Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
I visited my great-aunt the other day, and noted that one of her walls is covered with the pictures of all the Catholic priests that have ever presided over the small church that she attends. We briefly touched on the subject, and I remember thinking how so many of the Christians that I know berate Catholicism as an apostate religion. It stirred up an old thought process in my mind: Who belongs in the Heavenly Father’s family? Who is a part of the Father’s House?
Professor Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University writes a blog, and he recently touched on a concept in his deconstruction of the term “biblical.” I’m just pulling one specific idea from his very vast concept, so don’t judge his stuff through my processing of it. He talked about the idea of relational belonging, in the most literal sense: belonging to something as a relative. That is, something that differs greatly individually but has a strong, specific factor that ties it into a community of others. So when you’re looking at a group of things – in Beck’s specific example, things labeled biblical – you’re not looking at a bunch of things that look exactly identical but a bunch of things that look very different, and yet are all related to a common denominator. He used the example of a Smith Family Reunion. Not all the family members may appear to belong, but at the core of the issue, they are all related to a specifc branch of the Smith Family. United, not uniform.
I like this idea. At my most recent family reunion, I had an elderly woman look me square in the face and ask loudly, “Now how do you belong here?” I couldn’t help smiling as I thought to myself, “The better question, madam, is how you belong here.”
The reunion was being held on property that belongs to my mother and father: a waterfront recreational area located on a corner of the farm we live on. I find myself at that particular area almost daily during the summer months. It’s my father’s, handed to him by his parents. Who knows? Someday it may be mine. But what I do know is that I am my father’s son, entitled to everything that that implies. Standing in front of my father’s pavilion with that woman, trying to figure out just who she was, I knew – without a doubt – that at least I belonged there.
Upon talking more with the elderly woman, we found out not only how I belong, but how she belonged. Surprise, surprise. The old lady at my family reunion was related to me, even though I had never seen or heard of her before. At the end of the day, though, we had Thomas blood flowing through our veins. Thomas blood at the Thomas Family Reunion, to which she was invited, and to such guests my parents had warmly extended invitations to come to their pavilion. She, as an honored guest and blood relative of my parents, belonged there just as much as I did.
Fleshing out Professor Beck’s idea more, I think the same thing can be applied to my orignial question of who belongs in the Father’s House. I know all about my position and standing with the Living God. I know what I believe. I know I am my Heavenly Father’s son. I know that I belong. Surprise, surprise. When I begin talking with strangers at the Christian Family Reunion, I find that they also claim to be children of the Heavenly Father. Simple, right? They say they’re children of the Father, and so do I, so that’s that, right?
Not so fast.
We’ve all of us likely been here before. At times like these I usually find myself thinking, “But… everything that I believe about God, about the world, about the Bible and Christianity… everything that I hold to be important differs radically from what they say is true. How can they possibly be sons and daughters of the Most High, really?”
What to do?
I want to share something from my own experience that may help us understand what to do.
There was a time when I ran away from my family. I laid a vast network of lies to cover all my tracks and ensure that no matter how hard my family searched, they would never find me. I put this into place strategically over several months. I planned and acted to cut them out of my life for as long as I chose, perhaps forever. I acted in a way that crushed them. I betrayed them so thoroughly and completely that it still boggles our minds when we think about it. Pain and suffering such as no family should ever have to go through.
But I came home again, broken and empty. And my father established me again as his son. He opened his arms and his doors, and with his authority he restored my position in the family. Now, I have eight brothers and sisters. All of them have their own brains; their own emotions. Not all of them believed that I should be welcomed back into the family. Not even my own mother was convinced. They could point out all the ways that I had betrayed and hurt the family, all the reasons why I shouldn’t belong. But my father spoke with authority and established me anyway. I am his son, his flesh and blood. He has decreed that there will always be a place for me in his home, and that no matter what happens I will always be a member of this family.
That’s how I knew I still belonged at my dad’s pavilion at the Thomas Family Reunion this past summer. So if I’m standing in front of the pavilion at the Christian Family Reunion and someone from a faith tradition that I don’t validate as true approaches me…
It’s not up to me to say whether or not they belong there.
Even if, like my brothers and sisters, I can point out all the ways I think they betray the Father. All the ways that, according to my view, they shouldn’t belong.
At the end of the day, my Heavenly Father will speak with authority and establish his House as he sees fit. Not as I see fit.
He decides who belongs, and he doesn’t seek my input in the decision. Instead, he gives me a job: to love the others well. And not “well” in a way in which I am just biting my tongue, silently serving while still overflowing in my heart with judgement. But to love them well with a contrite heart and a radical love that defies my earlier worldviews. To surrender a state of mind in which I am right and they are wrong, and to adopt a state of mind in which I am submitted to the Spirit of the Living God, and listening to that still, small voice as it instructs me on just how to go about loving in that way.
Because I’m convinced that the only way to achieve such a love that differs so greatly from how I would love is to listen to the Spirit.
And because I’m convinced that when Jesus prayed his prayer for unity for all believers, he meant it, and really does want us to love each other. (John 17:20)
That’s how I’ve come to see the issue as of late.