Jesus Needs New PR

Art credit: Karen Bates.

So Rachel Held Evans has her hands full this week. Not only is she trying to “restore unity,” she’s also attempting to raise 1000s of dollars for clean water in Africa. So please, let’s help her do both.

I believe one of those goals is much more difficult than the other. One involves taking your check card out of your wallet and giving a few dollars toward a good cause, and the other, well, it’s much more complicated.

As I thought about contributing to Rachel’s blog rally, my first question was this: What exactly is this “unity” that Rachel hopes we restore? I know that Jesus spoke about unity. And I suppose that the earliest follower of Christ experienced it. But I’m not sure I know what it looks like or how to pursue it or if I’d actually recognize it if it happened in a room where I was standing. To be honest, even if I did run into unity, my being there would probably disrupt it somehow.

We Christians are good at talking about “unity”. But I’m not sure any of us know what it means. Or how we should live it. Honestly, I’m not sure any of us really want unity. We talk about wanting it and we talk about the words of Jesus like we value them. But when it comes to living those words, we usually end up agreeing to disagree on what Jesus actually meant. And while that’s nice and all, it’s not unity. Not really.

Consider what happened last night when the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death was announced. Twitter and Facebook became lit up with opinions regarding the news. Some celebrated. Some made jokes. Some chastised people for celebrating and making jokes. Some quoted scripture. Some praised God. One person said, “Burn in hell, Osama” while another said, “love your enemies.”

The only visible unity was the fact that most of us had opinions (and they weren’t unified). While I didn’t exactly celebrate Osama’s death, I must confess I didn’t love him, either. Can you really love somebody you don’t know? I mean, we can not hate them. But love them? In regards to Osama, I don’t believe that person whose status read “love your enemies” had any inkling of an idea on how to love a terrorist leader who, on occasion, sliced people’s heads off with dull butcher knives. I’m sorry; I have enough trouble loving members of my own family at times, the idea of loving Osama fails me. However, celebrating his death is hardly holy. To be honest, both reactions–celebration and crying “love your enemies”– seem to deny people of the one thing we all share: humanity.

Which might be the one thing that interferes with Christians enjoying a little unity on occasion: The unhealthy relationship that most of us have with our own humanity as well as the humanity of others. Often, when we gather together, we don’t simply come as human beings, we come together wearing our opinions, assumptions, experiences, theologies, and passions. We discuss and debate as Democrats or Republicans, as victims or survivors, as Americans and/or Christians, as Presbyterians or Methodists, as rich people or poor people, as insecure and/or aggressive… the list could go on and on. Usually, amid the muck, we not only lose our own humanity, we fail to acknowledge (and accept or understand) the humanity of others. Is unity possible when we deny (or perhaps, fail to remember) our one unchanging common denominator?

Again, I don’t know what unity looks like. And the thought of trying to restore it gives me a headache. But I do know this: Whenever I enter into discourse or debate or conversation, and I see the person as fundamentalist or Republican or homophobic or antagonist or (fill in the blank) rather than a human being with stories and ideas and passions, I almost always fail at being a promoter of unity. And yet, sometimes I can’t help but define people with unfair labels and allow those assumptions to affect my ability to love them. I am human after all.

When Jesus prayed that those who love him should be one, I don’t know for sure what he visually hoped for. But I can’t help but believe that the unity he asked God to help us discover was much more than the kind that encourages liberals and conservatives to be nice to one another or the kind that simply encourages Presbyterians to forget they’re Presbyterian and Methodists to forget they’re Methodists and have coffee together. More than that, I believe the unity Jesus hoped for was a kind that would celebrate our humanity, a kind that would seek to understand and know what makes each of us unique and yet often the same, a kind that would console with those who have stories full of brokenness and cheer for those who are experiencing success, a kind that resists the temptations to assume, judge, define, and push away those who aren’t like us.

And sometimes I wonder if the unity that Jesus prayed for was a kind that would allow a victim to celebrate the justice of somebody like Osama Bin Laden being killed while also appreciating the words of those who stand up and remind us that we should love our enemies.

Now, whether or not there’s also room in that unity for people who occasionally write punch lines that make people laugh (and sometimes squirm) remains to be seen. But I have hope.

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