By Mindy Johnson-Hicks
I was washing my hands in the bathroom of the Kerbey Lane Café in Austin, TX when I saw a bit of wisdom scrawled on the wall. It said, “Become the love you want to receive.” When I read that I realized exactly why I have trouble being a “good” Christian. As a Christian I am not called to become the love I want to receive. I am called to become the love I have already received. I am called to become Christ for a world in pain. I am called to become the one who would give all that I have to save someone who doesn’t even know they are lost. I am called to become the one who offers all I have to comfort those who will deny me as soon as the going gets tough. I am called to offer all that I have, all that I am entitled to, all that I have ever known so that someone, anyone, everyone can recognize the love which has consistently been given to us since before the foundation of the world. Some people call this selfless living, because it’s — well —selfless. I can’t tell you how many times I have been preached to, told to, expected to, be selfless. I’m just not very good at it. No matter how inspirational the speaker is. No matter how excited or committed I am at the start. No matter what group of Christians I choose to live around, I simply fail to be selfless over the long term.
I really don’t think it’s my fault. I think these teachers who are telling me the requirements of Christianity are leaving out a vital piece. My failures arise from a peculiar inability. Not an inability to be selfless, but rather an inability to be courageous enough to be selfless within a community of humans. I have been taught that selflessness is laying my own self aside, which is tough enough, but selflessness is really laying all distractions aside. Ah, but these distractions are a great big hairy deal. Money is a distraction. Time is a distraction. People on different missions are a distraction. In fact, almost everything is a distraction. I go to work and commit too much energy there so I have no more energy for selflessness. I go to the store and an unkind person takes the last ounce of my patience screaming at their child in a public place. I spend my life in these distractions because I don’t have the courage to say, “No. I will not be distracted in this situation.” I do not have the courage I need to set healthy boundaries that preserve my ability to spend my life on God’s priorities. I don’t have the courage to live out the love God has freely shared with me beyond the distractions of my calendar, my checkbook and my opinions.
The socio-cultural setting of Millennial Christianity has left me little in the way of answers to this problem. I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree studying the theoretical and practical foundations of church life and church history. I cannot tell you how many times a teacher has pounded a podium or pulpit with absolute certainty about this position or that theory based on the best available information only to find out ten years later, based on newly available information, that this theory or that position was completely in error. I have heard arguments about the creation or evolution of the species, as though either position could be proved. I hear opinions on the morality of abortions presented by organizations that blow up medical clinics. I hear straight people teach that gay people are ruining the world and gay people believing the same about those who isolate and violate transgender folk. I see persons of color pushed to the back of the bus everyday.
The distraction of my own selfishness coupled with an aversion to extremist teachings, leave me with little grasp of which reality I ought to focus on. The pastors stand in the pulpit holding up their claims with Bible verses as support, but failing to capture my spiritual imagination thoroughly enough to engage my inner fire of selfless love. Tragically, more often than not, I struggle alongside so many other people, allowing myself to be swept away by a flood of distractions rather than becoming alight with the simple (but not easy) fiery engulfment of self-giving love. It is my hope, at this point, to get beyond myself, so I can give myself, in the name of One who gave Himself, to empower my becoming the love I have already received.
The Reverend Dr. Mindy Johnson-Hicks completed advanced studies in Leadership and Biblical Preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary. Mindy’s leadership course work included church visits in Houston, Cincinnati, Florida, South Korea, London, and Oxford University. Her ministry credential resides in the fellowship of believers in the Church Within a Church, a Methodist related grass roots movement BEing community, faith and justice.