Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.

Q&A #9: Christians and the Community

Q: I would be interested in your thoughts on how we, as Christians, are called to respond to relationship with community differently than a non-Christian (or non-religious/spiritual person).

A: Sermon incoming!

Matthew 12:28-31*
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”

You memorized those verses in Sunday school, of course. Who didn't? You'd need an atheist upbringing not to have memorized them, and you'd need to have stuck your head in the sand not to at least know about them. But they mean more--and are a lot scarier--than it might seem at first glance.

Let's look at what else God says about love...

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Yeah, that's death they're talking about. The extreme. Not so warm-and-fuzzy anymore now, is it? That's right: In the war against evil, we're expendable. If necessary, we're to give up everything, including our lives, in the cause of loving other people. It's not for nothing that the metaphor of being a soldier or being in an army is used to explain what it means to serve God. Soldiers march for hours, give up their feather beds, and occasionally die without even knowing what they're fighting for. We're no different than that.

I'm not recommending some kind of overdramatic, angsty martyrdom. In fact, I think it's plain stupid to go around with a long face and yammer on about how much you're sacrificing for other people. What I'm simply saying is this: Our relationship with the community is that we are to do whatever we do out of love for other people. Every single thing--no holding back. Ever.

Yes, that's impossible. We're not meant to do it on our own. That's what God is there for--to help us do the impossible.

I went straight for the extreme--that of actually giving up your own life--not because I wanted to encourage people to look for bullets to take for other people (in slow-motion, of course, as Hollywood has taught us), but because of this:

Luke 16:10
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities.

The context here is the parable of the talents--you know, a guy gives his money to his servants to take care of while he's gone, and when he comes back he checks on what they've done with it? This is part of the denouement in which Jesus explains what he meant by the example. If you apply this concept to the whole "love each other" idea, it means: The kind of person who would be willing to lay down his life is also the kind of person who is willing to do all those other, smaller things for others.

That means that loving others ought to be the whole point of your life. It's not something you do with your spare time or with the extra resources left over. It's your main purpose. I don't mean quit your job and go work at a homeless shelter (well, usually not; I suppose if you're a professional cat burglar, I'd recommend it). I mean, use your job and your schoolwork and your time and your energy and your resources to the benefit of others. If you work as a checkout clerk at the supermarket, you can try to brighten a tired customer's day. If you're a home-maker, you can show true appreciation the next time somebody clears the table for you. If you're an engineer, you can take responsibility for creating good, safe designs that make people's lives easier rather than just padding your company's pockets.

Oh, and you're not supposed to be doing this for rewards, either. The warm fuzzy feeling, or the compliments, or the self-righteous feeling good about "Oh, I'm such a nice person" are not the point. The point is: Did you do your part to make the world suck less? And if you did, then it doesn't matter whether you feel warm and fuzzy or just tired and cranky. If God can send his own son to get treated like crap and then die after an unjust mock trial, do you really think he'll expect any less of us? There are people who say that being a Christian will make you happy. Well, it's time to pitch that idea. Yeah, you'll be happy sometimes; in fact, you'll be happier than you'd ever expect, given your circumstances; but you'll also be sad and discouraged and overwhelmed and despairing.

But I'm also going to caution you against something--something that I think is especially relevant to autistics: If you are living your life with the goal of loving others, then you absolutely must take care of yourself. God doesn't ask any more of you than you can give--though he may ask much more than you think you can give--and it's your responsibility to make sure you are not overextending yourself to the point of becoming useless. Think of an athlete in training: His goal is to run a marathon. But the best way to train is not to simply start running until you keel over. The best way is to start slowly, to do only what you are capable of, and to gradually increase your distance. If you want to run a marathon, you have to get enough sleep, eat nourishing food, and have a good, non-stressful environment. Similarly, if you want to run the marathon we call life, you have to make sure you are in good condition for it.

That means that part of loving others is taking care of yourself. It means spending time doing things you enjoy, spending time with the people you love, gaining coping skills and learning about yourself, your disability, and how to cope with the world around you. It means good food, enough sleep, and an environment that keeps your sensory system from going nuts. It means learning new skills and forming new relationships. If you run yourself ragged, all you'll be is a lump of an overstressed, shut-down autistic, and you won't be good for anything. Rather than simply going as far as you possibly can, you need to get enough rest and enough down time. That means: Stop feeling guilty about engaging in your special interests, lying wrapped up in your blanket, or sitting in front of a window and watching the dust fall through a sunbeam. Those are every bit as much serving God as if you were wielding a ladle in a soup kitchen.

Another issue I've run into is the problem of just plain being a doormat. This is a figurative term, short for letting people walk all over you, which is yet another figurative way of saying you let people take advantage of you. Don't do that; it doesn't help  you, and it doesn't help them. Sometimes, loving people has nothing to do with being subservient, obedient, or accommodating. Sometimes, it means you have to get in their faces, contradict them, stand up to them, or directly confront them.

Say you had a little kid and you really, really loved him; but this kid had a habit of pinching other people. When he came up to you and started pinching you, what would be the loving thing to do--let him pinch you, because that's what he wants to do and it will make him  happy? Or discipline him, make him cool off in the corner, and explain to him exactly why pinching people is bad and that if he does so again he will have to pay the penalty? Obviously, you don't let your kid go around pinching people; if you did, that would mean you loved him less, not more. Well, the same goes for people who aren't your kid. While you're not in authority over most other people, you do have a responsibility not to let them walk all over you or anybody else. Teaching somebody that it is okay to hurt you--which is exactly what you're doing if you let people take advantage of you--is not doing them a favor.

Yes, in some cases, if it benefits someone else or if it doesn't matter either way, you should allow yourself to be hurt. There are many cases where both sides believe they have the right; and in those cases, giving in doesn't hurt anyone. Your own rights are the ones you are allowed to give up, and if it will help someone else, then do so. But there are many cases where it's just a lack of courage that keeps you from standing up for yourself. Some of the fiercest people in the world are those who pick their battles and, when they have to fight, know exactly what they are fighting for and why.

Disabled Christians don't get a free pass here. We're held up to the same standards as anybody else. Sure, we might not be able to do some things that non-disabled people can do; but that's not the point. What we can do, and what skills we do have, should be dedicated to others. Creativity is important, to work around your weaknesses and to use your strengths. You can't be held accountable for things you are not capable of doing; but those things you can do are your responsibility to use in the right way. Some of us even have skills that go above the norm--savant or splinter skills, or talents related to our special interests. Having those skills means we have even greater responsibility. What, you think Spiderman invented that idea? Nope. It's way older than that. The more you've been given, the more your responsibility is.

It's an awfully high ideal--so high, in fact, that nobody in the world will ever match up to it. But even that gets taken into account. God knows everything, and he knows we're fallible. He knows we get bitchy and tired and we just don't wanna do things sometimes. He knows we want to sleep in on Saturday and he knows we'd rather not be kind to the people who treat us like crap. He knows we live with prejudice and that people see our lives as hopeless. He knows about all those complications. That means that, knowing all the obstacles we're up against, God understands that we're going to fail--repeatedly. That doesn't let us off trying--but it does mean that when we fail and have to pick ourselves up and try again, he'll judge us justly. You can't give more than you've got--but God demands all you've got. God didn't say it'd be easy; he said it'd be worth it--cliched, but true.

*All Bible verses taken from the NIV translation.

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Tags: christianity, philosophy

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