I’m welcoming author Michelle DeRusha to the blog today. She’s written two fantastic books that have received rave reviews from the majority of readers. However, today she’s writing about one reader who gave her latest book two thumb’s down. I can really relate to both sides in this post!
“I don’t like the idea of having to spit out bones to get to the meat. This book goes on my ‘no-way’ list. It had potential, but it flopped.”
I stared at my laptop screen, digesting the words that concluded the Amazon review. I read the paragraph aloud to my husband, and we both rolled our eyes and shook our heads, irritated by the reviewer’s flippant dismissal of my book.
On one hand, I’m accustomed to dealing with negative reviews. I won’t tell you I like them or that they’re easy to swallow, but I accept that negative reviews are part of my work as a writer.
But this was different. This reviewer had not only judged my writing, she had also rejected ten of the women featured in the book. She had deemed the book a flop and those ten women unworthy of inclusion for one reason: their theology didn’t perfectly jibe with her own.
The “bones” she’d spit out were the ten Roman Catholic women featured in the compilation of fifty biographies I’d written – women including second-century nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen and sixteenth-century mystic and author Teresa of Avila. The “meat” she deemed worthy for inclusion were the remaining 40 chapters featuring Protestant heroines of the faith.
While I was angered by the reviewer’s brusque dismissal of the Catholics in the book, I also understand where it originated. I’m not above this kind of line-drawing either. I’ve erected boundaries and declared all sorts of people misguided or just plain wrong. I do it because I’m passionate about my beliefs, and I assume the same is true of the reviewer, too. I suspect the reason she deemed women like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila unworthy for inclusion in a book about women leaders in Christian history isn’t because she’s a hateful, close-minded person, but because she loves God and is trying to live a theologically and biblically centered life. I’ll even go so far as to say that her heart’s in the right place and that she believes she is doing the right thing.
But the truth is, an “us-versus-them, my-theology-versus-your-theology” mentality blinds us to the kind of spacious faith Jesus yearns for us to embrace.
Think for a moment about the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus, according to the customs and culture, shouldn’t have even engaged the woman in conversation. She was a Samaritan, after all, a member of a group traditionally abhorred by the Jews. And she was a woman, a non-citizen. And she was an immoral woman, married five times and currently living unmarried in sin. But none of this mattered to Jesus. He crossed the ethnic, religious, cultural, social and gender lines of the time without hesitation.
When the Samaritan woman challenged Jesus on who was worshipping the right way and who was worshipping the wrong way – the Jews in Jerusalem or the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim – Jesus didn’t answer her question. Instead, he turned her question on its head.
“Believe me, dear woman,” Jesus replied. “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” (John 4:21 and 23)
Did you catch that? Jesus erased the boundary drawn by the Samaritan woman. It was not about Jerusalem versus the mountain; it was not about the Jews versus the Samaritans, or where they worshipped or even how they worshipped. None of that mattered, Jesus said.
Instead, according to Jesus, it’s who you are and the way you live that matter before God. Or, as The Message paraphrase puts it, “Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is looking out for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in worship.” (John 4:24)
Jesus erased the boundaries 2,000 years ago, and he erases the boundaries we erect today. There is no “us versus them” for Jesus; there is no right way or wrong way. What counts, Jesus says, is who we are inside – the essence of our spirits – and how we live out that spirit. Not which denomination we practice, not the particular doctrine we believe, but simply who we are and how we live and love.
Jesus doesn’t make a distinction between meat and bones, between your theology and my theology. He sees past the distinct parts and pieces to the whole entity. Because for Jesus, the meat and the bones comprise the Body of Christ. And the body isn’t whole or complete or even functional without each one of its uniquely different parts.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
A Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. She is the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at MichelleDeRusha.com, as well as a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor at Doane College who reads Moby Dick for fun.
8 thoughts on “When Christians Choose Who’s In and Who’s Out: A Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha”
Oh… I have lived both sides of this… I was raised in the northeast in a very devote catholic home… When we moved to a forgien land… The Deep South … Wow…it was culture shock… I never heard of a baptist…which were now on every corner… I was not allowed to step foot Into a Protestant church …when I found a living relationship with Jesus and no longer wished to express my walk in the Catholic Church… I was told by a priest that I was entering a cult and in so many words I was condemned to Hell… Then I move were the Church of Christ is very prevelant… And I ran into some very narrow thinkers..( not all CofC think this way)…that just like the Catholic Church…they thought they were the only “true” church… After some years of untangling it all… I now feel I have been blessed…to experience both catholic and protestant faith….And I think each “side” can benifit from the richness both can bring to our walk with Christ. Some of my deepest readings come from the old catholic writers… They bring a depth that is sometimes lacking in other expressions of faith. I’m chewing it all… And I think it nourishes my body…and His Body well!!!
I love the way you think, Ro. And I believe similarly. As much as I wrangled with the Catholic Church during my younger days, I am grateful now for the spiritual foundation it provided. And frankly, there are some things I miss about the Catholic Church – I love the sense of mystery in Mass, I love making the Sign of the Cross when I pray, etc.. And now that I am a practicing Lutheran, I have learned other important things about faith and grace, etc. – each feeds the other in a lot of ways, and I am grateful for a multifaceted spiritual experience.
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” Luke 10:27-28
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37
The Jewish expert in the law would not say the “The Samaritan” and instead clearly used a much longer go around by saying, “The one who had mercy on him.”
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
Jesus did not say “some” others.
In Vietnam I had a $5.00 a week tent girl to keep our tent clean with sixteen years of public school behind her. Hua and I spent most of a year conversing and I spent some time with her in Nha Trang sharing meals with her parents at their very clean dirt floor house and being shown the real Vietnam. In a corner of the house was displayed respectfully together every religious symbol I knew of and several more I did not. Of course, her Roman Catholic symbols were predominate as that is where she worshiped and was baptized.
She could never get it in her head that I as a practicing Presbyterian might be suspect in many Roman Catholic churches in the USA in 1966. She took me to a Buddhist temple and taught me how to respectfully worship our God there. She was the first to teach me that our God is everywhere and not just in my church alone.
The prerequisite for inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:27) is non-denominational. I hurt deeply for those who love to defend their or their parent’s denomination more than love any others.
Michelle, thank you for supporting even one more woman you’ve probably never met, Hua. Thank you for bringing Hua back to the forefront of my mind and heart for this moment. Love you!
My father used to say, “The more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.” I’ve found this to be increasingly true for me. And the flip side is true as well…those areas where I’m most confident I’ve got it all figured out are exactly the areas I cannot learn and mature…at least not until I become willing to at least try to understand a differing perspective.
God is a whole lot bigger than my understanding. If I truly want to know Him, I first need to accept that I will never fully understand Him.
Oh…and that book critic…was just showing how little she knows…
Blessings to you. Michelle!
This concept of us versus them should not even exist in a Christian’s heart and mind if we truly understand how Jesus is calling to us to live in Him and with Him. I congratulate you, Michelle, for taking a negative review and turning it into a loving lesson on how we can love our neighbor when we place our judgments and personal opinions aside and choose to see Jesus in others instead.
I appreciate what you say here, Michelle. I cannot believe this critic refused to accept all the Catholic women of faith you wrote of in your book. I believe there are truly “saved” people in every camp. I have an aunt who says we may be quite surprised on that day we enter heaven–who is there and who isn’t there. It used to make me angry, as she was really putting me down for my beliefs. To be fair to her, I was a very rigid believer back then. I only know John 3 where Jesus says we must be born again. There must be that time and place where we make a conscious decision to follow Jesus with all we have in us, whether we pray the right words or not. I am “Baptist”, and we talk a lot about “praying the sinner’s prayer.” And yet, I have never seen that expression in Scripture. To me, it all boils down to Who we believe Jesus to be. Son of God? Co-Creator? Equal with God and Holy Spirit? Born of a virgin? Born to die…for all sinners? Perfect Sacrifice who appeased The Father’s penalty for sin–death. Died on the Cross? Rose again? Accepted as the Only Way to the Father? Desirous of a personal relationship with Him? Believing we are saved by His grace alone? By faith alone? That about sums it up for me. Who is to say what is in another person’s heart. The foundational beliefs need to be there, as this is His Story, Who He is, why He came. Non-crucial beliefs and practices don’t matter so much. He looks at the heart.
Amen, Michelle. And you are FAR more generous with this woman than I would be. Far.
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