When Christians Choose Who’s In and Who’s Out: A Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha

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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
closeupA 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.

 

 

I Thought That Receiving Communion Was All About Me

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There are moments during communion when I’m overcome with the enormity of the Christian faith. Followers of Jesus span back through centuries and circle around the world. We have been practicing this sacrament for the history of our faith, and it will continue for years to come.

Sitting in the time between worship and communion yesterday, I thought of the many other churches around our country gathered for worship at that time. In particular, I thought of the few pastors who have abused their authority, people in their congregations, and sometimes even people beyond their congregations.

There are pastors and teachers who have helped cover up child abuse scandals in some congregations.

There are pastors and leaders who have threatened fellow Christians with lawsuits.

There are pastors and leaders who throw around heavy words of condemnation at those who disagree with them.

It was all too much to bear. I wanted to take scissors to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. United with them? The only thing I’d like to unite with them is my fist—this from a guy who hasn’t thrown a punch since the age of 13.

How did these divisions happen? Where did we go so far off track? While a divided church is as old as Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the divisions among us felt particularly acute even as I prepared to take communion.

Searching for answers, I revisited the scars left by more conservative critics who have called the integrity of my faith into question because my God wasn’t as dominant and powerful as their own or because I saw culture, gray areas, and complexity in the pages of scripture where they only saw black and white.

It is a deep hurt to have sought out answers with integrity, to arrive at different answers than your original tribe, and to then be cast out as a threat, false teacher, and enemy.

That isn’t to say I was innocent and pure all along as my faith ventured into new territory. I was quite angry for a season. I felt like I’d been tricked—as if someone had set up a curtain to hide the true nature of things.

I don’t think you can stop the anger and resentment from taking hold when your long-held beliefs crumble. At least I don’t know how I could have stopped it, and as I see other Christians pulling back the curtain of their conservative faith, I don’t have anything better to offer them.

Our personal histories lead us in different directions. Sometimes there is grace for these differences. Sometimes there are divisions over the abuse of power that cannot be overlooked.

Both my past hurts and the folly of abusive leaders today left me despairing as I prepared to partake in one bread and one cup on Sunday morning.

Perhaps I despair so easily because I fail to grasp the lesson of communion each Sunday. I’ve been too focused on myself.

I approach communion completely absorbed in my own spiritual health, fearful that I will take the body of Christ in an unworthy manner. I want to have a clean slate between myself and God. Communion has been about healing my own soul.

Even our divided churches could teach us about the dangers of seeking our own salvation at the expense of everyone around us. There is a tendency to pursue salvation by remaining pure, cutting ourselves off from others.

Isn’t this act of taking the body of Christ an act of unity, a mystical binding together of Christ’s body in this one simple act?

Do I believe that Christ can not only heal me but also heal his church, even the parts I find reprehensible?

What if my part right now is to keep receiving communion, to keep praying for a healed church that can minister to a hurting world? Some Sundays, like last Sunday, that feels like an enormous leap of faith.

Communion reminds me that God endures even as denominations and leaders rise and fall. The Kingdom continues to advance, and Christ’s body still offers us healing, even if we aren’t looking for it.