The Art of Mirriam Neal

Sheltered (?)

‘I unfollowed her from Instagram because I was starting to question some of the things she said.’ I read that comment on an article about a current bestselling book by a Christian author. Said author has some beliefs that don’t exactly line up with what Jesus said, but I’m not here to talk about her. I’m here to talk about that comment.

It’s a mindset I see more and more among fellow Christians –  although I think it’s always been there, and I’m just noticing it more the more I pay attention. It’s the concept that if we disagree with something, or aren’t sure of it, we avoid the subject entirely. It’s the idea that if someone believes something we don’t, we have nothing to do with them. It’s the idea that anything contrary to our beliefs should be shied away from immediately.

I understand where this idea came from. I saw a lot of it in my early years; the conservative Christian homeschooling community, while eager to do the right thing, got an awful lot wrong. ‘Shelter’ was a buzzword, the goal of every good conservative Christian homeschooling parent. And why wouldn’t you want to shelter your kids? There’s some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff out there in the world. There’s also some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff inside each of us that no amount of shelter is going to hide us from. I know from personal experience and the experience of people I know that you can get into anything from the ‘shelter’ of your own home.

Now I’m not advocating that parents shove their young children out into the world. As my mom has always said, ‘You can’t be salt and light until you’re salty and lit.’ The idea that toddlers should march into kindergarden prepared to Witness™ is fundamentally flawed and probably not what Jesus had in mind.

What I am advocating is that Christians stop being afraid of ‘the other.’ You can’t make a difference if you’re no different. You can’t share if you aren’t close enough to reach out in some way. A lighthouse that faces the land and not the sea does nothing.

The lie that we should do nothing but ‘shelter ourselves’ takes many forms. You shouldn’t go there, you’re a young, attractive woman. You shouldn’t talk to them, you’re white and they aren’t. You shouldn’t step inside that place, nobody there is a Christian. It’s not safe. It’s not Christian. It’s not for you.

Should we throw ourselves blindly into mindless danger? Of course not. But if we’re supposed to be Jesus here on earth, if we’re Imago Dei, if we’re stewards of the heaven we believe in, if we serve the omnipotent God we claim we do, we can’t be afraid to talk to someone different. To do something others might find stupid. To shine love and care into places that never see sunlight. To let someone who isn’t ‘just like you’ lean on your shoulder. To help someone to their feet who might not fit the mold you were taught was ‘acceptable’ to help.

Because here’s the thing – Jesus didn’t tell us to love some people. He didn’t say ‘let your light shine before mankind, unless you’re a young, attractive woman,’ or ‘unless you’re a different color,’ or ‘unless people believe something different than you.’ Jesus walked into a graveyard to talk with a possessed wild man. Jesus ate with thieves and hookers. Jesus conversed with adulterers. He healed anyone who came up and asked to be healed.

His life would have been a whole lot different if he had only hung out with the apostles. Jesus doesn’t once call us to be sheltered anywhere except under His wing. I’m learning to love my neighbor as myself, wholeheartedly, even when my current neighbor (i.e. person I’m next to) is different than I am. That was the whole point of the Good Samaritan story, wasn’t it? And not just to love your neighbors, but to love them as yourself.

Am I totally there? No. Some days I don’t show love to people in my house the way I want to. Sometimes I fail or weeks at a time. It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. It’s about being unafraid to keep at it, because shelter isn’t a building we live under. It’s the God we believe in.

The world will figure out what we really believe by watching what we actually do.

— Bob Goff

A PARTING NOTE: Like I stated previously, I don’t believe in flinging oneself into dangerous situations ‘just because.’ I also don’t believe danger should mean the same thing to Christians as it tends to. Jesus wasn’t about safety, and that’s something we tend to forget. He also wasn’t about stupidity. It’s not an exact science, but I believe when He wants you to go do a thing, you’ll know. It isn’t always about ditching your life and going to minister to big-city gangs – it’s usually about reaching out and loving on someone near you who hasn’t seen what love really looks like.

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