it.
How did you drift so far from the mission?
How did you become so angry, so combative, so petty, so arrogant, so entitled?
When did you begin writing your own script for this story?
When did you turn it into your story?
My children, here’s what you may not realize, being as close as you are to all of this. You may not be able to see it clearly anymore.
You certainly don’t have the perspective that I do, and here from my vantage point, this is what I do see:
You are driving people from me.
You have become an unbreachable barrier between myself and those who most need me.
You are leaving a legacy of damage and pain and isolation in your path.
You are testifying loudly, not to my love, but to your preference.
You are winning these little violent battles, and you are losing people; not to Hell or to Sin, but to all of the places outside of you, where they go to receive the kindness and decency and goodness that you should be showing them.
This life is not about your right to refuse anyone. If I wanted to avoid serving those I found moral faults with, I would have skipped the planet altogether.
I came to serve.
Your faith in me, cannot be an escape clause to avoid imitating me.
Asserting your rights, was never greater than following my example.
Your religious freedom, never more important than loving the least.
Your central cause, should be relentlessly conforming to my likeness, despite the inconvenience and discomfort that it brings.
When I commanded you to deny yourself, I was speaking about the times when it is most difficult to do so, because that is when “self” is the most distracting, the most dangerous, the most like an idol.
Obedience to me, usually comes with sacrifice to you.
I can’t force you to reflect upon these words, and I can’t make you live as I lived or love as I love. This was never the way I worked or will ever work.
I can only tell you that you have surely drifted from the course I started you on, and as often is the case in long journeys, it is a divergence that unfolds by the smallest of degrees, almost imperceptible while it’s happening.
That is why what feels like victory to you, is really another slight but definite movement away from me, and from the reason you are really here at all.
Not long after I walked the planet, as my Church was just beginning to blossom and my Kingdom was truly breaking out, a Greek writer named Aristides, wrote these words about those who bore my name then:
“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbours. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies.
They live in the awareness of their smallness.
Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a travelling stranger, they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God. If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed for the sake of Christ, they take care of all his needs. If possible they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs. This, O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life.” *
– Aristides, 137 AD
* taken from Jesus For President, By Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
To the Christians in Indiana, and those beyond who are still listening today; you would do well to hold these words up daily as a mirror to your individual lives, and to the expression of me that you make together in this place.
Is this what you see when you look at yourself?
Is this what the world sees when it looks at you?
In your words and in your ways, Church; do they see me?
If not, then regardless of how it seems to you, you haven’t won anything.
May this be truth, that truly sets you free.
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