The only positive thing about the last two weeks has been the sacred space I’ve been blessed to be a part of. The night after the election, we had a prayer gathering that fifty students attended. This past Monday, there was a protest against white supremacy attended by hundreds where several dozen students of color spoke out. On Thursday, there was a Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor the transgender people murdered in the past year where we concluded with a beautiful litany: “This circle is protection; this circle is poetry; this circle is resistance; this circle is sanctuary.” And I thought with bitterness that this is exactly what’s supposed to happen when Christians share the body and blood of Christ.
While all this was happening, the church council chair of a large United Methodist church posted a straw as his Facebook profile picture with the caption “Suck it up, buttercup.” He explained that he was doing this to make fun of the people who were promoting the safety pin campaign, which he explained was another example of fragile millennials whining and trying to get out of doing their schoolwork after the election. Another friend explained to me that people can’t act Christlike unless they’ve accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and savior. When I told him that I’ve seen more agnostic students taking up their cross than a lot of “born-again” Christians I know, he explained to me that taking up your cross has no meaning apart from being obedient to Jesus.
As these conversations and spaces have been rolling around in my mind, I’m realizing that I’m much more a part of the circle that I held hands in Thursday night at Tulane than I am in the same movement with the “Suck it up, buttercup” Christians. I’m just not in communion with people who ridicule “safe space” and want a hard and austere gospel to feel awesome about. So I don’t know what that makes me. But I’m with the people making sanctuary.
I honestly believe that’s the main point of the cross. Jesus made himself unsafe so that those who are unsafe could have a body to join. I’ve been looking at Philippians 2 a lot lately. I read there that the point of emulating Jesus’ cruciform nature is to become entirely other-regarding. Verses 3 and 4 are how genuine safe space is created: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” That’s what being cruciform looks like in practical terms. And I’ve seen many people do it in the past two weeks. Most of them haven’t been Christian.
When people who live that way get together, they form a circle of sanctuary. They take up their crosses by absorbing the anxiety and pain of others and letting their love “cover a multitude of sin” (1 Peter 4:8) in emulation of the one who said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” I’m not talking about a conflict-phobic codependent dystopia, but rather the opposite: a place where grace reigns so thoroughly that people proactively listen for how they can be less hurtful, where honesty is so welcome that nobody is afraid to speak up when they’ve been stepped on. How in the world could any Christian be scornful of that?
And yet so many are. It seems they want a space that feels sufficiently costly or macho or something. They see grace and patience as mere “sentimentality” unless you have all your theological ducks in a row. I would say the reason it matters to have your theological ducks in a row is to make you more gracious and patient with other people. I’m sure that makes me a heretic to the “Suck it up, buttercup” crowd. But I really don’t care. And I really don’t mind if I never share a bite of grape-juice soaked Hawaiian bread with them again.
I’m just not a part of whatever it is they’re doing. I want to make sanctuary. And I believe that the purpose of holiness is not to become glistening trophies on God’s shelf but to become safe people whom the wounded know they can sit with. That’s the reason I need to get rid of my sin: so I can be completely available to God as a vessel of his mercy.
There was a meme going around yesterday that said wouldn’t it be nice if wearing a cross meant I’m a safe person. Imagine that. I would say that we have been saved by Christ to the degree that we are safe for others. If we have pristine doctrine and we’re sanctimonious douche bags, then our doctrine has failed us. Jesus’ cross and resurrection will always be the core of my spiritual identity, but if I have to choose between agnostic queer kids and “Suck it up, buttercup” Christians, then I’m with the people making sanctuary.