Jenner, LaBeouf, Lamott and Me (or – Jesus Keeps Good Company)

11168893_10204079572661967_636148430257844832_nBy: Jana Greene

This post has been on my heart for weeks now, and it was a difficult one to write. Still, this spiritual journey I’m on of getting to know Jesus on a more intimate level and not accepting the church “status quo” as what He necessarily intended it to be has really messed me up. In the best way.

And the reaction from an alarming number of fellow Christians to two big celebs making news recently has riled me up.

There is potty-mouth language in this piece, be forewarned. If that offends you, you can stop reading now. But then, if that offends you, you are probably not among the ragamuffin band of readers who follow my blog (who are open-hearted, open-minded, spiritually seeking, awesome people, by the way.)

I’m referring to Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Shia Labeouf – both whom have at some juncture accepted Christ as their personal saviors, and made some really non-mainstream choices.

On many of the blogs by Christian authors I follow (and in voices both hushed and raised in indignation in the real world) I hear it over and over again:

(Fill in the blank with the celebrity who most offends your sensibilities) isn’t a “real Christian.” Obviously. Look at their life choices! We are in the end times, they say. We can’t just accept what’s going on here! And we are scrambling to portray an image of a godly people …  but are we portraying Jesus in the way we do it?

When will I feel comfortable determining someone else isn’t a “real Christian?”

When I can see past the board in my own eye.

When will I feel comfortable damning another soul to hell?

When I don’t live in a glass house anymore.

The world knows what the mainstream Bible believing community thinks already. Truly. Does the world-at-large know that Jesus saved his biggest criticism for the keepers of religion back in the day? He came to shatter our rule-keeping, self-righteousness with the power of His Father, who is Love. He kept company with all kinds of ne’er-do-wells. The real fringes of society.

I’ve decided to err on the side of love.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized.  For others will treat you as you treat them.  And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.” – Jesus.  Matthew 7:3 (Living Translation)

Shia LaBeauf’s defacto damning offense? Using four-letter words in an interview with – aptly – Interview Magazine.

“I became a Christian man, and not in a f*cking bullsh*t way — in a very real way … I could have just said the prayers that were on the page. But it was a real thing that really saved me.  And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it.”
GASP. Oh no he didn’t!
Yes, he did. And you know what? I can understand the rawness of his sentiment. It sounds like it came from a soul absolutely desperate for crazy-genuine redemption, and not a nice white-washing. Really nice white-washing isn’t working. Prayers on the page are not cutting it. The world sees right through it.
The whole LaBeauf debacle reminds me of my very favorite author and her propensity for peppered language, Anne Lamott. Her writing is incredible! She does things with words that I’ve not seen anywhere else and probably won’t see again this side of the Kingdom. She is a Christian, too. A messy, relate-able, strong-faith, cussing believer. She is far-left liberal and you might think we have nothing in common on the surface – if you don’t bother to scratch that surface –  but in every other way, she is my soul sister. Why? When I was at my alcoholic lowest,  I was done with my fellow Christians telling me they would pray for me. I couldn’t even be REAL with them, so how could they even know what to pray? What got through to me – and the shame of being a Christian with a Big Fat Secret – was reading Lamott’s  2000 released book, Traveling Mercies. Chronicling her conversion to Christianity, she used raw words (some four-letter ones) to weave an incredible tale of unpolished, honest redemption that I could relate to where I was at that moment.
So, I call bullsh*t. This idea that we can ascertain where on this crazy plane of life another human being’s spirit is borne of our love of placing other human beings on the graph lower on the plane than we are on. You might not be where I am in recovery or my spiritual walk, but you might be further along than me in other areas.
God only knows. Literally.
And Jenner?
If you’ve been living in a cave (or cloistered yourself from the worldliness at the risk of contamination) you might not know that The Celebrity Formerly Known as Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner because she decided he was a she and transitioned from man to woman. What were those lyrics from “Lola” by The Kinks so many years ago? Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world.
Let me just preface by saying Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s particular issue makes me uncomfortable personally. I’m just being honest … yes, it made me feel squirmy. So I squirmed a little and recognized that to me personally, it felt like an icky thing.

But you know what made me feel ickier? Reading that he/she is going to hell by a Christian blogger. That made me ashamed. How much torment must this human being have endured in life? Where is the compassion from followers of Christ? That’s between him/her and Her Maker, sir. Frankly, we aren’t called to feel comfortable with everybody’s life choices.

(And further, how clean would the surfaces of our lives stay if we had paparazzi following us around? Yet God sees it all, and loves us like mad anyway.)

We are called to love.

I felt uncomfortable about Jenner. But I never felt as if he/she should be condemned to hell. We all have encounters with the ‘ick’ and our triggers are different. (My own addiction issues have made plenty of people feel icky, I know.)

Who am I that I should judge the state of others’ souls? Because I am a Christian, it’s okay for me to judge who is damned and who is “really a Christian?”

We the Church are so worried about ‘watering down the gospel’ by sending a message of love to others that we are dehydrating the whole world of Living Water. The world is thirsty for the only thing that separates Christ-followers from the rest of religion – organized or not.

If you have committed any of the following, there are Christians walking this planet who believe you are doomed to hell: Being divorced, drinking alcohol, watching TV, cursing, committing adultery, have children out of wedlock, or being wealthy. Sucks, doesn’t it?

“And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it.”

They will know we are Christians by our holiness? By our goodness, our refraining from using four-letter words? Our pious-ness, our general knack for clean-living?

No.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

Or let’s face it. We’re all screwed.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – Jesus Himself. John 13:35 (The Message)

We cannot withhold the massive, radical love that God showed us through His Son because of four letters in a word or even a sex-change operation. You believe it is wrong, Biblical? Refrain from doing it. Pray for people you believe need praying for. But the world is not ours to condemn. God must have thought we beings were worth saving because He sacrificed His son. For this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Begotten Son, so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have ever-lasting life.” – John 3:16 (and even the most heathen-esque among us know THAT scripture.)

Jesus didn’t give His life for our self-righteous asses. Although our self-righteousness was also one of the nails he took willingly.

A friend of mine once said to me, in response to this issue “Yeah … but God thought sin was a pretty big deal.”

Yes. But He thought love was a much bigger deal.

Go and sin no more is an excellent, excellent scripture and oft-quoted. But how often do we really absorb the text preceding it?

“Then everyone went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early the next morning he went back to the Temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”

“No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.” – John 8 (Good News translation.)

Do you think she ever sinned again? Have you ever thought about that? Do you think that when and if she did, she was dead to God? Of course not. She had encountered the Christ. And in his eyes, she was LOVED.

So I implore my fellow Christ-followers to stop acting like we are all running for public office, like we have to present a platform for every issue and current event. You have no constituents to impress, only mercy to share. We are in the end times, we can’t just accept what’s going on here!

We are scrambling to portray an image of a godly people, but are we portraying Jesus in the way we do it?

Let’s be a people who live in glass houses – transparent, letting in plenty of Light, open to a hurting world. Throwing stones is so incredibly shattering, far beyond our comfy church circles.

The Rabbi’s platform was radical, all-encompassing love. Shouldn’t ours be, also?

Weary and Burdened: Mental Illness and the Church

Stained glass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC
Jesus as depicted in stained glass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC. My Jesus loves everyone. Everyone is precious in his sight.

Meet Joe.

Joe is a Christian who struggles to keep his blood pressure under control. Following his doctor’s advice and having the support of his family, he manages to healthy. He keeps encouraged by those who love him, and that makes all the difference.

Meet Sarah.

Also a Christian, she is a survivor of breast cancer. She has suffered through a double mastectomy and many chemo treatments, and is currently in remission. She surrounds herself with people who love her to stay in a positive mindset, and has the admiration of the community for the brave fight she has waged.

And Sam.

Sam’s  diabetes demands constant care. The dietary and medical choices he makes impact his life every day. Sam is very open with others about his condition, as he depends on their support and his own healthy choices to keep him going.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. Each need a place to rest, as rest is essential to wellness.

In this life, we will have trouble. If God’s own son was not spared suffering, we will surely not be either. Health challenges are simply a part of life.

Now meet Amy.

Amy is a follower of Jesus Christ who suffers from mental illness. Perhaps you know Amy – or someone like her. We all do.

Maybe she cuts herself. She might even have visual and auditory hallucinations.

Perhaps depression weighs her down, making even the most mundane survival tasks difficult.

She could have anxiety, the dreaded foot race between her worrisome thoughts and the beats of her heart.

She may have crippling compulsive behaviors, making her a social outcast.

Her moods may soar to the top of the stratosphere – beyond logical control – and then crash and splinter in too many pieces for her to put back together.

Her emotions may be too wild for her will to handle.

She might rage or isolate, with the same outcome: shame.

Amy is just as sick – but no sicker – than others with chronic diseases to be managed, but that makes some people feel uncomfortable. So she hides, even from her own church. She knows there are others who struggle with issues like hers, but she is wary to share her story with them.

She depends on Christ to help her through each day, but desperately needs other Christ followers to walk with her.

Christians struggle with mental illness, too.

A brain that does not regulate serotonin levels is – spiritually speaking – no different from a pancreas that does not regulate insulin. The biological propensity toward addiction and alcoholism should carry no more stigma than having genes that could carry cancer.

High blood pressure can be managed and so can mental health. And having a mental illness has nothing to do with having a relationship with Christ because that relationship is simply, not “all in one’s head.”  It is all in one’s heart.

The church is the first place that the mentally ill should seek to stay encouraged, become surrounded with love, and depend on the support of one another.

To bear our own crosses while we help others keep from collapsing under the weight of their own.

To manage the pain of life and all the challenges it doles out.

To combat the stigma of mental illness, and nurture the brave ones coping with it every day.

To stay encouraged by those who love us, which makes all the difference. To have a safe place to find rest.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. And so does Amy.

It takes a village to build one another up, yes – but it also takes a church.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)

 

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