“How uncomfortable are you willing to become to welcome someone else into your community?” That question was put to me years ago by a wise and wizened preacher, forcing me to think about the boundaries I had set for my own congregation. “Besides,” he said, “it’s not about you. It’s about welcoming those who Christ would welcome, and he was never disturbed by anyone who chose to follow him.”
This dissecting question has reared its sacred head time and again, constantly reminding me to expand the borders of my welcome and my heart: To keep the doors open; to invite all who are willing to come to the table; and to find the grace to be uncomfortable, to be put off balance, and unsettled.
Of course, the turbulence I feel has nothing to do with the ethnicity, religion, sexuality, appearance, age, gender, or race of any other person. Other people cannot make me uncomfortable; I do this to myself – the problem is me – not “them.” It’s my own inner storm, my own presuppositions, judgments, biases, and prejudices that cause the discomfort.
At times I am unwilling to put these barriers aside and allow the Spirit to make me a more loving, welcoming, and gracious person. But when I am willing to have a change of heart – the proper Christian word is “repent” – and I let the internal turmoil carry me along instead of resisting it, the result is always extraordinary.
Irrespective of the religious conclusions people have about Jesus of Nazareth, the image of him portrayed in the New Testament is one of radical acceptance. He was open and welcoming. He constantly crashed against the locked doors of the establishment. He was forever telling clever, subversive stories that kicked the wealthy, sanctimonious, esteemed citizenry to the curb, their places taken by those who were considered vulgar, sinful, or plain odd.
Even within his closest collection of followers there could be found polar opposites. One of his disciples could have been regarded as a treasonous collaborator against his nation, while another was an armed revolutionary, one willing to resort to violence for his patriotic cause. Yet, in pushing them beyond their usual limits, Jesus was able to make them brothers.
Jesus received everyone, everyone willing to have their hearts opened, their minds changed, and who wanted to grow into something more. We who are religious somehow forget this. We can be the most stubborn animals of all, refusing to learn, adapt, or change our ways of thinking about anything or anyone. This is to choose personal comfort over acceptance, and extinction over vitality.
Because in the end, by remaining comfortable, we collapse into our cushy convictions and die by slow, sleepy, sedation. Thus, to be truly alive we must be pushed out of our spiritual armchairs, and allow ourselves to be discomforted by things and people we have kept on the other side of locked doors. It is only in opening these doors that we can learn to open our hearts.