We all seem to have a sense of what “should be” in our personal lives, our neighbors’ lives, our culture, and our God.
I should, you should, we should, they should, God should, trees should, rocks should, animals should, the weather should. My boss should be nicer, my kids should be more respectful, my husband should do the laundry, my hair should be thicker, my waist thinner, and my car should be a Mercedes (deep exhale).
Have I left anything out?
We are obsessed with how our lives should be and how others should act. We calculate daily, almost moment-by-moment, what ought to be, and then adjust our lives accordingly. Let’s say I call you out on social media because, well, you’re an idiot, and someone has to do it. Then, I see you’ve done something even more reprehensible the next day. You should then be arrested, or at the very least, get a huge dose of eczema right before a long-anticipated summer holiday and have to wear sweatpants the entire time! There take that!
What if, before you died, you were given the power to enact all the most profound shoulds you have ever imagined? What would they be? There’s a pretty broad range here, so let’s make three categories:
- My shoulds.
- God’s shoulds
- Everyone else’s shoulds.
My shoulds (being honest here – which sucks. But they probably won’t materialize anyway):
- I should be more loving and less judgmental.
- I should spend less time on the internet and more time with God.
- I should quit counting offenses against me and begin counting my blessings.
- I should be more like Jesus and less like a “Christian” who’s superior to everyone (more on this to come).
- Chocolate should not be fattening(oops, how did that get in there?).
- God should not allow suffering – especially for Christians.
- God should make purgatory mandatory for non-Catholics, too (no reason to keep that fun trip to ourselves!)
- God should punish all mean people – except me.
- God should ignore my pompous attitude even though it runs totally counter to everything Jesus stood for.
Everyone else’s shoulds:
- People should be more generous and less self-serving.
- Wicked people should not prosper.
- People should love and accept each other.
- My neighbor should only put his trash out on trash day and make his dog stop pooping in my yard. (Yeah, I know it’s you!)
But wait; is this truly what we were made for? Is this what fulfills us and gives our lives meaning?
It seems we have gotten so caught up in demands, rules, and checklists that we have forgotten who and Whose we are. We must reclaim our innate call to love because of who we are in Christ. But we seem to have lost our way in a culture that is hell-bent on dividing us into opposing camps: those who deserve the best life has to offer and those who don’t. We have replaced decency and justice with one-upping our “enemies,” and this is not a new phenomenon.
Let’s take a look back.
Did you ever wonder how the piety of Jesus’ early followers morphed into the self-righteousness we witness today? How we, as proclaimed followers of Christ, believe that mandates enacted by man were Jesus’ way of “doing” religion? I’m no Scripture Scholar (duh), but I don’t think anyone has to be, to question this colossal sleight-of-hand by those in power from the beginning of Christianity. And, we who have been led to assume that we are superior to anyone who does not adhere to our beliefs have let our egos run amuck.
A for real Scripture Scholar, Stephen Patterson, tells us, “The original believers embraced Jesus’ radical social message – something we know because they were killed by the state as traitors. They were “committed to giving up old identities falsely acquired on the basis of baseless assumptions – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (insert: black or white) – and declared themselves to be children of God. The Jesus movement grew from a community who dared to proclaim that “there is no us, no them. We are all children of God. It was about solidarity, not cultural obliteration.”
Diana Butler Bass emphasizes Patterson’s words, “We are all children of God. You and your neighbor and immigrants and believers of other faiths and Democrats and Republicans… and … and … and …We are all children of God. It doesn’t sound like any Christianity we know. But it is what Jesus preached. What Paul shared in his letters. And it was what the first Christians gave their lives for – a world of human dignity and equality for all children of God – where walls are torn down and bridges built in their stead. And if that’s what a “Christian America” could mean, then count me in.” (Me too!!)
Every Christian faith has creeds, dogmas, and doctrines that define them. I will focus here on the Catholic version as that is what I am most familiar with. If you call yourself “Catholic” you are expected to adhere to Catholic doctrine. Long ago, I learned to walk lockstep, conforming to the “rules” because the Church knows what’s best for us, right? Truth be told, I loved feeling superior to others. I did not question any of it. I could admonish you with a straight face if you did not play by the rules, “Yeah, you’re going to hell. Not sorry.”
The Church, somewhere back in time, determined that its “sheep” needed to be controlled. So they created rules that required strict adherence to avoid damnation and the eternal fires of hell. They circled the wagons to protect their flock from the world’s evils or, more likely, from discovering the truth. Of course, they discouraged the “unqualified” laity from reading the Bible. They needed their pastors to interpret it for them, poor inept souls. The BS meter should have gone off on that one!
In the First Century, Saint Irenaeus took it upon himself to save the poor naïve masses from the Gnostics who “…cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system, but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them…and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from the truth”.
So what happened to Jesus? He seems to have gotten lost somewhere in the smoke and mirrors. Who is he to us? “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:13) is the final question he still asks us today. Every human being who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many Christians profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Therefore, every Christian must answer the question, “who is Jesus?”
Bidden or not bidden, Jesus is always and everywhere among us. We are invited to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to go out into the world and do what he did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to him. “Do what you must,” his life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”
We must surely ask ourselves, today in particular, if we believe in and recognize the worth of everyone. It will require all the truth and vulnerability we can muster. Have we replaced Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-16) with a sense of superiority? If we look deep inside our hearts, what will we find? As hundreds of years of racism and bigotry in this country have become a glaring reality, some so-called “Christians” have jumped unapologetically on that bandwagon. We have to ask ourselves where we stand.
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” Herman Hess
We are currently facing a hard truth that Christians can no longer ignore. We are in the midst of our day of reckoning. The extensive history of involvement in racism and bigotry by Christian faiths, which approve of white supremacy, can no longer be denied. Sadly, when the church condones these atrocities, it is no surprise that some followers feel emboldened to do the same.
“I can only speak for myself; if I only teach things that make me feel comfortable, if I only teach and read things that reaffirm that I am right to be as I am in the world, then I never become aware of how I’ve both personally and systemically contributed to white supremacy. And that’s not okay.” Dr. Megan Goodwin
We must look honestly within our own hearts, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for the truth of our beliefs and the basis of our actions. Perhaps we don’t consider ourselves racist or bigoted, but do we have the courage to confront family members, neighbors, or coworkers, or even our churches, especially our churches, if they are? Or do we remain silent?
Right now, not on some questionable far-off “Judgment Day”, we are all being called to account for the way we have treated our fellow man. God help us if we don’t get this right soon.