You Will Never Wash My Feet

As a loveable screw-up, I have a special fondness for St. Peter because he is my constant reminder that God loves not just the worthy but the ordinary. People like me and people like Peter who have high ideals and good intentions but are weak and often fall short of them. And what I love about Catholicism is that the thing that redeems those shortcomings is both the love of Jesus and the grace of repentance, which gives us the faith, hope, and love necessary to try again until we finally stumble into the gates of Heaven.

More to the point, it is St. Peter who gives this post its unusual title. I was talking to a very close friend of mine the other day who is very religious and currently very anxious about the future since this upcoming school year will be her senior year of college. She reminds me exactly of myself during that time of life, wondering what she ought to do and what God wants her to do, struggling with that age-old question: what is the best way to be happy?

I could hear the influence of the general collegiate atmosphere in her voice. The anxiety that demands a plan to attain the ideals of a perfect romantic relationship, lots of friends, and a successful career in order to lead a life full of purpose, meaning, and influence. Throw in my friend’s anxiety of also wanting it to be pleasing to God and it’s easy to see how one could be too overwhelmed to choose anything at all. Being the basically ancient age of 25, I tried to offer her the wisdom that got me through that turbulent time by asking, “how much of yourself do you truly share with God?”

When I was younger and more proudly independent than I am now I had a very similar attitude to God that St. Peter had when he faced the prospect of Jesus the Master humbling Himself to wash his own dirty feet. In the face of Jesus’s offer Peter responds, “You will never wash my feet” (John 13:8). It’s such an endearingly human response and it was precisely my attitude the first time I imagined what it would be like to actually receive that offer from Jesus. While I had a relationship with God as a (younger) young adult I admit I held back. I would let God share with me moments of questioning, moments of peace, and moments of success but I would never let Him “wash my feet” if you will. I would place a barrier between the most broken pieces of myself and God, limiting my thinking to surmise that since those were the parts of myself I had trouble loving it would be a real risk offering them to God and expecting Him to love them in the face of His many perfections.

But this is precisely the attitude that has to be overcome if one is ever to have the true peace and true joy that marks an intimate relationship with God because, as you will find out if you finish reading the scripture passage with the washing of the feet, this is precisely the part of yourself that God has to love and serve and heal if you are to make it to Heaven. Jesus literally responds to Peter,  “Unless I wash you, you can’t share life with Me” (John 13:8).  

As we experience the love behind this humble service we are healed of our human eyes that only love when we see something or someone loveable and we are slowly able to love more like God does. This, I would argue, is a much more effective testament to His glory than preaching with fire, having millions of followers or attaining political or social influence. Those flashy things mimic the glory of the world, they glorify the self or glorify the cause. Yet God is so much bigger than that, so much grander and far-reaching than that. God is infinite and God is love, which means that truly learning to love not only changes the world you live in now but resonates down through eternity.

And if you find yourself scratching your head wondering how this relates to my friend fear not I am about to explain. Before she or anyone else learns their purpose or accomplishes great things for God they will have to learn to humble themselves and accept God’s tender care in the midst of their misery, trusting that His love is enough. To let go of the sweeping perfectionism the world teaches them to hide behind and practice offering themselves to God in each moment no matter what condition they happen to be in, even those moments where they feel utterly repulsive and would opt to be alone.

The world has a way of wanting to steal the present moment which, wherever you are and whatever you happen to be doing, is your direct encounter with the living God where this love is made manifest. Instead, it offers empty distractions, entertainment, and the temptation to always live in unknown projections of the future. However, learning to reject that fear and go beyond the distractions in order to live in the present moment with God truly gives you the peace of never having to worry about the future because you come to realize that no matter what happens you will always have God and God is all you ever really needed.

 

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The Religion Crisis

So this post is about the religion crisis.

And it’s not quite the same religion crisis the media or even the religious press gets all jazzed about, especially in light of recent events. No, the crisis I’m talking about is much more personal.

The crisis I’m talking about I actually first noticed in the comment section of some article I was reading, and the commentator was a sixteen-year-old girl who was raised Catholic and had a serious fear of going to hell. Now don’t you dare make fun of her, I think a lot of us have that insecurity and I think that also explains why most of us try to place death as far from our minds as possible.

The idea of eternal judgment can be a bit terrifying, and I think many a weak intellectual rejects it simply because they don’t like the idea at all (I say weak intellectuals not to imply that they are stupid, merely that they lack strong philosophical debating skills). Because it’s a very proud person who will assert a premise that boldly states something is not true merely because he doesn’t like it, as if I could will away Abercrombie and Fitch’s existence because it doesn’t fit my idea of what a clothing store should be (if only).

Anyway, this poor girl had herself in knots. And it made me really sad. Because even though she’s gone to Catholic schools and has some idea of God and hears the word God thrown around all over the internet and mainstream media outlets, she does not know God.

Now I am twenty-four years old. I still have much to learn about God, as He is infinite and I honestly believe you could spend all eternity getting to know God and that each second would be better than the last. But more to the point, it breaks my heart when people don’t think God loves them. In fact I’ve come across the following attitudes while blogging (and I’m still pretty new at it):

“God doesn’t love me because I’ve made so many mistakes and always break His rules”

“God doesn’t love me because I’m not religious”

“God doesn’t love me because God is not love He is wrath and what kind of moron believes that?” (This moron!)

You get the idea…

And the reason these attitudes are so particularly heartbreaking is because you must believe God loves you if you ever hope to have any sort of a relationship with Him. In the United States, I can’t speak for other countries, there is the prevailing notion of the self-made man. That success goes to the worthy, that we figure things out on our own, that we’re independent and don’t need anyone else. Not to insult the purple mountain majesties or amber waves of grain, but in our workaholic modern world this idea has evolved from owning your own land and having a roof over your head to include what I will call the Hollywood lifestyle. A succession of the ultimate luxuries where you are the center of the universe and have every worldly thing a human could possibly want. And they wave this dream over our heads as something so tantalizingly out of our reach, but could be ours if we dedicate enough to whatever dream will get us there. (I would encourage you to dream on, but that’s a separate article.)

But this worldview comes into a direct clash with Christian morality, the epitome of selfless love (as opposed to the world’s selfish indulgence). And every person really gets a choice on where they will seek their satisfaction, in love or in themselves. And to finally bring this back around before you think I’ve totally lost my topic, most people do not understand Christian morality in that way. They see Christian morality as a set of rules, a set of angrily shouted Bible verses of condemnation and woe, with God as their merciless final judge, and they proceed to reject it in some way.

Some people get anxious like the girl who wrote the comment. Some people get angry at God, for being that way when they can find it in them to forgive. Some people place barriers, thinking who is God to judge them anyway? Some people give up because they know they can’t follow these rules perfectly. Again you get the idea, they mistrust the nature of God (if He even exists) and place distance between themselves and God, which I know must break his Fatherly heart.

And yet though these responses to God are very different (and I’m sure it’s possible to feel any number of combinations) the overall result of these responses is strikingly similar. The moderns create a strange alternative. A formless, rule barren religion-ish movement based on a vague universal love where anything goes and everyone is free as a bird. It’s a religion-ish movement that believes in only general human decency and the accumulation of knowledge but is devoid of the most important thing actual religion has to offer: a relationship. And not just any relationship, a relationship with God Himself. And because of how misrepresented God is in today’s day and age people write that relationship off as if it were nothing when in fact, it is everything. Because whether you’ve realized it yet or not, God is everything you’ve been after, everything you’ve always wanted in your soul (and He even cares about your externals too, everything that matters to you matters to God because He loves you).

And I say this not just because I both love God and enjoy His company, but because this hazy universalism is a cheap substitute. It will not satisfy the girl who made the comment, nor will it calm her fears or make her feel whole, and it will not fully explain the mysterious connection she feels to her fellow human beings. Only God can do those things. And she’s too afraid to begin that conversation because of the lies that surround God and the people who choose to worship Him. That is the real religion crisis, and we are not blameless in it.

It’s not just the media’s fault that religion of any kind has a bad reputation, it also has to do with us and the compromises we make with the world: likening heaven to some happy suburbia and marriage to a big party where the bride acts like a princess for a very expensive day. Insisting that the primary purpose of religion should be the feelings you get from the sermon… In a word, blending when we were meant to stand out so that anyone feeling lost and afraid like the girl who made this comment would be able to look at us and see the light of the truth from the way that we live. The truth that we are joyful not because we are perfect, not because we have all the answers, but because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and that He will always love us (even though we don’t deserve it) because that is who He truly is and that is what He died to prove to us. The God of the cosmos who became a baby so that His children would no longer be afraid of the dark, but bask in the light of redemption. That those looking from the outside might recognize this divine reality that makes us true brothers and sisters, our universally shared belief that God will be true to His every promise and bring us safely home to heaven, where we were always meant to be.

Because true evangelization, sharing of this good news, is not about merely winning over people’s minds, culture, or media (although I’m sure it helps). If we really want to solve the religion crisis we must first allow God to enter our own hearts and minds that we might be ready to extend His invitation to all to come and join our family. Because before anyone could accept such an invitation from us they would have to genuinely believe us when we tell them the only truth that can overcome the hardness of the human heart, the same thing that I attempted to tell this girl so that she would not be afraid anymore:

“God loves you, and so do I.”

The Cool Cousin

So today I went out for gyros with my cousin “Tom” (if you caught the Bicycle). He was always the “cool cousin” for me and my siblings growing up and even though we’re becoming pretty good buddies (he let me crash while I was between homes because he’s actually very nice) I still feel cool by association whenever we hang out.

Anyway, it just got me thinking that it really is the little things in life that make life so incredible. Silly things like hanging out with your kindred spirit cousin and his nice work friends who are as equally into Star Wars as you are, which is a rare find (note that by Star Wars I mean episodes 4-6 and possibly 7 if J.J. Abrams does a good job, I in no way recognize the overly CGI-ed and poorly acted disasters that they call episodes 1,2, &3).

But, I do confess that even though I always strike everyone as particularly positive and outgoing, I also have a quiet, introverted side that is more sensitive and has dealt with anxiety and depression in the past. And it’s hard going through stuff like that because you start to feel distant and wonder if you’ll ever be happy again. And you just do your best to let go of trying to control it and try to live each moment with patient faith. And as time passes you suddenly realize that you are happy again. And when you are, it’s even better than you remembered because you appreciate it more, especially those little things- like getting gyros with your cool cousin.

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