“Jesus has come to transform people not to exclude them” (Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters).
It was these words of Richard Rohr that held my attention this week long before the tragic shootings at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. This horrific event shook many of us up with the urgency of our need to embrace those who have often been excluded. It was these words that revolved in my mind as I broke down the second wall in my Lenten garden today. So many thoughts have tumbled through my brain since then.
How often I wonder do we create walls with our hate, our greed, our violent language and our narrow mindedness? We love to get caught up in the boundaries we feel the Ten Commandments set for so many of us. They can make us feel that our moral codes make us acceptable to God to the exclusion of others. Sometimes they make us feel justified in hating those who think, act or look differently than us.
Become like Jesus
This Jesus we follow often pushed beyond the “acceptable” boundaries of Jewish behaviour. He included the misfits and the outcasts, the despised and the outsiders, the vulnerable and the untouchable in his embrace, together with the wealthy and the healthy and the acceptable. He invited us all to sit down together, to eat with him, to follow him and to be a part of his family so that they could transform each other.
This is the kind of God I can believe in. The God who in the person of Jesus Christ embraces the stranger, the immigrant, the excluded and the rejected and expects his disciples to do the same. In the process I believe all of us will be transformed.
Transform your attitudes
It is easy for all of us to create walls of fear. Fear that we will not have enough for our future, fear that someone else will invade our land and take what we have, fear that our world will change or that climate change will destroy the environment. Our fears may differ but we all struggle with fear.
More than anything we need to see fear transformed into trust. And trust in God opens new possibilities.
One of our biggest struggles is trusting that just as God is working within us to unveil the divine image so God is working in the lives of those around us. Yes, even those of different race or faith or social strata or sexual orientation. Make no mistake, all of us do need to be transformed and we shouldn’t seek to transform others until we have been transformed into the loving, caring, generous and forgiving person God intends us to be. Transformation is God’s business. The only person we can take responsibility for is ourselves.
I am reminded that when I visited St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai desert, the oldest monastery in existence, I was astonished to find a mosque in the middle of it. Evidently Bedouin tribes would attack the monastery so Muslims, wanting to protect the Christians, built a mosque in the monastery, making it into a sacred space. Wow!
I am reminded too that after the Sept. 11 terrorism, Christians formed a circle of protection around our local mosque and prayed for their brothers and sisters of Muslim faith. The Muslims in return started holding an annual feast to which all were invited.
Maybe it is time for Muslims and Christians to learn to protect each other again. Maybe it’s time for us to find new ways to gather together in hospitality rather than hostility and reach for understanding and acceptance rather than rejection and exclusion.
Transform the way you relate
What if we replaced hostility with hospitality, criticism with concern, greed with generosity and consumption with stewardship? Lent is a great time to reach out to those in our neighborhoods who are different. Think about inviting a family of another ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation over for dinner, not with the desire to see them converted, but with the desire to develop friendship and understanding and acceptance.
Jesus invites all of us to reach beyond our comfort zones and embrace those we have previously excluded.
Transform the way you act on social media
One of the horrific things about the attacks in Christchurch was that they were live streamed on Facebook with the expectation the video would go viral as people around the world watched the massacre. It is easy for us to say “I would never do something like that,” yet sometimes even though we do not live stream our hatred, we can incite hatred and violence in others by the language we use. It horrifies me to see how often people of faith respond with hateful and sometimes violent language to those whose viewpoints they disagree with.
All people of faith should choose language that embraces, not excludes, reaching out with acceptance and love to those they disagree with. What if we resolved to only make comments that build up others and show them love and acceptance? What if we left the transformation work up to God, and trusted in God to change people’s hearts and minds, not into the people we want them to be, but into the people God wants them to be?
Take time today to contemplate your own responses to those who are different from you — be it religious differences or racial differences or differences in sexual orientation. How loving are you towards these people that you have excluded from your circle? In what ways could you work this week to change that?
Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates, a small organization founded by her and her husband, Tom Sine, to assist churches and Christian organizations to engage the challenges of the 21st century. She writes at God Space, where this post originally appeared.