This post is written by Michael Kimpan, Associate Director at The Marin Foundation.
Well, it’s official :: my transition into the role of running the day-to-day operations at The Marin Foundation is complete. Andrew and Brenda have moved into their cottage near the Scottish sea, and I imagine he’s quickly getting used to walking past the Old Course on his way to the St. Andrew’s University campus. Here in Boystown, I’m quickly getting used to facilitating conversations between political, social and religious conservatives and the LGBT community.
I was recently asked, ‘What is the most difficult part of your new job?‘ It didn’t take me long to formulate a response. I love our work at The Marin Foundation, and count myself lucky to be surrounded with such a competent and wonderful team. I love doing the work of bridge building between opposing world views – I love doing the work of reconciliation.
Yet Andrew is fond of saying that a bridge gets walked on from both sides – and he’s right. Particularly with folks who aren’t familiar with our work here in Chicago or don’t know us personally, it is easy for us to be caricatured by one side or the other as being against them and what they stand for – simply because we’re working with their so-called ‘enemies.’ Activists on both sides of the conversation often misunderstand the intentional and strategic position of The Marin Foundation as a peacemaking organization.
And sometimes, the accusations made by those who misunderstand our work hurt. In addition to the countless requests for conversations, meetings and speaking engagements with The Marin Foundation, I also receive several emails per week from folks questioning my own commitment to the Christian faith as a result of our work. Others from the gay community are often initially suspicious of me because I’m a Christian. The fear from guilt by association from both camps incubates an aura of hesitation and even hostility.
Yet one cannot build bridges unless both of the opposing world views are actively engaged – and that means intentionally facing and engaging with your enemy. The Marin Foundation seeks to help people – from both sides of the conversation – do just that.
As one who seeks and claims to take my cues from Christ in how to live and love, I can’t help but consider the way in which he transformed the perception of people as ‘the Other’ to the ‘one another.’ Jesus consistently crossed the boundaries of cultural and religious engagement for the purpose of reconciliation, risking his reputation (and eventually getting himself killed) in the process. This way of being is at the core of the message of the Christianity.
Imagine if Jesus refused to engage with those whose beliefs were different than his own, or worried about risking his standing in religious circles more than caring for the Other.
Imagine if he concerned himself with being misunderstood by the first century Israelite paparazzi and therefore excused himself from places and faces that might affect his ‘holy’ image and reputation.
We might have to edit out a few stories in the gospels.
Like, all of them.
We wouldn’t have the story of the woman at the well. Jesus wouldn’t have passed through Samaria, nor let his disciples leave him alone to engage in intimate conversation with this woman of ill repute. Besides, she worshipped YHVH on the wrong mountain, the wrong way.
So take out that story.
Speaking of women of ill repute, take out any stories with Mary Magdalene. Although we’re only given a few details about her life, none of them seem to be in her favor – some scholars see her as a deranged individual suffering from being possessed by demons, while others view her as a ‘fallen woman’ – perhaps even a prostitute. Sure, she was a first witness to the resurrection – but she had a sordid past.
So get rid of her.
Speaking of prostitutes, we’d have to remove Jesus from being at all those parties – which no doubt tarnished his reputation. He was called a ‘drunkard and a glutton‘ – a friend of sinners – because of his consistent attendance in places frequented by prostitutes and tax collectors. If Jesus were concerned about ‘endorsing their behavior’, we’ve got to pull those out too.
So no more parties for Jesus.
Speaking of parties, we may want to consider axing our Lord’s first miracle – while the water-to-wine trick was admittedly impressive, there’s a good chance the guests at that wedding in Cana had some lingering effects from their alcohol consumption. To protect our Savior from condoning drunkenness, it may be best to pull the plug on that tale.
Guess his first miracle has got to go.
And speaking of party people, we’ve got to remove that story about Zacchaeus as well. A wee little man he might have been, but seeing as that could have an adverse affect on Christ’s standing with the religious elite, we’d better censor that story too. Just to be safe.
So much for sycamore trees.
Then you’ve got the centurion’s ‘servant’ whom Jesus healed.
The man possessed by demons on the other side of the lake – in Gentile territory.
The man with the withered hand, healed on the Sabbath?
Edit that one out.
The story of the ‘Good Samaritan‘ – which Jesus told in an effort to explain what it looks like to have an abundant life?
Take that out as well.
The Syrophoenician woman with the issue of blood; the unbelieving paralytic brought to the Messiah by his faithful friends; Jesus’ own dead friend Lazarus – none of which the Law permitted him to touch.
Remove those stories too.
That woman caught in the act of adultery? The story would end differently, and she would be dead at the insistence of Christ.
Even the twelve disciples – dropouts and outcasts, a ragtag band of curiously single Jewish men comprised of a diversity of cultural, socio-economical and political categories (including one who would later betray him) :: too dangerous for a Rabbi concerned with his reputation.
So get rid of them, too.
His ‘virgin’ mother, who got pregnant before marriage and claimed it was God. Certainly this too would damage his credibility and standing.
Better we distance ourselves from the Mother of God.
Getting baptized by his cousin John in that dirty river isn’t exactly how it was supposed to be done, either – there was this ritualistic cleansing which took place at the temple.
Better take out his baptism, too.
One could systematically remove nearly every story from the four Gospels until Jesus appears to be just an ordinary man obeying the religious rituals and cultural codes of his day were he concerned with his reputation and fought against being misunderstood.
We’d surely have to remove the crucifixion, as he who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, aligning himself with the punishment worthy of thieves and murderers.
In fact, one could argue, we’d even have to edit out the incarnation, as he who was in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be held onto but instead took the form of a helpless, humble human being – becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood of a fallen humanity (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:14).
We’d miss out on the whole of the gospel.
When we concern ourselves with the same things today – our fear of tainting our reputation as Christians capitulating to culture or not standing up for ‘truth’; allegedly watering down the gospel by not taking a firm stand against certain groups or behaviors; ensuring that we’re not confused with ‘those’ people who may have different values or beliefs – we’re missing out on the whole of the gospel, too.
And so are they.
May we each be committed to risking our reputations rather than protecting them, sacrificing our social standing rather than defending it, and boldly following Christ’s example of learning to live and love by standing in solidarity with the Other. The message of the gospel apart from a commitment to standing in solidarity with the Other is really no gospel message at all, because Jesus was committed to standing in solidarity with the Other. When we remove that core of the message, it changes – and becomes distorted into an us/them || in/out || right/wrong || good/bad || worthy/unworthy poor excuse for good news.
Our work is not toward the end that one day everyone will agree with each other. That isn’t reality. But what we can do is view one another through a lens of worth in our shared humanity, and do good through that view, together. And if doing so risks our reputation within the circles of the social or religious elite, so be it.
What do you think?