*This post is not meant to be hateful, nor is it meant to be harmful. It’s out of loving concern that I speak with wishes to bring to light a problem, one that is sadly seen most evidently by those who need Jesus dearly, but can’t find Him in our example.
Not long ago I was witness to the selfless generosity of one human being to another. In this instance I became aware of someone showing concern and compassion for another person, but not just a little bit. It was a lot. I took notice.
This incident came on the tail of endless other similar circumstances, times in which I had witnessed this person show selfless action for others, lending a hand whenever needed, giving of themselves even when there was no apparent benefit for them. Well I’ll be!
The thing that got me was the disregard for self. Even as this person had obvious need in their life they were ignoring that and seemed only motivated by helping someone else.
You know what I thought about that? I wasn’t impressed it seems. Honestly, my first thought was, No one is that generous! I didn’t just come right out and call them a fake, but I was thinking it. After all, who really cares that much about another person? Especially if y’all ain’t even kin!
Sadly I must have held on to this mindset for some time before I realized what I was doing. One day I found myself aware of another saintly action and instead of rolling my eyes I cocked my head to the side and thought, maybe they’re genuine!
I wondered why that was. I wondered why it was so hard to imagine someone was genuinely good, honestly compassionate, and content to serve others and expect nothing in return. I realized I was polluted by my own preconceived notions, my idea of the status quo Southern Christian.
I’m a Southern Christian so understand this isn’t meant to offend you personally. It’s not true of all, just a sadly high majority. If you do take offense then perhaps it’s because you need to examine your heart. So what do I mean by the reputation of the Southern Christian?
Well, we’ve successfully built a new kind of religion in the Bible Belt. What should be a good thing (a region known for a high populous of Christ followers) has been mutated into something ugly. We have somehow managed to turn a relationship with Jesus into a clique. We have made the act of following Christ into a meaningless activity that is expected within our society and geographical location. What should be done with the purpose of love is instead performed out of duty, out of heritage, out of an expectation from those around us. We have dropped a personal relationship with The Lord in favor of a religious status.
We have become a group of “church-goers.” We place extremely high value on attendance of Sunday morning services. If you also attend Sunday night service you are guaranteed a place in Heaven. If you go on Wednesday night too then it is likely you will have a seat right next to God Himself.
Don’t misunderstand me now. I value church attendance. I think it’s important to meet with fellow believers. It’s important for accountability and spiritual growth. But I do not think it seals your salvation, nor should it be used as a way to segregate those you may consider “non-Christian” or serve as a determinate of someone’s level of spiritualness. I repeat, I think it’s really, really important to go. I don’t think it’s the most important thing. Your relationship with Jesus is. And when you value that as number one, then attending a service with fellow believers just seems natural. I repeat, it is natural. It’s not the mandatory requirement to be considered in the club.
We have become a culture complacent in a relationship with Jesus, but quite comfortable in a habit of religion. We flippantly overuse phrases like, “God bless you” or “I’ll pray for you” while having no intention of asking God’s blessing for them and nine times out of ten forgetting our pledge to pray.
We have polluted well-meaning phrases like “bless your heart” and turned them into a way to look down upon someone not as “blessed” or “religious” as ourselves.
We have succeeded in confusing what is important in life or what is a priority with less meaningful pursuits. Our time given out of obligation to a community charity is far higher on our list of priorities than sitting down with our child and reading them a book or holding them in our arms. The only time child care is raised on the echelon of parental responsibility is when it can be appreciated by others and valued from the outside appearance, such as attending every little league game or dance recital. If unable to perform these public events then your child will likely receive a “Bless her heart. Her Momma don’t even care.”
We also have developed a convoluted system of right and wrong, a warped sense of what is a sin and what is not. It’s okay to go out and get dog-face drunk with your friends on Friday night, but if you do this on a Saturday night and miss Sunday School then it’s bad. It’s okay to do this twice a month, but if you do it every Friday night then you’re a drunk. And “bless your heart” for that. These are the rules.
You can make these rules and serve out your judgement on someone else if you have good standing in your church. This can be obtained by generous donations in the collection plate (not necessarily tithing, mind you, just as long as it can be considered a lot) or by maintaining a spotless attendance record. If your family has previously succeeded in these areas then you are pretty much set.
We have developed a cultural norm in the South where church attendance is expected, but loving Jesus, like loving Him for real, is kind of weird. It’s okay to say you love Him out loud, especially at church or when someone is sick or something bad happens. That is actually expected. But when you behave in a manner that this love rules your life, has changed your heart and how you treat others, or guides the decisions for your family rather than what is popular for most families in town, then it is really strange. Either you’re really strange or you’re a fake.
Because no one can be that good. No one can be that caring, compassionate, and selfless. Right? The last people who acted that way were back in the Biblical days. You can’t really be that way anymore. You can’t be a disciple!
I recently decided to be brave. I decided to step out of the box, that Bible-belt, Southern Christianity label, the one that profiles believers in this area as close-minded, hypocritical, and judgmental, solely focused on denomination, societal/economical status, and false, man-made standards of behavior. I can see where so much of this started out as good, the traditions, the adherence to Biblical commandments, the religious standards, but it somehow got twisted along the way, loosing love in the translation. We gave up Jesus for religion and we didn’t even realize it.
In doing this we got hard. Hardened hearts. We found it hard to see good in people. When someone acted in a manner of love we were in shock. We found these actions of discipleship as unbelievable.
So, I decided no more. I decided to no longer be suspicious of kindness, but rather to let it infect me, rub off on me. I decided I wanted that for myself. What better way to behave but in such a manner that people find it unbelievable, that they’re so astonished by my loving treatment of others that they can’t believe it’s real. And then be consistent. You just keep on being unbelievable until it becomes believable, until it fosters a cultural change.
Can you imagine a world where neighbors help each other when no one is watching? A place where lending a hand is commonplace, and nonjudgmental, unconditional love reigns?
I’m an optimist. I know there’s people like that and more than we think. But imagine if it was the norm instead of exceptional. What if it was the average rather than hard to believe?
That is something worth striving for, and I’m up for the challenge. Are you?