They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love (by our love)

We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.

And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love (by our love).

This dirge of a song – written almost entirely in minor chords – was penned in the 1960s by a parish priest in Chicago’s south side. Peter Scholtes wrote it for his youth choir for a series of ecumenical, interracial gatherings when he couldn’t find an existing song to express the unity of the groups gathering.

Somehow, I’m pretty sure when we sang it in my church youth groups and at Sunday night church (where we got to wear jeans and sing “casual songs”… gasp!) we didn’t sing it in the spirit in which it was written.

Speaking only for myself, I think I meant it exclusively in the context of the room where I was singing it. What I meant was something sort of like this:

We (young, white, middle class, conservative Baptists) are one in our beliefs about the Bible and probably some other stuff, including the Spirit (who, by the way, does NOT cause people to speak in tongues!).”

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I’m a Protestant. At the root of our identity as Protestants is Martin Luther standing at the Diet of Worms declaring, “On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And while historically, I don’t believe Martin Luther exactly intended for the fractures that ensued, protesting, splitting off, starting over, creating one’s own thing based upon one’s ideas about God, church, etc. became the calling card of Protestants. (If you want to get overwhelmed, go check out the Wikipedia entry of “List of Christian Denominations.” YIKES!)

Occasionally, a denomination starts out of geographical convenience or a sense of community and fellowship that emerges amongst friends. Most often though, new denominations start when our beliefs about God convince us that we can no longer worship or partner with our fellow believers. And sometimes this is true. Several years ago, I was meeting with a monk and we talked about the eucharist and worship and how we would each be welcome in each other’s’ church and how praying together seemed right and good, but neither one could take the eucharist in each other’s church because of our theological differences.

This is fair. Some differences really are so significant that they get in the way of worshipping together. But, even in this conversation where we respected each other’s differences, we looked for our unity in Jesus. (And, I’m completely comfortable going to mass and receiving a blessing from the priest, rather than the Eucharist. I wouldn’t want that to be my experience every week, but I’m cool with it when the occasion arises.)

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But can I be a bit ornery? Can I play devil’s advocate for just a minute?

Isn’t our unity as believers supposed to be found in Jesus? Isn’t our unity supposed to be found in the eucharist, no matter what we believe happens to the bread & wine? Isn’t it possible to say, “we might have different ideas about God, but we agree that Jesus is the center of our unity”?

Sometimes I feel like we’ve bought into the whole stupid enlightenment idea that we are defined by our thoughts about God. But it seems like Jesus is more concerned with our posture in relation to God – that we live in a posture of following after him.

And following Jesus looks like this: love.

“Hey, Jesus. You say a lot of great things, tell a lot of perplexing stories, but boil it down for us to a headline: what’s the greatest commandment?”

“Love God,” Jesus replied, then continued, “And the second command is like the first. Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. Everything else hangs on these two.”

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I’d like to imagine Mr. Peter Scholtes sitting at his keyboard trying out lyrics…

“They will know we are Christians by our right beliefs about God.” I hope not, because we’re all wrong somehow.

“They will know we are Christians by our stance on abortion/gay marriage/health care/political affiliations.” The church can’t even get anywhere close to a unanimous answer on these!

“They will know we are Christians by our morality.” Dear, God, if this is the case, we are screwed. Even our clergy have a hard time keeping themselves pure!

“They will know we are Christians by how great our band sounds and how much fog the machine rolls out onto the stage.” <facepalm> I hope no one actually says this.

“They will know we are Christians by the wittiness of our t-shirts and/or bumpers stickers.” “Faithbook: Jesus wants to put you in His Book. Do you accept?” (Here’s a pinterest board of the Christian t-shirts…again, YIKES!)

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“They will know we are Christians by our love (by our love).”

So simple and so difficult at the same time. I think this is the problem. Understanding what Jesus is saying is simple but it’s really, really hard to love well. Especially, when the standard is my own love of self. And so, we opt for the easier pathway: t-shirts, morals crusades, and intellectual positions about God.

Yes, I know this whole choosing to love, choosing to do the hard thing, choosing to stay in it (whatever “it” is), when what you really want to do is run away is hard and messy and not always clear. But this is the pathway of Jesus.

“They will know we are Christians by our love (by our love).”

(the photo is of Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts)

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Hey, I Like You

I don’t normally get caught up in celebrity news. No judgement to those of you who follow it, but it’s just not my thing. I’ve never felt like I’ve wanted someone’s autograph and I surely don’t care what famous person is marrying/divorcing another famous person. I just don’t care that much. Except when Robin Williams died just over a year ago.

The thing that was saddest to me about Robin Williams was that it was as if he couldn’t hear the applause of the millions who loved his work. I don’t know what the voice inside his head told him, but it surely didn’t tell him how much we wish he were still around to make us laugh again. It didn’t tell him how much he was loved.

Earlier this summer I was reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, and she was talking about how she had occasionally performed with Chris Farley in their early years in Chicago. She writes, “He would stand backstage and berate himself if he felt he didn’t do a good job. It was almost like he couldn’t hear how loud everyone was laughing.” (emphasis added). I remember reading that sitting beside a pool this summer, and it took my breath away.

Because of the nature of my job I often end up being a reference for scholarship applicants, job applications and other situations in which having a clergy person say something nice will help someone out. And so, it’s not unusual for me to write letters or talk on the phone to say nice things about people. It’s really kind of fun.

A couple of months ago, I finished one such phone call and realized I was really excited about the opportunity I had to to talk up my friend, to talk about all the ways he’s amazing and how I think he does an incredible job and is one of the most creative people I know. And I just really, really like this friend of mine and it was fun to unabashadly brag about him for a bit with a stranger. It was kind of exhilarating. And just as I hung up the phone, driving home from work, sitting at a stoplight at the intersection of Allen Road and War Memorial, I had this thought: “You know, people feel this way about you, too.”

That’s hard for me to believe sometimes.

For me, some of this struggle is tied up in how I used to think about God. I used to have this idea that God didn’t really like me very much. In fact, he was rather appalled at me most of the time, but based on a technicality (Jesus), he loved me. In other words, I used to think God loved me, but he didn’t really like me. I don’t believe this anymore (mostly), but I’m still cleaning up the mess from that idea that lodged itself in the dark recesses of my mind.

And, it’s easy to only hear the critics. And it’s easy to only hear the inner voice that blames you for everything that happens, that tells you you’re not good enough. But, I promise you, there are people out there who love you and would love the opportunity to gush on and on about all your greatest attributes. In fact, they may be doing so when you’re not around (it’s just awkward though, to say it to your face).

So maybe, today, this is an invitation to tell someone you like them. Maybe there’s someone out there who needs to hear it from you. They need to hear about how great they are, and for whatever reason your voice matters to them. I know, we’re all busy, we all have a thousand things to do, we all think that everyone else has all their shit together and doesn’t need encouragement, because everyone else is confident and strong. But mostly, that’s a lie. And the people who project that are mostly just hiding. And the people who actually believe that are probably a bit narcissistic. Maybe today, in the middle of all the busyness – theirs and yours – you can speak something beautiful and meaningful into their life.

I know. It’s not Valentine’s Day or somebody’s birthday. It’s just Monday. But what if you spoke something beautiful into the world today? What if you told someone some (or all) of the ways that you like them?

PS: Somewhere in the space between the first draft of this post and the last, I got this text from a friend: “I just really really really really like you.” Unprompted. (I am not making this up!) And for a couple minutes, that text helped silence the other, darker voices in my head. And I smiled.

See?  It works.

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