Dear Christian Friend

Dear Christian Friend April 17, 2019

Dear Christian Friend,

I want to ask you a question, but first I have to clarify to whom I am speaking, since the word “Christian” has come to mean so many things it’s hardly even useful anymore.

I’m not speaking to my friends and family who’ve gradually been nudged away from That Old Time Religion to something indistinguishable from FOX News. I’m not talking to people who still think Donald Trump is a brilliant businessman and an anointed Man of God, somehow. Frankly, I don’t even know what to say to those people in my life anymore. We don’t seem to occupy the same reality.

I’m speaking to those of you who read that last paragraph and understood exactly what I mean because you, too, have seen your faith hijacked by political interests, plus I guess by whatever sells. This is America, after all.

I’m speaking to those friends of mine who were both heartbroken this week by the sight of one of Western civilization’s most prized cathedrals going up in flames as well as sickened by the immediate emptying of trust funds from billionaires more easily moved to replace a church roof than to feed the poor or protect the oppressed. This week you were reminded yet again how little some people who fly the Christian flag seem to know about what Jesus would actually want them to care about.

I’m talking to you, progressive Christian friend who sits grieving over how far your own tribe seems to have drifted away from its one true Love.

Maybe you’re left wondering why the Spirit of Jesus moves you to tears at the sight of broken people flooding the gates of your country in search of relief, in search of raw survival, while the same Spirit seems to register no effect at all on the millions of others who profess faith in the same savior. It would be easier to dismiss them if their faith didn’t seem to be so deeply held. Or if they weren’t, you know…your family.

But they just cannot be made to care. And it burdens you, because for the life of you, you cannot understand why they aren’t as angered by injustice as you are. Shouldn’t the same Spirit who provokes righteous fury in you do the same for them? Why does God’s grace seem to bear fruit in you but not in them?

Perhaps you could chalk it up to the different kinds of soils. Their hearts are hard, or haven’t yet been tilled by the hand of the Farmer, and somehow yours has. One way or another, you will find a way to give God credit for the fact that his grace is bearing divine fruit in you but not in them. You’ve learned to deflect so well.

But.

Can I make a suggestion? You certainly don’t have to listen to a thing that I say because what do I know, anyway? I’m just a godless heathen and we all know that only a fool would say in his heart that there is no God. I mean what could you possible learn from someone who doesn’t even have the Spirit? Nothing at all, right?

But if a donkey can be made to speak for God, then why not an atheist? Insert joke about the mouth of an ass here…

Might I submit that the real difference in soils is, well…a difference in soils? Not in the farmer, but in the soil itself?

soil

Maybe what makes you feel Jesus’s care for the outcast and the marginalized isn’t some invisible elixir that has been deposited inside of you more liberally than in people who still somehow think foreigners are evil by default.

Maybe what makes you different is…you.

You are the one whose heart is bigger, whose mind is broader, and whose hands are open to people who are unlike you. You keep giving credit to someone else because that’s what you were taught to do, but the reality is that you are the elemental difference that puts you at odds with so many others who claim to serve the same God. They’re supposed to have his Spirit, too. But you can’t find it in them…because maybe it’s really about you.

And yes, I know you disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m used to that. But tonight I feel like ignoring that awareness long enough to say:

I love that you love a Jesus who is kind, and compassionate, and patient, and generous. I love that you worship a savior who is all the things that you admire in a person: accepting, self-giving, self-aware, non-judgmental, non-materialistic, etc. I would much rather the world be filled with people who emulate the things that you do than the alternatives.

But maybe the difference isn’t Jesus. Maybe it’s you. And if that’s the way it is, then I wish you’d consider owning it. Would you? Because not everyone will agree with you about the source of your virtues, but they might be able to settle on what the virtues are, whatever the provenance, and on what they look like in practice.

And whether I’m right or wrong about where they come from, you should at least consider the possibility that the only thing different about the soils…was the soils themselves.

[Image Source: Adobe Stock]

About Neil Carter
Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a writer, a speaker, a father of four, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture. You can read more about the author here.
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