Crazy, Odd, Strange, Unpleasant, Broken, Unlovable
This past Saturday as Conference leaders, pastors and active church members gathered for our Day of Discipleship event, I bore witness to something powerful happening. It was the breaking down of barriers and the opening up of people's minds, hearts, and spirits when one chooses to tell their story with vulnerability, integrity, and complete honesty.
Our keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund, beautifully and boldly shared her story of mental illness in her family and the ways she had experienced deep internalized shame. The shame was born out of harmful theology which was rooted in judgment, condemnation and marginalization of those considered to be the "crazy," the "odd", the "strange", the "unpleasant", the "broken" and the "unlovable." The shame was born out of the stigma present in families, communities, and the church. The shame was born out of the silence produced by all who were not willing to talk about the pain, suffering and even surprising lessons in dealing with the realities of mental illness and/or disabilities.
Rev. Dr. Lund reminded us, through her own witness, of how something empowering happens when one is willing to name the harmful theologies which are often embedded all around us and to remove the stigma by breaking the silence in telling their story. "This is what the church can do," she said.
"This is what the church can do," was a phrase, which stuck to me and moved me to a place of deep reflection and hope. For this is what Jesus did. The message and life of Jesus reminds us that the ones we name as the "crazy," "odd", "strange", "unpleasant", "broken" and "unlovable" are, in fact, created by God, are of equal worth, and are fully loved by God. Imagine if the Church were only to preach and live into this message of Christ. Imagine how differently we would act, speak, and love if we first believed this ourselves. Imagine the impact the Church of Jesus Christ could have on the world.
Yet, there are many places, even in local churches in which it is anything but love, acceptance, affirmation, and grace that some will experience. Instead, they will experience hatred, rejection, denial, and judgment. What saddens me about this reality is that although we might expect such things in many other places in the world, we should not experience them in the Church. Hatred, rejection, denial, and judgment are not only harmful, they are the most heretical, anti-Biblical, un-Christ like messages we could preach and teach.
Jesus believed in the transforming power of love. The Church is at its best and most faithful when we are preaching, teaching, and living out the profound, and transformative messages of: ALL are God's beloved children, fully created in the image of God. ALL are good and worthy in the eyes of the Creator. God loves ALL people. There are no qualifiers or exceptions to the love of God. The call of Christ is clear and concise, "This is my command to love one another, just as I have loved you."
May we live this.
May we practice this.
May we as the Church of Jesus Christ be known by it.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister