The SlumLord

CC BY-NC, a4gpa, Flickr
CC BY-NC, a4gpa, Flickr

“Just a bunch of Mexicans that should be shipped back to where they came from! They’re all illegal, here taking our money and sending it to Mexico. They just need to leave!”

“My goodness, the gays! These folk are demon possessed: men have a female demon and women have a male demon. They need deliverance. But I ain’t got time for them.” 

“Can you believe some Muslims just moved next door? Things are gonna start getting bad around here. You can’t trust them because they’re surely up to something.”

“There were some foreigners in the grocery store the other day blacker than me—I mean b-l-a-c-k—and they’ve got the nerve to think they’re better than us.”

These were real comments I heard made by professing Christians that caused my heart to sink. I cannot understand why people who say they are Christians can feel so graceless and speak so ruthlessly about people with whom they should be sharing the love of Jesus. When I hear these kinds of comments coming from Christians, I’m tempted to go “Jesus vs. The Money Changers” crazy and shut everybody down. But enough is already written in their Bibles, which they are obviously not reading well.

Have you ever felt like one alone on an island in the middle of the ocean? I know there are a host of other Christians around me striving to walk in the fruit of the Spirit; however, the journey for me gets lonely sometimes when the faithful seem to cling to worldly notions more than taking their cues from Christ. I just don’t get why loving God and people is a Christian essential for me and not for everyone else.

Getting Down in the Pit

Maybe the question needs to be reworked. So let me start by addressing the two issues—homosexuality and xenophobia—in the comments above and use them in proxy to address the issue of loving others whoever they are.

Many Christians don’t know how to talk about homosexuality without feeling they must come down hard on it lest they be viewed as condoning. Yet the very ones who would claim they love everybody could never really have a friend who was gay, a person they could act the fool with, respect, and enjoy life together, because their own faith would be a jagged blade between them stabbing both ways.

I consider homosexual behavior sinful. But I also know that the deepest differences of opinion on any subject don’t necessarily have to divide. Christ’s approach was always toward the person. He understood that getting some people (of any habit) out of the rut might mean having to jump over into the slum with them and pulling them out. (No, I’m not advocating any type of gay therapy.) Why? It’s because people—those bearing the image of God—have primacy in the heart of God, and no distance is too greatly traversed to recover them. (I cover this topic in-depth in Communication Barriers Between Christians and Gays.)

It reads simply but is quite profound: We like to say that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, which is very true, but it doesn’t get us to what we need to see. Jesus shows us a God who chooses love for people over his contempt for sin. God, who is perfect love, hates sin with perfect disdain and yet his love for humankind is preferred to his love and need for justice. Thus, space is created for pardon, for redemption.

So for Christians, loving others with God’s heart is transforming to the one who receives it, and if that’s not happening, the problem is not with God.

As it relates to other cultures and people groups, Jesus was often criticized for associating with street people and those of the seedier side of society—and by those who felt they had a handle on their own righteousness. (Read “People of Your Kind!”) But Jesus’s message was broadly inclusive of everyone, especially the outsider.

It isn’t just the Great Commission where we are told to go to the four corners of the earth with the message. Jesus predicted (in Mark 12:1-12) a spiritual “fumble” that would bypass God’s chosen and bless the Gentile first in a way unintended. Further, in Christ’s final embodied scene in the Gospels, he instructs the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit—the one who would enable them to bridge the barriers of culture—and take his message, as if in ever-widening concentric circles, to Jerusalem (home), Judea and Samaria (city, state, nation), and to “the ends of the earth.”

Crux of the Matter

So I come to my reworked question: What made Jesus so approachable? And, he being God, why was it easy for him to mingle with sinners? It is more of that which we so desperately need. Moreover, why can’t all Christ followers see that loving God through people really is a Christian essential? What Christ shows me is that the faith God offers is amazingly well suited to human need. To say even this is an understatement, for God has made us to need him. It is a wonderful thing that is sorely missed by those who take the lesser road.

God needs us Christians to acquaint their Lord. Without intimacy we will not have God’s heart or understand his ways. We must live in the words of Christ, think through the scriptures, deliberate with our faith, and follow the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ perfectly. When we do, we’ll lend credibility to the Christian name and others will come to know the Lord, if only by observing that he truly dwells in us.

I Choose

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I remember when I first took a personality test, a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and read the results. I was shocked that my temperament, choices, enjoyments, and flaws, were completely categorized and understood. In time, however, I found myself relying on what those spot-on results told about me. Sometimes I would even contrive my behavior to be what the profile stated. If others commented on my actions, mine was a handy reply: “My personality profile says…”

I had a problem and I was it. The profile merely presented a biopic of my personality type. I was very much the person it described, and some of it I wasn’t, at least then because personalities evolve. The real problem for me was my attempt to live up to what the profile revealed. The Holy Spirit convicted me because the personality profile, although a worthy psychology tool, held too great a priority with me. My interest in my self-development was a good thing, but unchecked it could put my life out of balance.

Psychology is good and proper in its place, but, like all things, it must take the backseat to the word of God, or what God says about me and my potential. The Word tells me that I’m created in God’s image and that my attitudes and actions are to resemble his. I saw then that everything about me, even my personality, must be submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Landscape of Choice

I wish to approach the subject from a different vantage now. I believe that untended character traits eventually spoil. I mean that they will begin to qualitatively detract from us should we do nothing to develop and mature them or, in some cases, rid ourselves of them. I take comfort in the fact, however, that this is not often the case with people. We usually self-correct amidst the pressures of parents and friends, reward and punishment, gratification and pain. Furthermore, we possess decent enough morals to know when something is wrong in our lives and needs to be changed.

Unfortunately, some people do fall through the cracks, maybe because there was no proper rearing or they were subject to extreme dysfunction. The saddest thing, however, might be said of the one who perceives a flaw but makes no effort to change. It is a possibility to allow flaws from our earliest childhood to manage our lives without a real attempt to replace them with new and better behavior. In my opinion, that is an unhealthy choice for dysfunction.

It gets more interesting with my next few sentences. I believe that people can be genetically predisposed to certain behavior patterns. We know this to be true about depression, just as we know the same is true about diseases, like cancer. Such is a fact that has to be overlooked. For instance, humans have successfully engineered most of the dog breeds we know today for our own very specific purposes and continue to do so, the benefits of which are helping us understand more about ourselves. And consider a hot topic in the world today, homosexuality. Might there really be a genetic predisposition toward same-gender attraction? If it is true, what would it mean to choose or not choose the lifestyle? What would any of this mean to our ability to choose?

What Choosing Really Means

My point is to understand what our choices really look like. I could choose to read my ISTJ temperament profile, accept the good and the bad about it, and declare to the world, “This is who I am—deal with it!” I have met people like this and so have you. They are not pleasant to be around, and, honestly, their way of life is nothing more than a cop-out. I’ll get to that. Still, there is a real reason why I cannot accept that who I am is merely written in black and white and that I’m doomed to be what it tells of me. That goes for a profile and anything else. Let me explain what I’m saying.

I have no choice but to accept the hand that I’ve received in life. A college professor of mine used to refer to it as ‘getting to the table,’ meaning on a level plane where life situations internally and externally (to an extent) coalesce and allow for actualization.

Some people are privileged enough to start somewhere close to the top because they lack no comforts and are blessed with great families and support systems. Others are essentially “scaling a chair”—probably where most of us are found—with varying degrees of home but also with real struggles to consider. The remaining few of us are clinging to sanity somewhere in the thick of the carpet, looking out for big feet and vacuums!

But the one truth is that none of us had a choice in our arrival. Let’s deal with that and get over the rest. To be fair, sometimes what we’ve been allotted just isn’t fair, and it helps our perspective to know that someone in the world is in a far worse situation than we are.

I don’t think we can blame God either. We live in a fallen world, and I believe the Bible about how it has gotten to be this way and why it remains this way. (So we have to point all ten fingers at ourselves.) God permitted it, too, and you’ll just have to ask him why when you see him. But I celebrate the human spirit because God has made it an indomitable thing. We all have been made emotional at the stories of people who have proven that the ravages of a fallen world or an incredible challenge are not enough to give up on life.

No, I don’t curse the hand I have been dealt. I don’t accept that the black-and-white is everything about me because what flaws may characterize me are not indelible and do not have to remain the truth about me. I have a lifetime to perfect myself. What matters is whether I choose to remain as I am or to improve myself, even if this means a fight to change.

As has already been mentioned, this means everything, from attitudes to health and even homosexuality. (I single out homosexuality because it is ripe for this topic and so many people tend to view it as an arch sin and, with such attitude, castigate people but never heal them. Further, I differentiate between homosexuality, a sexual orientation or behavior, and gay, a subculture lifestyle that accepts and readily indulges in homosexual behavior. Homosexual orientation I don’t believe is a choice but homosexual behavior is.)

Ultimately, we choose to resist or give way to the decisions that determine personality, for nothing prevents us from scrutinizing anything we notice about ourselves. People with anger issues generally know it and can find ways to mitigate their feelings or will choose to let those feelings grow into tantrums, rage, or even violence. The same for those with homosexual urges: although they may not choose the urges, they do in fact choose whether to follow through with those urges and so partake of that lifestyle or resist it.

So consider this: it wouldn’t matter if a genetic link to homosexuality were discovered—do you see? If the heart morally resists a path, that path is the wrong one to take. There would need not be the argument of a denial of one’s authentic self or the banishment to lifelong struggle. The woman who is overwhelmingly predisposed to breast cancer and who acquires it like the many women in her family did—does she simply accept the cancer as her lot and let it kill her? Indeed she does not. Instead, she fights it and so chooses to live.

To live authentically and to draw on the power of our human spirits is first to say, “Here I stand.” It is where we arrived and where we have the privilege to build. What a landscape it chances to become!