One dreary, rainy morning, I was driving down the infamous Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. (Not to be confused with Peachtree Road, West Peachtree, or the other 500,000 variations in the metro area.) It’s easy to lose yourself in the sea of cars and seemingly endless windows reflecting in towering skyscrapers. I always notice the old brick churches housed between the illustrious skyscraper landscape–they can’t help but stand out. There’s one particular beautiful church I notice every time I drive down Peachtree. On that rainy morning, I saw the sign in front of the building said “Find Joy Here.” As soon as I read those words, I noticed two homeless people sleeping outside on the front steps, all of their possessions being soaked in the rain.
This image was a kick in the chest. For one thing, it was real. It wasn’t some photoshopped image used for ignorant Facebook propaganda. I was hurting for the two people trying to find rest and a place they should be able to find rest. I don’t know if the church has a homeless ministry; I don’t know if the doors were locked; all I know is what I saw. And it hurt to see.
There are a lot of people suffering in Atlanta. I don’t know their stories, I don’t know if they’re addicted to drugs or just down on their luck, but I hurt for them. Earlier this summer, I saw a guy in a truck go out of his way to drive on a patch of water on the side of the road to drench a homeless man. I was literally speechless.
Ask yourself this: How do you react when you see homeless people asking for food? What goes through your head when you see someone using food stamps?
Do you feel angry that someone would have the nerve to ask you for money and not just go get a job?
Are you disgusted that your hard-earned money is being taxed to assist people who, perhaps, don’t deserve it?
People are suffering everywhere. Right in your hometown, people are struggling to make ends meet. Barely making enough money for food. There are people actively seeking jobs and simply can’t find employment. There are people who work hard every day, but can’t afford proper healthcare. And these people aren’t in some distant hypothetical place, they’re in your own backyard.
I think a lot of today’s Christians are severely lacking compassion. I think our desire to be “right,” our selfish human greed, and the manipulation of how information is presented clouds our judgement and dries up our compassion.
I’ve personally encountered people who live in crummy apartments, can’t afford a car so they rely on MARTA or walk, are on Medicaid or have no health insurance at all, and live paycheck to paycheck they receive from the jobs they work hard to have. I know it’s hard to imagine, but there are people in this country who can’t work. They can’t find employment. They have disabilities. The list goes on.
Since I google things like “how to pass car emission test” and “how many movies has Kevin Spacey been in”, I figured I’d try out googling “what does it mean to be a Christian?” I’d like to share two of the top responses:
“Being a Christian means that you are changed on the inside, not controlled from the outside. It means that your heart has been changed by the presence of God.”
“Christians are people who follow the teachings of Jesus.”
I also found ten adjectives to describe Jesus, in no particular order (and there are many more adjectives out there to describe Him).
After a little more digging, I came across a rather interesting blog post addressing the 7 marks of a stereotypical American Christian. Let’s take a look:
1. You love to fight, argue and attack.
“…There’s nothing quite like flooding people’s Facebook feeds with posts about the sins of gay marriage, abortion, and the Democratic Party or the volleyed claims of bigotry, hypocrisy, and self-interest. American Christians seemingly love to argue with people and engage themselves in various culture wars. Whether it’s about the existence of global warming, prayer in schools, evolution, gun control, or homosexuality, you love to let people know that you’re RIGHT and they’re WRONG. Oh yeah, and if you don’t agree with me —You’re going to hell! Literally….”
2. You Practice Christianity Through Groups And Institutions
“Without structured, regulated, and organized religious affiliations, your faith would be radically different.”
3. Your Theology is Burrowed
4. Your Online Faith Doesn’t Reflect Reality
“You post Bible verses on Twitter, claim ‘Christianity’ as your religion on Facebook, and proudly put inspiring quotes about God and faith on your Tumblr account. But in reality you never pray, read the Bible, or practically live out your beliefs. If only your faith was as strong as it appeared on Social Media.”
5. You Love Labels
“When you meet a fellow Christian, you immediately classify them. Are they a Liberal, Conservative, Calvinist, Open Theist, Pacifist, Methodist, Egalitarian, Complementarian, Premillennial, Postmillennial, Lutheran, Charismatic, Catholic, Dispensationalist, Literalist, Universalist, or Annihilationist?”
6. You Crave Efficiency Over Spirituality
7. You Need Entertainment
These seven stereotypes are the expressed views of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect my personal opinion–but he’s got a point. And like I said earlier…stereotypes exist for reason.
So how can we, as Christians, find a way to make sure our stereotypes match the adjectives of Christ?
Here’s five points of my rough draft:
1. Stop judging others. I long for membership in a church body that would welcome anyone with open arms and genuine love. I want to see a drag queen walk in the doors and be greeted with a cup of coffee and intentional conversation. We have GOT to stop thinking we have everything figured out and that we understand the lifestyles of people we clearly do not. We can’t preach hour-long sermons about how gay people are an abomination to the world (I’ve been through one, it was awful). Sermons like that aren’t constructive or correcting; they’re destructive and condemning. You know what? They’re no more of an abomination to the world than we good ol’ Southern Baptists are. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can begin to actually show people what Jesus was like. There’s a distinct difference between compromising your own convictions and following Jesus’s command to love and serve everyone–not just the people who believe the same way as you. Don’t use the first as an excuse for the latter.
To quote Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?”
2. Get your hands dirty. We need to get outside our comfort zone. Talk to people who are nothing at all like you. Get to know the people who are so easy to judge. Get to a place where you don’t feel uncomfortable investing in people who believe differently than you.
3. Have compassion for the people you can’t stand. Do you get angry when you see homeless people? Take them to dinner. Hate the President? Pray specifically and lovingly for him every single day.
4. Stop relying on other people to meet the needs of others. If you sit in church on Sunday and talk, as a congregation, about how “we need to reach the people around us” and do nothing, STOP IT! Don’t talk about doing something. Do something.
Mom and Dad, don’t freak out about this next part.
I, like any other sinner, am of course guilty of things I write passionately against. I’m an imperfect human being. But I’m trying.
Who doesn’t enjoy their comfort zone? Does anyone actually enjoy being uncomfortable?
A few weeks ago, my husband and I broke out of our comfort zone tremendously. After church one Wednesday night, Christopher and I were leaving a restaurant when a woman flagged us down in the parking lot. We stopped to talk to her. In tears, she begged us for a ride home.
My mind, of course, went directly into “Law and Order: SVU” mode. The entire ride, I was praying that we wouldn’t be assaulted by a group of gang members or have our car stolen or be stabbed.
I was thinking about me.
Meantime, the woman named Lisa was weeping in the backseat and repeating over and over, “I just want to go home.”
I’m not encouraging all Christians to drop their common sense. Use the brain God gave you. If something seems dangerous, don’t do it.
Lisa wasn’t dangerous at all. She was hurting and lost. She just wanted to go home.
I did get her phone number and have tried to check on her, but I can’t help but think about the opportunity I missed to pray for her, with her.
Don’t be like I was. Get out of your comfort zone.
5. Be a source of joy. Forgive easily. Love tremendously. Err on the side of grace.