By Jacqueline J. Holness
In my first essay for The Lookout, I stated that one of my goals for this column would be to challenge us to think outside of our “holy huddles.” I hope I have done that from writing about how the prosperity gospel could be appealing beyond the obvious reasons, to pondering if we are guilty of subscribing to an Americanized gospel rather than the true gospel. Well, I’m at it again!
Recently, I went to lunch with a new writer friend. As we discussed various topics from faith to being black in America, it became evident that for all we have in common as writers, we are also very different.
Out of Touch?
I was not bothered by our differences, but it seemed she was. In fact, she said that I seemed to be on a path that had already been laid out for me. My parents raised me in a Christian household, so I became a Christian. I grew up in the South, so I pledged a sorority in college. I’m getting married this year, and women are expected to be married. (Yes, I’m engaged!)
For these reasons she questioned whether I was an appropriate candidate for the eclectic writers’ group I wanted to join. But as we continued, she discovered that we have a mutual friend in common, a Unitarian Universalist minister. It was only then she realized that I’m not a robot programmed to do, say, and think what has been prescribed for me.
As I drove home from our lunch, I wanted to be offended by her prejudice toward me, but I realized that we (Christians) often tend to congregate around people who share our values. We tend to have friends that look like us. And we are expected, for the most part, to subscribe to certain cultural norms, like getting married or wanting to be married.
Similar and Dissimilar
To a certain extent, there is nothing wrong with hanging out in “holy huddles,” because being around like-minded people strengthens our values. However, being around people who are radically different from us makes us more approachable and powerful to our culture.
This philosophy certainly worked for Jesus. Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus never shied away from people society deemed different or inferior—from prostitutes to tax collectors. We know Jesus spent time with such people because he was interested in their salvation. However, Jesus seemed also to shun many of those in high society circles—particularly the religious leaders of the day.
I think Jesus welcomed friendship of all types, and as a result, his divinity was illuminated. I would like to think my decision to find friends with different values, demonstrates my values were chosen by me—not prescribed for me. Do all of your friends have the same or similar values?
Aside from inserting himself into social circles that others deemed unsavory at best and sinful at worst, Jesus seemed to favor people who looked different. John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters precisely because he was different. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair, ate locusts, and lived in the wilderness—a real weirdo by biblical and today’s standards. And yet he was chosen before birth to prepare the way for Christ.
When was the last time you thought someone who appeared different from you (even a weirdo) had something to teach you? If God can speak through a donkey (see Numbers 22), it’s likely we can learn something from the unlikeliest people.
While Jesus supported marriage, he remained single throughout his earthly life. Paul advocated a single lifestyle in 1 Corinthians 7. Sometimes I wonder if the church values singleness as a viable lifestyle choice, or simply pays lip service to the notion. It seems many Christian singles ministries approach being single as a stop on the train to
The truth is that the world will always be at odds with Christians. But that is no excuse to cloister ourselves, particularly those of us who have been among church folk all of our lives. How else will the world see our light?
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service,
an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.