If everyone is welcome, no one should be an impostor and no one should suffer with Impostor Syndrome in the community of Jesus. His dream kingdom brought to the teeming surface the vision that everyone was worthy and therefore everyone was welcome and everyone would be treated with love. When his critics shot barbs at Jesus and his followers for the company he kept, Jesus both defended his version of Dalit inclusion and criticized the critics for criticizing.
Jesus’ ultimate defense before his critics was to tell stories that created an alternative society. His parables appealed to the imagination to see things a new way. Once he was criticized for including the Dalit stereotypes of his day, “tax collectors and sinners.” That is, those who supposedly collaborated with Rome’s taxation system and those who did not follow the Torah as the experts taught. They accused him of welcoming such folks. Jesus, clearly ready for such a criticism, sketched the three stories we now read in Luke’s fifteenth chapter: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or Prodigal Son). Each parable teaches the same point, though the lost son story is the most complete of them. Each teaches that Jesus invites the so-called unworthy to the table because God welcomes the unworthy and, if they open themselves up to God’s grace, God makes them worthy.
The apostle Peter had to learn this when he discovered that God had called a Dalit, a leather worker, to Jesus. Here are Peter’s words from the tenth chapter in Acts, and they are Peter’s humble confession of his former exclusionary way: “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’.” For Peter, God’s impartiality and “peace” are knotted. Why? Because peace is a social condition that embraces others as worthy of welcome.
If God accepts someone, who are we not to?
If God shows no favortism, who are we to show favortism?
The church Impostor Syndrome, which results from both knowing that God has welcomed someone and being unable to internalize that welcome, should never appear in the dream community of Jesus. The kingdom community is the one place where the impostor syndrome can dwindle into history. There is a joke with two dogs sitting at a computer and one of them observes to the other, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” Indeed, the dog has a point. I have seen the surprise on my own blog when I have learned and when others have learned that the person with whom we had been conversing was, in fact, a woman or an African American or a young adult or Mexican American and one of us was surprised by that reality. Perhaps the virtual world, where all that matters is what you say, can be a model of genuine community.
I invite you to consider this vision of Jesus. I invite you to consider a community that is knotted together with love, justice, peace, fellowship and welcome. I’m not inviting you into the church unless that church reveals the characteristics of Jesus’ dream kingdom. Is that the kind of community you dream about too? I do. To live out that kingdom is the challenge.
[i] I’ve read a number of articles and chapters on Impostor Syndrome. See Joan C. Harvey and Cynthia Katz, If I’m So Successful Why
Do I Feel Like a Fake? The Impostor Phenomenon (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985).
[ii] See Susan Billington Harper, In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V.S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), esp. 244-287.
[iii] E-mail correspondence of March 3, 2009.
[iv] See Dorothy Sayers, Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
[v] K. Snodgrass, “Galatians 3:28: Conundrum or Solution?,” in Women, Authority and the Bible (ed. A. Mickelsen; Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), 161.