There’s nothing quite like being ‘in need’ to remind me of what’s really wrong with Christianity: failure to love.
There. I said it. And I’m pretty sure each one of us who counts themselves freestanding from the mainstream Jesus culture has—at least to some degree—thought the same thing.
Notionally, the Christian faith is one of love and grace, forgiveness and action. It is a “do something” religion focused on seeing the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, now. It is completely summed up in the Law of Love:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Yet Jesus people are frequently maligned as being hypocritical, unforgiving, judgmental and far less compassionate than their secular counterparts. For good reason. I have often heard fellow Christians defend their lack of love as a misunderstanding. As if “the world” cannot truly grasp tough love and personal responsibility. As if helping a brother or sister in need requires an evaluation of that person’s morality or righteousness. As if Christ’s Law of Love comes with a caveat, even though it was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
This great love for a neighbor, this central love for each other… what does it look like? What kind of action might such a love compel? While I might like to quote Paul with surety and tell you that Christian love is indeed patient, kind and everything First Corinthians 13 says it is, I’ve learned that such love in times of need is very hard to find. I wonder if this isn’t because Christians have so idealized love that they imagine it to always feel good, even easy to extend love or assistance to others.
What is love? People often say God is love but in the same breath that he condemns us to eternal punishment. I cannot call that love. The best definition I’ve heard comes from Mastin Kipp. He often says that love is the acceptance of what is and love has no opposite. That is not to say that there is no right or wrong, no ethics or morals to be practiced. But the action of love is free from the act of judgment. We accept ourselves and others from wherever we are at, if we love. We deal with reality. We deal with need.
Just last week, I found myself jobless, homeless, broke and disoriented within new surroundings. My significant other and I found ourselves in need of a roof, a bed, a couch, a floor—just about anything to not be on the streets or in the car at night. There were some offers of assistance until people learned there were two people as opposed to one needing a place to stay. Others were uncomfortable with what they viewed as our sinfulness or irresponsibility, and so they did not want to get involved. A lot of people said they wished they could help us, but we’d be in their prayers, and I speculate how many people actually prayed for us. Some friends simply said nothing.
This is an entirely foreign world to me and I have no interest in justifying, explaining, or defending my position of being a human being in crisis. I do not believe Jesus applied conditions to his Law of Love, nor do I believe Christ followers ought to waste energy analyzing whether they should or shouldn’t give aid to people in trouble.
This whole experience has made me evaluate my beliefs and propensity to action regarding love for my fellow man. Do I look for excuses to not inconvenience myself on behalf of others? Do I judge the worthiness of their need? Do I refuse to help those whom I think deserve to live with the consequences of their actions? If and when I do such things, how can I claim to be anything but a clanging cymbal? How can I talk about occupying Jesus if I will not occupy love?
Here at We Occupy Jesus, none of us are perfect people. None of us have the answers. That is not a cop-out. That is not an excuse. We may have more questions than answers, but we still ask the questions. We sift the answers for truth. I see this Wojian movement as an exploration of faith and love and social action among individuals from different spiritual paths. We are pantheists, atheists, Christians, Buddhists, theologians, secularists, superheroes, pranksters, and everything in between. We are human expressions of a Divine Love.
The remarkable thing about the Divinity of Love is that it does not require belief in any higher power, nor does it negate such a belief. We can all agree that life is somehow sweeter, more complete, a little more of how it should be, when we allow our lives to be ruled by the Law of Love. When we give without reservation, when we offer open arms to prodigals, and when we quit trying to scrutinize the best method to love. Heaven comes down to Earth when you and I give love, unabashedly.
At this point in my life, I put my trust in love and from wherever I’m at, I try to occupy Jesus. That’s right, I said try, much to Master Yoda’s chagrin. Still I hope to become more empathetic and action-oriented through my experiences of deficiency and adversity.
And so, once I get back on my feet, should you ever have the need, you are more than welcome to crash on my couch.
Shannon Ashley is the Director of Social Media for We Occupy Jesus. An aspiring writer, she is currently acclimating herself to life in the “Deep South” of Eastern Tennessee. Of course, she has been told repeatedly that Tennessee does not qualify as part of the Deep South, but like most hipster Minnesotans, she’s just not interested in semantics. When Shannon isn’t kicking ass for Wojian pursuits, she’s working on her novel (no, really!) or dreaming about the finer things in life, like non-toxic, fair trade products and super cute Hello Kitty merchandise. Follow her on Twitter @jashleyshannon.