A thought hit me this week like a ton of bricks and has been sitting on my chest, holding me down ever since. For my entire life, I have been trying to sanitize my faith, and my life (which, for me, are one and the same.)
I have sheltered myself, living in a picturesque little town surrounded by "good" friends with similar values. I study scripture and pray and go to church and try to improve myself a little each day. I keep that which might sully my purified mind fenced out. I see my journey toward heaven as a climb upwards, each day trying to heed the biblical call to be "perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect."
Suddenly, that life is repulsive to me.
Half of this world, or more, are living in deplorable conditions. They struggle to stay alive another day. They face starvation and war and terror and kidnapping and trafficking and illness and poverty the likes I cannot fathom. And in our rich, first world country people face depression and sorrow and sadness that weighs as heavy on them emotionally as those terrible physical conditions elsewhere.
What good is my sanitized faith? What purpose of trying to eliminate all that is dirty and sinful from my surroundings? Even if this clay jar is clean both inside and out, how can I close my eyes to the suffering? It is a mockery, these little clean jars sitting in the middle of stinking landfills.
Jesus did not sit with the Pharisees day in and day out (men striving to live out their faith in every way they could.) Instead he crouched beside a prostitute and touched a leper and spoke hope into weary workers and cried with a mourner.
Even if I am not making a big show of my beliefs, even if my beliefs are genuine and my desires and motives pure, I am still a Pharisee. I still prefer to sit with believers, surround myself with only the good. The thought of sitting with the scary things of this world scares me.
Our church missionaries are revolutionizing the way they spend their two year missions. They are trading in their traditional suits and ties for jeans. The old way of knocking on doors and preaching a message is dead. Instead, they are now going to get into the cities in which they serve. They are going to mentor youth and run sports programs and provide education and make hot lunches and pick up garbage and work. They might have a moment while they are working to share what it is that brings such joy into their lives, but that is no longer the goal.
I saw an episode of the show "Call the Midwives" this week. It is based on the memoir of a woman who served as a midwife alongside a group of nuns. The nuns held fast to their Catholic faith while they rolled up their sleeves and helped those most in need. I felt as though I was walking with the lead character as she experienced for the first time the result of the poverty around her: abuse and disease and simple joys and heartache and heavy work loads and resignment. I saw what her eyes saw and felt what her heart felt. I felt the revulsion at sickness and choked back tears at the conditions. I saw the little work the nuns were doing, little in the grand scheme of the world and yet so much to those whose lives they touched.
I'm tired of trying to improve my faith through sanitization. I want to grow it by getting it dirty.
(And yet something in me hates this analogy, as though spending time walking beside those who are hurting insinuates they are less clean than me. It is an analogy of my life so far, and even this I must work hard to break. If you feel inclined to censure, please extend any grace you might feel. Change is hard yet necessary.)