A matter of perspective; looking for the Imago Dei-ness in others

There are times when I share a meal with prostitutes, johns, drug users, drug sellers, alcoholics, misfits, down-and-outers, socially ostracized, war vets and others.

Yet as I eat with them, as I listen to their stories, as I do my part to be the ears of Christ I recognize their innate Imago Dei-ness, that despite what they do and what they’ve done bear the image of God.

It also gives me perspective, that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that homelessness takes on all shapes and forms, there are similar stories but each one is unique in its own way. I never was one to say “well if they (referring to people who are homeless) get a job everything would work out for them” and yet some people spout similar rhetoric, apart from referring to a group of people as “them” (thus perpetuating my the paradigm I dislike the most – Us vs Them).

I won’t divulge any stories I’ve picked up in my time with being with these Imago Dei’s but I will say that when you have chosen engagement over judgment, when you have taken the time to simply BE…God opens doors and people open up their hearts.

***

One of my favorite Imago Dei’s is a woman who despite being a heavy drinker always greets me with a smile, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek. Now if I chose to distance myself from Donna* this would never happen, but because I embraced her Imago Dei-ness and remembering 1 John 4:19 when it says “We love him because he first loved us” and extending that love outwards I receive with relish the holiness that is Donna’s kiss and hug for me and I in turn return the favor which I guess is a holy embrace between Imago Dei’s. 🙂

There are other moments in my life where Heaven meets Earth in the form of people who love on me and I on them, it was easy for me and it can be for you as well if you shift your perspective off of who you are and your means and others and shifting your gaze to what matters to God, people matter to God.

~Nathanael~

*not her real name

Being unauthentic is exhausting

Everyone needs a place of belonging. Everyone. I see it unfold in the lives of the students in the high school youth group I help out with, I see it in the lives of the people I worship with on Sunday morning, I see it in the lives of the men at the local mosque. We were made for community, we were made for belonging, but sometimes factors get in the way. Maybe in the season of being the “new guy” it’s hard to be authentic, maybe you’re someone who’s “once bitten twice shy” and trust factors get in the way and it takes time to get to that point again (I am one of those people).

But here’s the thing, if you have settled down roots someplace and trust and authenticity is being cultivated, people bare their souls of what’s really going on and none of that “fine” or “good” language that seems to be commonplace, my question is if you have all that going for you, why would you resort to unauthenticity?

I recognize from working with high school students, trust doesn’t come easily when you’re the “new guy”; there’s a lot of flux, a lot of in-and-out leaders within youth ministry as well as other places. So it comes down to seeing if the “new guy” is going to stick around, is not going to leave…because truth to be told, it’s hard to place trust in someone if they’re not going to be around for long, if youth leaders have a shelf life of 1-2 years, that certainly takes its toll on trust earned.

But back to being unauthentic…
Now I am an individual who has been bitten many a time (proverbially) and as a result I am shy for a while, I say for a while because God has given me a desire to be authentic with those around me, and sometimes my authenticity is the nudge that helps people get there themselves, authenticity begets authenticity is what my mind murmurs time and again, and granted I don’t put myself out there with the intention of getting the authenticity ball rolling, but thankfully sometimes…a lot of the time, it does.

I recognized in my early 20s that my life was somewhat of a facade, that for all appearance’s sake I seemed to have my life in order when in all honesty nothing seemed to be right. I also recognized that my lack of authenticity kept me apart from friends that even at that point I had known for a long time, being unauthentic kept me from those I loved and the act of “fine” and “good” was and is utterly exhausting.

Think about it, if you’re in an environment that you can share from your heart about what’s really going no matter how big it is and they’re still there after the dust has settled…THAT is someplace of belonging, that is somewhere where you can grow, the individuals who make up that group can make a world of difference…but the caveat comes when that environment exists and there are individuals who don’t want to “play with others” and so they keep on giving pat answers to silence the masses, which has the power to harm not only the person who’s offering them up but the community at large.
Plus there’s the side of keeping all your stories straight; you have to remember what you said to someone which may have been different from what you said to someone else. It because a verbal juggling event, but there keeps on being an additional conversation to juggle with each person you talk to, eventually the whole thing will fall apart. I like how my friend put it, he said the unauthentic life was like a stage, and what’s going on in front of the audience sometimes doesn’t reflect what’s truly going on backstage, and so it’s a tiring running back and forth of maintaining what’s being sold to others and what’s really going on behind the scenes, eventually the curtain will fall and both facets will be exposed for what they are, with that in mind…let the curtain fall, because it is too tiring to live the double life.

So my e-advice to you the reader is twofold: 1) Do what you can to cultivate a place where people can be authentic to what’s really going on in their lives 2) Do what you can to be authentic in said place, not for selfish motives, but because you want to believe that if others are willing to bare it all you can as well.

These things take time, but I believe that being authentic helps to develop a better community with those around you, as Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”, it starts with you but it doesn’t have to end with you.

~Nathanael~

Swimming across the Amazon; sharing and being the Gospel message where the rubber hits the road

One of my favorite ways I like to serve God by serving others, to love God by loving others, is by helping to serve food at a soup kitchen in my community. Now what usually happens is that a church from within the denomination will come and help, they utilize the kitchen, they make the meal and usually bring some volunteers as well.

Usually the help is, well, helpful, but my contention at times is that sometimes volunteers will retreat away and out of sight of the individuals they just served. I don’t know exactly the reasons they do this, but I take it personally because it sets the stage for the paradigm of “us vs them”.

Personally I enjoy serving others, and if there’s enough food I enjoy sitting and eating and talking to those around me.

Community, I believe, involves being as well as serving, taking time to get to know the people is a major component.

The way I look at when it comes to the soup kitchen is that if we’re coming as the hands and feet of God to serve the people who come, we should compelled to be with them as well. I call this interaction “swimming the river”.

Here’s the context to swimming the river; the movie clip below is from one of my favorite movies The Motorcycle Diaries in which one of the main characters Ernesto “Che” Guevara is visiting a leper colony in Peru. Ernesto quickly gathers up that the doctors are on one side of the Amazon River and the patients are on the other side of the colony, there is a separation, there is an “us vs them” paradigm that exists. While not historically accurate, the clip of the movie speaks volumes, click below…

Ernesto swam across to be with people he was serving, Ernesto swam to the community he was a part of for a short while…

Jesus did that when he lived and walked some 2000 years ago. He taught, he sat, he ate, he laughed and he even cried in community. Jesus spoke about how he would not always be with us (physically speaking) but that the poor will be with you always.
So to serve the poor and to distance yourself from them after serving them strikes me as offensive and going against the Gospel message, for it is one thing to talk about God in the context of church or what have you, but to not live it out, to not take it where the rubber hits the road, to not swim against whatever your version of the Amazon River looks like… It breaks the heart of God, because we’re called to serve and to be.

May God bless you on the journey you’re on, and whatever Amazon Rivers you cross in life, may God give you the strength and fortitude to simply do that.

~Nathanael~